Sustainability – what can we learn from a ‘social movement’ like feminism?

Watching the ‘Women’ triad of documentaries on BBC gave me food for thought – not just over how lucky my generation is to have choices we take for granted, but also the similarities between how those ‘feminists’ felt in the 1960s vs how many sustainability advocates feel now. Of course, ‘feminism’ is a dirty word nowadays, seems to have become associated with leftism, anarchy, anti-men lesbian-ness. None of which I can relate to. But going back to its roots in the 1960s, we can learn a few things of interest to those who advocate sustainability:

– if you are trying to shape people’s attitudes and behaviour, then it IS about social change and politics, no matter how we try and sanitise it, it comes down to people

– you need pioneers who not only can see the problems but have radical solutions – and you do need some ideas that are so radical no-one would ever want them, otherwise how else would the good ideas end up being the ‘middle ground’ everyone can agree on. You need extremism to make significant but non-extremist change seem normal.

– it has to be a grass roots change not just from the top – egalitarian, no single ‘head’ to cut off, no scientific ‘fact’ to dispute and undermine the whole thing. Many people, many fronts. (we could reference Gladwell’s ‘Tipping Point’ here, too)

– need to focus on tangible enablers, not just a fixed solution: so for feminism it was things like property rights, equality in employment law, rights to decide over your own gynae issues, etc – rather than fixing in stone how women should live.

– people will find their own version of the solution: so for instance most women nowadays can choose to stay at home and raise kids, or work part time, or work full time and juggle everything, or in fact be the sole breadwinner and have the man stay at home – apparently this has increased 10 fold in the last decade. (Although, it does seem few women manage to get men to do the laundry).  In the future, once the parameters change, people will live differently, but they will find their own ways to do it within a changed system, it’s not a fixed formula.

– when you look back, the changes never were as painful as they seemed in advance, we all adapt to change better than we think we will: it’s a step by step thing that in the end achieves a huge amount, not a one-hit wonder.

I’m sure anyone who understands the unionisation of the working classes or the civil rights movement or the abolition of slavery would have more useful learnings to add, but I think the critical insight I had is that this is about fixing some abstract machine. It IS about social change, and the more steps forward we take, the more opportunities will open up in front of us.

It’s a journey of social change, not a coup…. Agree? Disagree? Comments welcome!