We Must Choose Unity

IMG_3551Photo taken at the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor, ME

A few weeks ago I received the exciting news that I am one of the recipients of the Heather Heyer Scholarship to attend the Women’s Convention in Detroit, MI next weekend!  It is such an honor to be awarded this opportunity—especially as it is in the name of a woman who died tragically while fighting against the hatred and terrorism of white supremacy and nationalism.

However, over the past week I’ve experienced great frustration with many women who have spoken out in anger and pulled their support for this movement because they did not like the decision to invite Senator Sanders to the Women’s Convention.  (It seemed) Most outrage came from Hillary Clinton supporters (who, the Women’s March has stated, was invited but cannot attend) who simply do not consider Senator Sanders an ally.  Others thought it was a poor decision to invite an older, white man to speak at an event for female equality.

The first complaint makes me angry because they are choosing to stonewall an ally, who also started a progressive movement among people who are looking for more than the establishment has to offer, on the basis that their female candidate of choice lost the race (I was never a Clinton supporter).  This is ignoring the fact that the DNC (in my opinion, supported by the evidence of how the mainstream media chose to cover Clinton versus Sanders) never intended to allow anyone else a shot at the party nomination, and that Senator Sanders surprised many within the Democratic Party with the mass support he garnered.

The second complaint holds more clout: was it wise to advertise Senator Sanders, a white, older man, as a key speaker for the Women’s Convention?  Probably not.  Initially, there was not a lot of specificity in what his role would be, and if I recall, it originally appeared that he was opening the event.  However, the feminist movement is not about excluding male supporters and team members.  For many of us, Senator Sanders was our candidate of choice.  He represented the changes that we wanted to see take place in this country.  Truthfully, I was thrilled when I saw that he was going to be at the event.

The bottom line: we do not have the luxury to divide over such a small issue.  Feminism is a broad term that encompasses many people (I wrote about this in March) with many views, united by the fact that we believe women deserve equality.  However, this movement goes beyond simple equality of women, it focuses on equality for ALL people, regardless of gender, religion, race, culture, etc.

I am attending this event to learn and connect with other people who are in this fight to raise awareness about equality.  I am attending as a journalist who wants to learn how to do a better job of reporting and writing about issues that matter.  I am attending as a white woman who wants to better understand women of color and the additional challenges they face and who wants to better understand my own privilege as a white woman and how I can use it positively.  I am attending as a relational person seeking a community of people who “get it.”  Lastly, I am attending for all the women who can’t or won’t—for all the women, young and old, I know who don’t think they need feminism.

I am political—it’s in my blood.  I am a passionate person, and I am learning how to channel that into issues of truth and justice, advocating for change.  I am excited and ready for this, my first large-scale social justice event, and all it encompasses.

Are you going to be there?

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Our Minds Scare Them, So They Attack Our Bodies

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Photo by: Gabe Gomez NYC
(The brilliant women in my life who support me, love me, encourage me, and push me.)

How many of us have young girls in our lives who look up to us (women) as an example?  On my maternal side, I am one of fourteen granddaughters/great-granddaughters in my family (for scale, there are ten grandsons/great-grandsons).  On my paternal side, I’m one of four females and three males.  Of those eighteen, there are six under the age of ten.  When I interact with them, I have the opportunity to influence them.  The question is, what kind of influence will I choose?

In 2011 I read a blog based on an article that has stuck with me every since.  A Cup of Jo talked about the HuffPo article by Lisa Bloom dealing with how to appropriately talk with little girls.  It deals with the way people address them and what they place value on, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Stereotypically, what is the first thing you want to do when you see an adorable little girl in the cutest outfit?  You want to compliment the way she looks.  I’m with you!  My little cousins are beautiful—but, more than their beauty they are hilarious, intelligent, witty, and observant.  That’s why, from the time I read that article till today, I do my best to ask the young girls I encounter about their interests, school, books, outdoors, anything other than their attire.  It’s hard, though!  Habits are hard to break.

As Bloom put it, “What’s wrong with that? It’s our culture’s standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn’t it? And why not give them a sincere compliment to boost their self-esteem? Because they are so darling I just want to burst when I meet them, honestly.”

Here’s why it’s important to break the habit and start talking about things other than clothes and appearance: “Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.”

Imagine, then, the frustration I (and others) feel that as girls grow into young women they are still overwhelmed with the magnifying attention that is constantly placed on their clothing in settings where they are supposed to be growing as contributing human beings (like school, religious settings, clubs and organizations, volunteer situations, etc.).

Earlier today I read an article (one of how many?) dealing with a girl whose male history teacher berated her in front of the class about her clothing and her body shape/size.  It stated, “The teacher reportedly told Anderson she was in violation of the dress code and should be shopping at plus-sized stores. He then went on to lecture the mortified high school student in front of the entire class on how ‘smaller busted women could get away with more than larger busted women,’ the lawyer said in a statement.”

The girl’s mother addressed the issue on Facebook with the following. “I refuse to put my daughter in a situation where her self esteem is completely destroyed. She is there to learn. This whole time she was missing out on an education while we were all sitting in a room discussing her boobs. How often does this happen to your sons? Seems like another way to keep girls uneducated.”

How long are we going to continue allowing people’s and institution’s ideologies harass and abuse females?  How long will we allow the double standard and sole-focus regarding women’s appearances to be the main conversation?  When will say enough is enough?  This is why we need feminism.  This is why females have to support each other, because if we tear each other down, we have taken out our allies.  Our intelligence is not based on the head coverings or crop tops we choose to wear, it’s based on what is in our minds and hearts.

 

Feminist Isn’t A Bad Word

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Over the weekend A and I went to Winston-Salem, NC for a quick trip to meet with friends.  Winston-Salem is also where he went to high school and undergrad, so he takes me to his old haunts whenever we’re in the area.  This time, he introduced me to McKay’s used bookstore.

It has such a great selection of books, movies, CDs, and more.  But seriously, the books.  So good!  I had to practice self-control, because our home is turning into a library (not a bad thing—just a space issue).

However, I’ve really wanted to grow my knowledge of women studies, feminism, etc., and the best way to do that seems to be starting “at the very beginning” (to quote Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music—which I did sing while leaving the store).  So, when I found a great copy of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan with an intro by Anna Quindlen, I grabbed it!

One of my sources of extreme frustration is when I hear or read females (teenage, young woman, woman, older woman—doesn’t matter) say they don’t need feminism.  They typically add that equality isn’t an issue in our country, and that things are far worse in other parts of the world.

I agree…to an extent.  Women in the United States do have more equality than women in, say, Saudi Arabia.  However, as one who has experienced sexism in the work place, social life, etc., I have to advocate for the rights of women—even the ones who say they don’t need it.

Growing up, I thought “feminist” and “feminism” were bad words.  I equated feminists with man-haters.  I never imagined I would become a feminist.  However, in college I encountered three young women, peers of mine, who helped shift my perspective.  Thanks to them, and others, I look for ways to protect myself and other women from patriarchy—whether imposed by men or other women.

We all know the stereotype of females being called “catty.”  That needs to go away, along with the words “nag”, “whore”, “hoe”, “bossy”, and many other terms and phrases that, when used in association with women, are meant to “put her in her place.”  We need to start, from a young age, showing support, advocacy, love, and encouragement to our fellow ladies!  Women supporting women has the potential to create a huge cultural and social shift.  Let’s do this together!

What do you do to help influence the way the world interacts with and treats women?  How do you support the girls/women in your sphere of influence?  I believe it’s an ongoing, reconditioning of how we view the world around us and how we interact with it.