Ellen versus warriors, by Gabrielle Dubois

Colonne de la Victoire berlin

In August, I spent one week in Berlin and Potsdam, Germany, with my family. During this stay rich in historical and cultural visits, moments of relaxation and surprises, I of course found time to read. I read Call me Woman, by Ellen Kuzwayo (1914-2006). My review here.

One day, among other things, we saw The Column of Victory, one of Berlin's most famous symbols. Its square base, decorated with bas-reliefs, relates the wars known in Germany as "wars of unification" (the Duchy War of 1864, the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870). So that's a very brief history.
What impressed me were the bas-reliefs. On powerful steeds, heroes inflated their chest. Brave and courageous soldiers killed enemies or died for their country, or both! Dead, crippled or alive, the laurels of gratitude and victory were their reward.

‘Where are the women?’ you may ask.
‘They were also there, of course... but so few of them! The women were: a mother who bravely offered her sons as cannon fodder, a wife who let her husband go, assuring him that she would take care of their children and their farm, a woman who gave an emotional and devout laurel wreath to the brave soldier.
Are you reassured? I’m not!

Where is the bas-relief showing the destroyed lives of all mothers who lose their sons in the prime of their lives and who will no longer have any support in their old age?
Where is the bas-relief showing all the young women who will not be able to find love or start a family because men are dead?
Where is the bas-relief showing the raped women in both camps?
Where is the bas-relief showing the women who bear the burden of the family's livelihood alone in such difficult times of war?
Where is it written in stone, on all these monuments around the world, that men ask forgiveness for all these destroyed lives and promise not to do it again?
I’ll tell you where: nowhere!

In the evening, after visiting this monument, which is found in my country as in so many other countries in the world, I plunged back into Ellen Kuzwayo's autobiographical book. This black woman from South Africa has spent her life filled with so many woes, doing everything possible to build her country instead of destroying it, to forge bonds of friendship and mutual aid between women and men instead of cracks of hatred.
This parallel between monuments celebrating victories or honouring the dead in wars, erected by men for thousands of years, on the one hand, and books about the positive actions or thoughts of intelligent and caring women, on the other, gave me pause for thought.

Let's say, since about 2500 years of History, men have ruled both the world and women. Their traces on this Earth are grandiose: warrior monuments celebrating blind power, castles of kings celebrating a very ephemeral grandeur. Of course, we also have poets, but some women also have poets' souls, only few of them have been able to express it. So I wonder:
What if, from now on, we let women find another way to live for the next 2500 years? Well, let's assume that the world "goes faster" since the computer age and let’s give women only 1000 years.’
‘What would they do better?’ you wonder.
‘Well, they could surprise us by trying to live together and in a different way. This world of power-hungry men, who have fought for thousands of years to be heads of families, clan leaders, heads of countries, heads of empires, heads of the world, may have made women beings with more understanding to balance the harshness around them, who knows?’
‘This project is impossible, too long, too utopian, too far from the powerless lives of most of us !’ you tell me.

‘OK. So how about this:
Next time you visit a historical monument, remember that history is not just about men. Women lived, suffered and died during their wars and long after.
Next time you visit a historic castle or presidential residence, remember that it is not only Louis XIV or Abraham Lincoln who should be famous. Women did not have a say in the political system that put only men on the thrones, reducing women to minors. So what, wouldn't they have starved to death if women hadn't prepared their meals for them?
Next time you read Victor Hugo, ask yourself why he was and is even better known and published than the tall, intelligent, good George Sand. I'll tell you why: in Victor Hugo's time, book critics were men. They have praised men and their opinions are still being taken for granted.’
‘And what about men?’ You dare to ask, in a small voice.

‘But dare, dare ! I like discussion! Men? Love them, they need it so much! But remain vigilant and keep in mind that you are capable of peacefully occupying 51% of our societies.’
‘But some of us live very well in the place they are given in their society, so in the end, why would we do it?’
‘Because relieving men of half the responsibility for our common future will certainly relieve them of a great burden and they will only be more relaxed! It's a win-win!’©

Gabrielle Dubois

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