When I hear a word like activist, my brain hums along. A loose definition forms, gossamer and ghostly, until it eventually takes shape and I am left with something concrete. A name, an example.
Activist: Rosa Parks. Dolores Huerta, Ida Wells, Cecile Richards, Audre Lorde, Tarana Burke. Flip, flip, flip. More names.
Nowhere in that catalog, not even at the very back, not even in the margins, does my own name appear.
So what makes an activist? Is there a set of criteria which must be met, a level of activist activity, akin to one of those strongman hammer do-dads at the town carnival, which must be reached before one can wear the label?
I’m sure I’m not alone in envisioning activism with a capital “A” and an exclamation point. An all-encompassing noun involving sweeping gestures and noble sacrifice. The word conjures ideas of single-minded crusades, 100% dedication, and bold acts.
How many times can you screw in a lightbulb emblazoned with the word ACTIVISM before you think of yourself as an activist?
The day after the US 2016 election I set up an ongoing monthly donation to Planned Parenthood, an organization of great importance to me. If anyone asked me what I wanted for Christmas I pointed them to the Center for Reproductive Rights. I ramped up my funding for political candidates whose ideas and ideals I could get behind.
Still, I didn’t consider myself an activist.
I marched in 2017 during the Women’s March, but also in 1992 in Washington, DC for reproductive rights. In the late 1980s I marched along the streets of NYC in black, high-top Adidas during Take Back the Night. I marched against the Gulf War, with young men I knew, men just tripping into adulthood, whose eyes reflected their fear that a war none of us wanted would reach out its greedy fingers and mark them irrevocably.
Still, I didn’t call myself an activist.
I write and publish essays about feminism. I regularly bore the pants off many men…and women… highlighting gender bias. I endure countless eye rolls as I patiently work my way through the nuances of the wage gap. I introduce new-fangled terms like the Motherhood Penalty. I use my social media platforms to speak out against harmful policies. And I have raged, oh, how I’ve raged, both privately and publicly, each time we take two steps back in this tango of equality.
Yet still, I don’t use the word activist to describe myself.
Perhaps, however, my definition is too narrow. Perhaps…just perhaps…I should be embracing my personal acts of activism. Activism with a lower-case “a” rather than a capital. With a quiet sentence ender rather than an exclamation point.
The everyday activism.
And perhaps…just perhaps…if we all did that, instead of assuming that what we do is too little, too late, or too insignificant, there would be enough excitement to warrant that exclamation point after all.
There are times when you face the mountain and the mountain seems un-scaleable. What is one person, one act, one small thing going to do? When one lone person takes their canvas tote to the supermarket, is it really going to help the Earth? Is it going to make a difference to climate change?
It’s difficult to fit you and your small, canvas tote into the bigger picture.
Is my ten dollars a month going to make a difference to Planned Parenthood? My fifty dollars a year is, after all, merely a drip in the coffers of the ACLU. My body, one of thousands, will not be missed if I don’t march. My voice, one among thousands, will not subtract from the din.
But if we’re all kicking the can down the road to others because we think we can’t make a difference, if we’re putting out a small spark because we’re not comfortable carrying a torch, does that torch, regardless of who is carrying it, ever stand a chance at staying lit?
Imagine if a young Ruby Bridges, walking to school under the protection of federal marshals to desegregate a Louisiana classroom felt one lone girl wasn’t enough. Imagine if Shannon Watts thought one mother crusading to change the way we look at gun laws thought one mother wasn’t enough. Imagine if Dolores Huerta had assumed that one woman alone could not make a dent in the fight for farm workers.
What would we be left with?
There are hundreds of ways to help force change in the places we believe need change. We can donate money or fundraise to help others do so. We can give our time, our talents. We can add our bodies. We can show up. We can call out.
At the end of the day, I am but one voice, a whisper in a sea of noise. But if I add my voice, my whisper to the lone whispers of others, if we all do that, it becomes a scream too loud to ignore. And so I continue. Not because I expect to change the world all by myself, but because if there are a hundred other “me”s out there, a thousand, half a million, think of the possibilities.
We are all activists, intentional or not, when we stand up for change we believe in. When you carry the tote bag, when you call out sexism, when you join a march, when you donate to a cause. They are acts of everyday activism.
Find the cause or causes you are passionate about, find the things you want to change. And fight for them. Fight for them a little, fight for them a lot. Fight for them in ways large and small, but don’t ever think those acts, however everyday they seem, aren’t making a difference.
And don’t let anyone, least of all yourself, tell you differently.
Playing a feminist version of the old “Bloody Mary” game of slumber parties past, I’ve stood with eyes squeezed shut and asked a mirror the same question.
“Do I hate men?”
“Do I hate men?”
“Do I hate men?”
When I’ve opened my eyes, the answer is the same as it’s always been.
Of course I don’t hate men.
Look, there’s a world of difference between being pro-woman and being anti-man. They are not two sides of the same coin, one does not necessitate the other. But those are thoughts for another post.
But this post? This one goes out to the ones I love.
