Quote from a commencement address at Mills College 1983, found on
Success is somebody else's failure. Success is the American Dream we can
keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty
million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of
poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don't even want to talk about
it. I want to talk about failure.
Because you are human beings you are going to meet failure. You are
going to meet disappointment, injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss.
You will find you're weak where you thought yourself strong. You'll work
for possessions and then find they possess you. You will find yourself -
as I know you already have - in dark places, alone, and afraid.
What I hope for you, for all my sisters and daughters, brothers and
sons, is that you will be able to live there, in the dark place. To live
in the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies, calling
it a place of exile, uninhabitable, foreign.
Well, we're already foreigners. Women as women are largely excluded
from, alien to, the self-declared male norms of this society, where
human beings are called Man, the only respectable god is male, the the
only direction is up. So that's their country; let's explore our own.
I'm not talking about sex; that's a whole other universe, where every
man and woman is on their own. I'm talking about society, the so-called
man's world of institutionalized competition, aggression, violence,
authority, and power. If we want to live as women, some separatism is
forced upon us: Mills College is a wise embodiment of that separatism.
The war-games world wasn't made by us or for us; we can't even breathe
the air there without masks. And if you put the mask on you'll have a
hard time getting it off. So how about going on doing things our own
way, as to some extent you did here at Mills? Not for men and the male
power hierarchy - that's their game. Not against men, either - that's
still playing by their rules. But with any men who are with us: that's
our game. Why should a free woman with a college education either fight
Machoman or serve him? Why should she live her life on his terms?
Machoman is afraid of our terms, which are not all rational, positive,
competitive, etc. And so he has taught us to despise and deny them. In
our society, women have lived, and have been despised for living, the
whole side of life that includes and takes responsibility for
helplessness, weakness, and illness, for the irrational and the
irreparable, for all that is obscure, passive, uncontrolled, animal,
unclean - the valley of the shadow, the deep, the depths of life. All
that the Warrior denies and refuses is left to us and the men who share
it with us and therefore, like us, can't play doctor, only nurse, can't
be warriors, only civilians, can't be chiefs, only indians. Well, so
that is our country. The night side of our country. If there is a day
side to it, high sierras, prairies of bright grass, we only know
pioneers' tales about it, we haven't got there yet. We're never going to
get there by imitating Machoman. We are only going to get there by going
our own way, by living there, by living through the night in our own
So what I hope for you is that you live there not as prisoners, ashamed
of being women, consenting captives of a psychopathic social system, but
as natives. That you will be at home there, keep house there, be your
own mistress, with a room of your own. That you will do your work there,
whatever you're good at, art or science or tech or running a company or
sweeping under the beds, and when they tell you that it's second-class
work because a woman is doing it, I hope you tell them to go to hell and
while they're going to give you equal pay for equal time. I hope you
live without the need to dominate, and without the need to be dominated.
I hope you are never victims, but I hope you have no power over other
people. And when you fail, and are defeated, and in pain, and in the
dark, then I hope you will remember that darkness is your country, where
you live, where no wars are fought and no wars are won, but where the
future is. Our roots are in the dark; the earth is our country. Why did
we look up for blessing - instead of around, and down? What hope we have
lies there. Not in the sky full of orbiting spy-eyes and weaponry, but
in the earth we have looked down upon. Not from above, but from below.
Not in the light that blinds, but in the dark that nourishes, where
human beings grow human souls.
Ursula K. Le Guin - author