This is a translation of a piece by Olga Rodríguez, originally published in eldiario.es, 23rd December.
There is an image that has lived with me for years. It is the memory of a woman in a hospital in Baghdad, in 2003. The war was striking hard and US bombs had left terrible physical and psychological wounds on the population.
Doctors were carrying out surgical operations right in the foyer of the hospital, on the floor, due to the lack of space caused by the avalanche of casualties. The garden had been converted to an improvised cemetery where the doctors themselves dug plots for the dead and placed cardboard notices with details on the deceased:
‘Unidentified girl aged six found in the Adamiya neighbourhood, wearing a blue dress’.
‘Family with three children found in Karrara after a bombing. No details’.
In the corridors of the hospital people wandered around like zombies. No matter where you were you could hear the screams of the wounded, and of the families of the victims. I had been in the country for nearly three months and the war had gone deep inside me.
It was then that I saw her. In the maternity room. In her arms she was holding her baby, prematurely born, and it looked to me as if she was surrounded by a different light. What was there in this woman that caught my attention so much? I quickly realised: she was smiling in a city in which nearly no-one had smiled for many weeks.
Outside, in the street, the war went on. But there, inside, at that instant, this beautiful woman was able to maintain a smile, as if nothing else existed in the world, or perhaps as if this much love could defeat the war that continued on the other side of the windows.
That image still reminds me to this day of the power of love in the face of war, the power of affection in the face of violence, the resoluteness of a smile in the face of aggressiveness. I do not think it by chance that it was a woman who was doing it.
From 15M up to now people speak more and more of the need to feminise politics and life. Wars have traditionally been a man’s thing. Not only wars of guns and missiles, but also the other wars, those fought over money and power in the workplace, in homes, in politics. Patriarchy’s servitude wins out in a range of scenarios and it obliges both men and women to behave with aggressiveness, as if the only meaning of life were to always come out on top.
Against this other ways, other messages, other values are being introduced in our society that prioritise human rights and people’s concrete happiness over the abstraction of victory. Ada Colau, Manuela Carmena and Mónica Oltra are a few of the figures who represent and stand for these more serene, more peaceful, more grounded ways of doing things. “There is another way of doing politics, a different politics, that has to do with agreement, with peace, effectiveness…”, Carmena frequently says.
Here is how Ada Colau expressed it recently in an election meeting: “There is an unstoppable transformative power, and it has to do with the feminisation of politics, placing co-operation ahead of competitiveness, with empathy as its highest value, with care, life and people’s dignity as the highest priority, for the happiness of all.
Neither co-operation nor empathy are the sole preserve of women. Obviously there are men who are not at all competitive or aggressive, and there are women who are, and greatly so. But in a patriarchal world masculinity -not in terms of sex, but in terms of a socially constructed position- has incarnated and represented values of domination and competitiveness and it is in this sense that Colau and so many others call for feminisation.
Women who conceive of empathy and co-operation as the highest of priorities have been key in the social movements of recent years, in the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) and now in institutional politics, to the point that Pablo Iglesias says he has learned from Ada Colau and from Carmena to “call for change with a smile, with greater pedagogy, with a less aggressive style”.
Something is changing. It is the irruption of power conceived in a different way, and it is indispensable in order for us to understand each other more and fall out with each other less. No transformation will be enough if it does not improve our human relations, if it does not soften us, if it does not make us happier.
As the scriptwriters of the new Star Wars film might say -whoever has seen it will understand why I mention it-, there is an awakening of the bright side of the force. And this awakening can give vital lessions in the midst of the aggressiveness in which we live day to day. It is only in this way that we can truly win: without competitiveness eating us up, without us getting lost along the way, without us being corrupted in the struggle. There is nothing more revolutionary than a smile in the middle of a war. And there are women who know a great deal about that.