I suppose in a way, following the logical conclusion of REM lyrics, it goes out to the ones I’ve left behind as well. After all, the long trail of tears from adolescence to late twenties led me directly to the kind of man I could spend my life with, raise children with, and move across continents with. It’s led me to forming friendships with the kind of men I’m comfortable with.
The point is, I know good men. My husband, friends, random people I’ve met on the internet….
What I’ve realized of late is that sometimes in this never-ending battle of the sexes, we don’t follow the Marine Corp. code. Often those few good men do get left behind.
So, if you are one of them, if you’re married to one or raised one, if your daughter married one, if you know one, make sure you give them a quick nod of thanks before we go up over the trench for the next skirmish.
Who are these men? They are men who understand their life as a male grants them the mother of all hall passes: the opportunity to walk through life unburdened by the albatross of constantly playing catch up. The ones who, all else being equal, can expend their energy chasing white whales and windmills. And before anyone gets indignant, defiant, or defensive, I don’t mean to imply men do not face their own set of challenges–because they absolutely do, but that’s for another post.
It would seem I have a lot of writing to do.
But these men, the best of men and best of husbands? They know that a fluke of sperm and chromosome has given them a platform. The height I–or any other woman–gets from a pair of stilettos, doesn’t begin to come close.
These are the men who are willing to listen and learn, to expand their views, and most importantly, to change the way they use the hall pass which is perpetually tucked into the back pocket of their man pants.
My husband? He understands that opening the world up for women means opening the world up for him as well. A wider world of opportunity for ME means a wider world of opportunity for him and for our sons as well.
It means my kids can belt out the soundtrack to Hamilton at full blast and not be concerned with whether or not it’s ok for men to sing Broadway musicals. It means my oldest son can draw rainbows and unicorns without worrying about being called feminine or an LGBTQ slur. It means my youngest can wear pink football boots without being called a pussy. It means allowing them the freedom to explore a richer emotional life without being told to man up. It means encouraging to do the things they love, not just the limited options on the male approved list. It means seeking out things that will bring them fulfillment, not just ticking the boxes of what success means.
As much as it means I find and demand value beyond being a mother, it means my husband gets to find value in being a father.
The men I am talking about? They aren’t afraid to put their money where their mouth is. I have witnessed these men change the language they use, I have listened to them not only talk about the importance of diversity quotas but actually put them into practice. I have watched the lightbulb moment of recognition in some where they have come to realize women are not simply making this shit up. I have watched them enter into online dialogues to call out sexism. I have watched them dig below the layer that is so often presented to them to find a female example, a female candidate, a female adviser–not just to score brownie points, but because they recognize that expanding their own circle of knowledge to include experiences beyond their own is going to enrich their own experience.
It’s like adding new cuisine to a meat and potatoes diet. Does meat and potatoes taste good? Sure. Will it sustain you? Sure. But how do you know your new favorite meal isn’t going to be something you’ve never tried before?
I don’t hate men. I want men to be better. Having said that, there are many I know who are already there.
The best of men and best of husbands, this is for you.
My moods during the last six months have see-sawed, as has my conviction that in January The United States of America will inaugurate its first female President. I’ve gone through heartbreak, confusion, anger, rage, grief. I’ve been horrified, delighted, uplifted. I’ve cried, both in joy and frustration.
If life is like a box of chocolates, during this election I’ve eaten everything from the caramel to the nasty candied cherry. I feel sticky, nauseated, and like I need to brush my teeth and eat nothing but salad for a week.
But…instead of watching the polls fluctuate and my anxiety escalate in this, the final stretch, I”ll be carousing around a foreign city with some fabulous females. I’m not bringing my laptop. I’m not checking the news. (Ok, I won’t be checking the new obsessively.)
I’m still worried, but this morning as I was packing, I had a sudden moment of calm. Perhaps I’ve entered the eye of Hurricane Election because suddenly I realized it was all going to be ok.
Because even if Donald Trump wins the election, the people who voted for him aren’t going to win.
I don’t mean their candidate isn’t going to win. I mean the reasons why they chose to fill in the ballot circle next to his name aren’t going to win.
You can’t make people disappear. You can’t choose simply declare you don’t ‘believe’ in homosexuality or marriage equality like you choose to ‘believe’ in the Tooth Fairy. LGBTQ human beings exist. They take up space and other dimensions. Marriage equality is a thing. Transgender citizens and same-sex spouses are not going to suddenly disappear just because a bunch of people chose to elect a vice-president who wants to shift federal money to ‘gay conversion’ programs.
You think millions of women are going to lay down and allow themselves to be groped and degraded and discriminated against because a bunch of people chose to elect a party which, for all intents and purposes, want women to just go away and bleed quietly from their wherevers? You can spout all you want about the ‘myths’ of systematic oppression or the wage gap. But they exist and they’re not going to disappear in a cloud of magical smoke. Women aren’t just going to suddenly go away and stop demanding equality.
Those who are voting for Trump on the basis of religion can pray on pious knees until they are bloody for God to smote their enemy. It’s not going to happen. They can prayer circle around women who seek out birth control and abortion. It’s not going to stop them.
