This morning at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration (in Philadelphia) I did a talk titled “Becoming a feminist.”
You can view the YouTube video below. If you prefer, you can read the piece below the video on this blog. Thanks!
Recently I was walking in Chinatown. It was an unseasonably warm night so I had my jacket open. An older conservatively dressed white woman was walking toward me. I saw her staring at me — trying to figure me out, a lesbian over six feet tall with short hair.
I saw her reading the large words on my t-shirt that read “Unite Against Hate.” She looked at me with disgust. If the look on her face had words, it would have said, “Who do you think you are, uniting against hate?!”
Her look prompted me to glare back with the thought, “Really?! — you want to take me on?!”
The moment passed and we went our respective ways. Maybe it was because of my background in martial arts that I felt so empowered, so self-confident. I didn’t stop to remember that it was decades ago when I earned my second degree purple belt.
Since the election I have been filled with such moments of good old fashioned lesbian rage. But I am also a practicing non-violent Buddhist, so I have had a few things to figure out. One of them was why fifty-three percent of white women (including college-educated suburban white women) voted against their own interests.
There are some initially easy answers — these women are most likely married to conservative white men and they are identifying with their race and with their husband’s income rather than as women — an oppressed class.
Denial is strong. But reality is stronger. More than a third of these marriages will end in divorce. And a fraction of these women will end up in the already overcrowded and underfunded battered women’s shelters. I am not wishing this fate on anyone — I am merely stating a statistical reality.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. So I have compassion for those who voted against their own interests. I just finished reading Gloria Steinem’s latest book My Life On The Road. The book is full of revelations and I do recommend it.
When I read Gloria’s statement that you have to stand up for your own rights, before you can stand up for others — it gave me pause.
Gloria Steinem’s words made me reflect that I am fortunate to be among the women and men, along with those who identify with a different gender, who do get it about feminism.
Gloria is a lifelong beacon for me. It is because of her that all women are a little freer. I grew up with Ms. magazine in the house. I went to rallies with my ahead-of-her-time feminist mother who I wrote about in my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters.
My working class, heterosexual, feminist mother saw to it that her only daughter would be a feminist.
Despite the fact of my gender-neutral childhood, I lived in the larger society. To counter the message that women are second class citizens, I had to go through a period of consciousness-raising. When I look back, I can recall a few “aha” moments.
- In elementary school, I got into a fist fight with a boy who backed down because he didn’t want to risk punching me in the stomach, because in his words, “I wouldn’t be able to have babies.” Of course, this made me even more furious!
- When I was in junior high, I had a math teacher who only called on the boys.
- In my early twenties, I went to an exhibition of women artists at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. During the exhibition, it suddenly occurred to me that all of the art shows that I had seen previously had exhibited artwork that had been done mostly if not exclusively by men.
It is my hope for all women to have their own “aha moments.” Maybe, for example, the majority of women might realize that reproductive rights (including abortion) should be a Goddess-given reality — rather than a reason that women should be imprisoned.
Hating others is not the same thing as standing up for yourself.
It is my practicing Buddhist and Unitarian Universalist informed hope that ALL will be able to truly stand up for their own rights and then stand up for others.