The International Folk Art Market here in Santa Fe, where my granddaughter Sadie and I drank deeply of the most beautiful handmade textiles, metalware, pottery and jewelry we’d ever seen—is the beautiful child of an inspired woman who has since, wisely, handed over the reins. It has been developed over twelve years through the work of an enormous crowd of volunteers who man the booths, deal with the transactions, pack the purchases, and give the sometimes non-English speaking craftspeople essential backup. Attendance over the three-day annual festival stands at something like twenty-two thousand, the market makes several million dollars, and ninety percent of that goes to the craftspeople, many of them women and women-formed cooperatives in some of the poorest countries in the world. Beautifully managed, the enormous crowds surge through without much delay, hauled back and forth on air-conditioned buses—perhaps the first time some of us have submitted to public transportation.
Of course big travel expenses from countries like Ghana and Sudan eat up a lot of the profits, as well as the hassle and expense of shipping their handiwork back and forth and the frustrations of persuading our State Department to issue visas to vendors who may be dark-skinned and may come from troubled areas the U.S. government considers threatening.
Yet I think one of the reasons the market is so successful is that it does not emphasize its essential service to women. And, since this has become almost entirely a city of retirees, the greater sway women hold over their often-older husbands in the last years of their marriages mean that men volunteer and attend. It is, still, a rather delightful irony that the enormously tall, gorgeously beautiful male jewelry maker from Niger is surrounded by a swam of buying women, including me. Plus ça change and so forth…
Women still struggle in all the professions to rise to the top and dismaying stories recount the swift departure of top CEOs perhaps hired to seem to indicate diversity but unable to survive in the companies’ atmosphere. When I recently went looking for a high-level female executive at an Arizona trust company, the pickings were shockingly slim; the one woman near the top was too young and too inexperienced to qualify.
Is it in sports that we are able to make the most progress? I read in yesterday morning’s New Mexican—our notable local newspaper which the founder bought back from Gannett, surely the only time this has happened in newspaper history—that the first woman to coach an NBA game, admittedly off-season, Becky Hammon, said, “I’m learning all sorts of kinds of things…not just about how to handle a team, how to speak to the guys…I feel like I’m a flower that’s getting great roots—but far from blooming.”
She expresses two of our great strengths as women: humility, and a sense of our rootedness in nature. Not all women share these strengths, of course, but the fact that this coach has them and uses them opens the path to a different kind of leadership, even in the NBA.
So am I hopeful?
Well, not so much. I have daughters-in-law, granddaughters and many friends who see no use in the women’s movement; this is partly due to privilege, lack of information, and our discomfort with ideas that are presented as being controversial. So I and many other women lack support.One of the striking things about the photography exhibit at the Monroe Gallery here, titled “The Long Road: From Selman to Ferguson” is the African-American woman leading a protest march with a placard that reads, “Stop Police Violence.” Her expression is matter-of fact; she is not relying on charm to persuade hecklers and bystanders of the righteousness of her cause; but she has the support of the men and women massed behind her. And in all likelihood, the support of her church.
It is unreasonable and impractical to expect women who do not have support to advance any radical opinion, even the opinion, radical in this culture, that supports equality for all.
I’m hoping that my conversation with Gabby Giffords next month (she and her husband have formed a PAC—yes, one of those evasions of our pathetic attempt at election reform) will help to convince the country that we must do something about guns; perhaps I will be cheered, even sooner, by a conversation with the host of “On the Contrary,” a long-running television report on just that—the contrary, which is what I hope we can all some day at least aspire to be.
The trouble is that we want to be loved. And so I understand and even admire the stance of a newcomer here in Santa Fe who has staked her emotional and spiritual survival on learning about medicinal herbs…