They can deny climate change. It’s not going to stop it. They can deny evolution. It doesn’t make it go away.
The reasons so many Trump voters are voting for Trump? Those reasons are NEVER GOING TO WIN.
The people who’ve been checking off the ‘other’ the box next to their identity don’t need to have their existence legitimized or FDA approved. Do you think they’re going to let you take their rights and stuff them back into some fundamentalist homophobic misogynistic cupboard and lock the door?
Women aren’t going to suddenly develop the urge to dig out their grandmother’s aprons and start mixing martinis for their husbands. Life is not going to magically revert back to some black and white television version of bucolic happiness which was only pleasant and happy if you closed your eyes and ignored the lynchings and the back alley abortions and the men and women being imprisoned for being gay.
You can build a thousand walls and they will still be breached.
You can build a thousand prisons and they will still be dismantled.
You can think of a thousand ways to hate and people will still love.
The United States has been moving forward for decades. Sometimes quickly, sometimes tortuously slow. It will continue to do so, even if it takes a backward step next Tuesday.
Once I figured all that out, I felt better. I finished packing and dug out my passport and tomorrow, I’ll be off.
Oh, and Donald? CU next Tuesday.
Dear Moms of Girls,
I always figured I would have daughters. I won’t go so far as to say I envisioned myself holding bundles of pink and sparkle, but in the back of my head I looked forward to raising kick-ass girls who would rock and roll; girls who would build on the momentum of a righteously feminist mother and hopefully one day, leave me sputtering in the dust.
Then I went and had boys. And I’m here to tell you I am THAT mom of boys.
You know the one I mean, right? (Don’t lie. I can see you rolling your eyes from my couch.)
I’m the boring mother who insists that if they’re talking about a female over the age of eighteen, they use the word woman, the one that jumps on any chance to point out how we use words differently when we talk about boys and girls–and yeah, I stretch it a bit far sometimes to make a point. Usually it snaps back and hits me in the ass, but there you go.
I’m the one who lectures them until I’m sick of the sound of my own voice about listening when people say “I don’t like that” or “Stop touching me.” Even though my youngest is only 8 and has no interest in girls. Or boys. Or animals for that matter. But over and over. Look at me when I’m talking to you, this is important. When someone says not to touch them, you must.stop.touching.them.right.away.
I’m that boring-ass mother who’s constantly bringing up the achievements of girls and women. The one who’s teaching my sons to hold the door open for everyone, not just girls because it’s not about being a gentlemen, it’s about not being an asshole.
I’m the one who’s constantly harping on about how even though boys and girls are different, men and women are different, one is not better than another. The one always reminding them you can’t tell if someone is a boy or a girl by the length of their hair or the color of their shirt, what they like or don’t like, what they do or don’t do.
I’m the over-the-top mom, the one continuously pointing out stereotypes.
I’m the one who doesn’t let my kids play video games that objectify women. The one who made sure they knows what a period is, what tampons are for, where babies come from, what boobs are for. The one who taught them the word vagina. The one who, when they’re ready, will be explaining that yes, women like sex because it feels good.
I’m the over-zealous mom who sat down with her 2nd grade son when he started going to school dances about how to respect girls, and what to do if a girl asked him to dance and he didn’t want to. That is wasn’t ok to laugh or make fun or disrespect, even if he wasn’t interested. Or in his case, terrified at the thought.
I’m the one who has told them if I ever find out they’re making fun of a way a girl looks I’ll take them down. If I ever find out they’re demeaning a girl, I’ll take them down. If I find out they’re using sexually charged insults I’ll be over them like white on rice. I’m the one that sounds like a whining drill that when I keep saying things like “cry like a girl” it is insulting, unfair and untrue.
I’m that annoying mom who doesn’t excuse aggression just because my kids are boys.
I’m the slight nut-case who has endless dinner table conversations about how women are under represented, how history only tells the story from one point, the one who quizzes them on history facts about women and voting rights. (Yes. I really am that mom)
I’m the one that will sit their asses down and give them talk after talk about sex and consent and how if they are ever unsure, the answer is no.
I’m the one who is boring them to tears with conversations about the roles women have played in history.
I’m the one who is passionately ranting about how to make things equal. How it is important to value people for who they are and not assume they’re better just because they are a boy or a girl.
I’m the one who’s not worried so much about raising my sons to be gentlemen. Your daughters don’t need gentlemen. They deserve boys and men who view them as equals.
I’m the pain in the ass, you-are-sick-of-hearing mom who is continually pointing out that not only can girls do anything boys can do, but boys can do anything girls can do–well, except for the birth thing.
Yes, I’m THAT mom.
I’m a pain in the ass. I go on and on. I am a record stuck in a groove. I’m THAT mom.
The one who is raising boys to view your daughters as equals, as partners, as people. The one who’s doing her damnedest to raise men who don’t worry as much about holding open doors as they do about making the world a more equal–and thereby better–place for us all.
I’m willing to take the fall, be the patsy, ignore the rolling eyes and huffing sighs…if it works.
I’m THAT mom.
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