b. 4-30-1920; Vienna, Austria
d. 1-2-2013; Madison, Wisconsin
Historian, author, and professor Gerda Lerner was one of the founders of the field of women's history and a founding member of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
In her autobiography “Fireweed: a Political Autobiography” she described how she learned everything she needed to get through the rest of her life while being held prisoner for six weeks by the Nazi's at age 18, in part by the sharing of food by two gentile women.
Lerner also co-wrote the screenplay for the 1964 film Black Like Me, which her husband Carl directed.
Gerda Lerner quotes ~
• “All human beings are practicing historians. As we go through life we present ourselves to others through our life story; as we grow and mature we change that story through different interpretations and different emphasis. We stress different events as having been decisive at different times in our life history and, as we do so, we give those events new meanings. People do not think of this as “doing history”; they engage in it often without special awareness. We live our lives; we tell our stories. It is as natural as breathing.”
• “Women's history is the primary tool for women's emancipation.”
• “In this age, when warfare involving major nations has become unthinkable, the theories and practice of transforming social movements offer the only real hope for social change. Feminism represents such a movement.”
• “I try, in my private life, to live as simply as possible and to be mindful of conserving resources and respecting nature. I try to be part of and build community in the various aspects of my life and to move from self-absorption to altruism. In none of this am I sure that I can succeed, but I can and must strive to succeed. As a survivor of several major disasters I remain, as I said at the outset, a skeptical, and at times despairing optimist. As all such creatures, I need an utopian vision - mine is a world in which women and men will have freed their minds from patriarchal thought and which will therefore be free of dominance and hierarchy, a world that will be truly human.”
• “We can learn from history how past generations thought and acted, how they responded to the demands of their time and how they solved their problems. We can learn by analogy, not by example, for our circumstances will always be different than theirs were. The main thing history can teach us is that human actions have consequences and that certain choices, once made, cannot be undone. They foreclose the possibility of making other choices and thus they determine future events.”
• “Perhaps the greatest challenge to thinking women is the challenge to move from the desire for safety and approval to the most "unfeminine" quality of all – that of intellectual arrogance, the supreme hubris which asserts to itself the right to reorder the world. The Hubris of the god makers, the hubris of the male-system builders.”
• “Everything that explains the world has in fact explained a world that does not exist, a world in which men are at the center of the human enterprise and women are at the margin helping them. Such a world does not exist – never has.”
• “Patriarchy is a system of dominance based on the “invention” that arbitrary differences among people can be used to construct categories by which the unequal distribution of resources and power by small elites over large and diverse populations can be justified, explained and made acceptable to those exploited. In short, “difference” can be used to create and maintain power. The differences used can be based on race, class, sex, physical makeup or any other arbitrary distinction, body image, sexual preference....
• “... It is not “difference” that is the problem. It is dominance justified by appeals to constructed differences that is the problem.”
• “I think that we are for the first time now at a point where both men and women are beginning to see that the world was not just made by men, that civilization was not just made by men, and that women are as capable as men of giving leadership, innovating social ideas and solutions.”
• “When you get older, you have a desire to look at your whole life, not just the end result and not just a particular point.”
• “The appeal of the New Right is simply that it seems to promise that nothing will change in the domestic realm. People are terrified of change there, because it's the last humanizing force left in society, and they think, correctly, that it must be retained.”