(originally posted on Friday, 27 April 2012)
When I was a teenager, I thought I wasn’t a feminist. I had this sense of it being an old-school thing, something that had mostly happened before I was born. Feminism was for my mom’s generation and was about something kind of vague and foreign to me; burning your bra, not shaving your legs, and yeah, the Equal Rights Amendment (“um, they passed that, didn’t they?”). Blurry black and white photographs of women marching, holding signs. By the time I started to have any awareness of feminism, I had already made some assumptions. Guys were still pigs and jerks and so on (a view that has evolved a great deal since then), but we all pretty much had the same rights … right? The whole time I spent growing up, I had been hearing that I could be anything, do anything that I wanted, and be just as good at it as a guy. And well, if some employer thought they were going to be paying ME any less for it, they just had another think coming.
Besides, at the time, I was wrapped up in another “rights” movement. When I was 16, I came out as a lesbian and fell painfully, desperately in love with a girl I knew. The same way a lot of girls do at 16, I immediately began imagining our life together and dreaming about our wedding. And as I navigated the waters of being an openly gay kid on Long Island, I found gay and lesbian friends my age, and found that we all did that. That was when I began to work toward the goal of gay marriage in New York State. I called our Republican state senate majority leader’s office, wrote letters, distributed literature, and yes, marched. I did all those things that were available to us as junior wonk/activists back in the early 90s, before it became easy and commonplace to rally people for causes online. Even though I wound up surprising everyone else years later by up and marrying a man, and having children, I didn’t feel any differently about whether marriage ought to have been a right for any couple who wanted to make a life together. Funny, but that sick, soaring, dizzy, desperate in love feeling was just the same. I can’t lie and say that when New York passed their gay marriage law last year, that my eyes didn’t well up. A battle that I had thrown in with 20 years ago had just finally been won.
So, no. I’m not exactly a stranger to political activism.
When you’re young, you plan your life based upon the floor beneath your feet, on the bedrock of The Way Things Are, maybe imagining carving some new paths if you’re the bold or dreaming type. When you’re an adult, you’ve been walking on that floor long enough that you damn well expect it to be there every goddamned morning when you get out of bed. And, then as now, I’ve been realizing, I’ve got a bunch of people I don’t know and have never met, deciding without my consent what kind of plans I could or could not make for my life. A bunch of people telling me that, no, actually, I cannot have the rights that I thought were inalienable, that were fought for and gifted to us by those women in blurry black and white photographs in the pages of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” A bunch of people trying to take away the floor under my feet.
The work that WRUN does online is enormously satisfying. It’s an incredible experience to be reaching out to so many people and having them respond. But it’s not the same as marching. Most of us don’t have time to do it all the time, especially those of us with jobs and children. But there’s nothing else like it. My first time marching for anything was scary and exhilarating; not everyone is comfortable with or accustomed to putting themselves out there.
You’re not sure if you’re the marching type? You should be! Not just for the message it sends. Not just for making your voice heard. Not just for the effect you hope it has, externally. But for the effect it has on you, internally. No, you’re not crazy. Yes, you believe in something. You are standing up for something. Shoulder to shoulder with others who share your belief and purpose. I’m not going to lie, it can be hard getting emotionally involved in something that in the end, you don’t really have control over. You just have to make as much noise as you can, and hope for the best. And if it doesn’t go your way, you have to look at the problem, hold it up to the light, spin it around, and come at it from another direction. But win or lose, there’s value in the fight, either way. The simple act of standing up makes you see yourself differently. It changes your perspective on who you are, what your place is, your role and significance in society and the world. Whether you win or lose on the issue, you win something by claiming legitimacy for your own voice. For some of us, that’s no different than every day… but for a lot of us, a lot of you reading this who aren’t sure if you’re “the marching type” … it might be a radical change. Maybe one that you need.
So … See you tomorrow?