Saturday, October 10, 2009

Quakers & The New Yorker EDITED!

There have been two instances recently when Quakers were mentioned in The New Yorker.

First there was an article about Carrie Fisher in The Talk of the Town where it mentioned she dated one of the producers of Star Wars, a Quaker named Gary Kurtz. I've wondered for a long time about whether my attraction to Quakerism is connected to my love of Star Wars and its "theology", so I did a little research. Turns out Kurtz had some influence on the series. In an interview here, the author implies as such:

"Mark had said to me that there was a lot of agonizing going on between Gary Kurtz and Lucas over the amount of violence that was in the film. And I think, as I remember correctly, what Hamill was saying was that there was a lot of Quaker influence. Now I don't know whether Lucas was a Quaker or whether it was Gary Kurtz , but there was a spiritual basis for this film and they were concerned that the non-violence message that they were trying to get across was going to be compromised by a lot of the shoot 'em ups that were going on. The reason why I mention this was I think these guys were really very unusual in what they were trying to do with their motion picture making. I think they really had a vision of the world which was pure. They wanted to present some kind of legend looking ahead into the future. It really was some reflection of good vs. evil, not seeing it very simply as good being interior and evil being exterior. We all as human beings are wrestling with it inside ourselves. Like the relationship between Skywalker and Vader. The thing that I really did feel was that there was, going back to what I said earlier, the way in which they handled people in that production, they looked after their people very, very well. To me that's the essence of great leadership and creative ability. I give them full credit. Definitely they were talking about a spiritual dimension and trying to come up with a non-violent message."

I don't think it was the non-violence message that came across to me, but the sense that there's something that connects us all, and if we only quiet our minds and hearts, we can hear it...

Yeah, I know. What does that have to do with social class?

It doesn't. But the next mention does.

In the September 28th issue, Briefly Noted mentions a biography of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Penn State professor Lori D. Ginzberg. The book apparently makes connections between Cady Stanton, and modern feminism's problems with social class and race.

An abolitionist more out of political convenience than conviction, she not only abandoned the movement for black male suffrage after the Civil War to focus on white women’s suffrage but increasingly made vitriolic attacks on immigrants, the working class, and African-Americans in her writing and speeches. The consequences of Stanton’s racism and √©litism were “deep and hurtful,” Ginzberg says, and she attributes the continuing difficulty of incorporating race and class differences into gender politics, in large part, to Stanton’s mixed legacy.

Ginzberg writes about two issues that impact me personally, sexism and classism, and therefore I am most passionate about. I can't wait to read this one. I just hope it's not too heady for me. I found the last New Yorker Briefly Noted book about Quakers too academic and inaccessible

EDIT NOTE: This was a big mistake--Cady Stanton wasn't Quaker!!! Why didn't any of you tell me this? I'd assumed that she was. Mistakenly. Sorry for that.


Hystery said...

I'm looking forward to this book too.

Stanton's tarnished legacy is her own fault. Her use of racist rhetoric and alliance with Train in the aftermath of her disappointment that women as well as African American men did not win suffrage following the Civil war was inexcusable. Still, I wouldn't go so far as to lay blame for the continued racism in the most powerful branches of the suffrage movement on Stanton alone. She did not act alone and was not alone responsible for either the good or bad material that grew out of that movement. Our historical perspective is always distorted and selective.

This history reminds me of the tensions between our individual strengths and weaknesses and those of the communities in which we operate.

Hystery said...

Elizabeth Cady Stanton did identify as Quaker for part of her life and attended meeting with Friends in Central New York. Not many people know that.

Jeanne said...

THANKS Hystery!

I did a search and kept coming up with "she wasn't Quaker" and she "disdained organized Christian religion". Sheesh.

I'll be curious to see how Ginzberg makes the case for her legacy--all history comes in a context, and Cady Stanton probably just reflected everyone else around her. But we see her words because she was who she was.

Hystery said...

Here's what Stanton had to say in an 1857 letter to Martha Coffin Wright (one of the organizers of the Seneca Falls convention and younger sister of Lucretia Coffin Mott):

"I am a member of Junius meeting [Friends] & not of the Episcopal church. I have heard that infamous report [that she had become Episcopalian] & feel about it very much as if I had been accused of petty larceny. I will write to Lucretia. If my theology could not keep me out of any church my deep & abiding reverence for womankind would be all sufficient." (Sherry Penney and James Livingston, A Very Dangerous Woman, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004, p.114).

Stanton later became a freethinker with Theosophical interests.

Your historical instincts about her were dead on, Jeanne.

Diane said...

Hi Jeanne,

I follow your blog with interest and think it provides a valuable perspective for Friends. I have been interested lately in the intersection of classism and sexism. Do some use the fact that many of the women leaders in breaking down sex barriers were middle and upper class people as a way to beat down feminism? Stanton seems to have been discriminatory about social class, which is deplorable, I agree, but does that negate her good work on woman's issues? I'm not implying that you think it does, but I wonder how we deal with the contradictions. And another issue I wonder about--a lot--do we hold middle and upper class women to a higher standard than men of a like station? I don't know, but I wonder.

Diane from