Thursday, March 08, 2012

Stand by Me

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see
No I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
Today is the 101st International Women's Day. It's hard for me to know what to say about this day. The last few months have made me feel as if we have moved right back to 1911, when women still couldn't vote or control their own bodies and lives.

Everywhere I turn, I feel under attack. Every day brings a fresh set of outrages and leaves me feeling despair--for myself, my children, and my country.

I have been a feminist and a political activist for 25 years now. During those 25 years, I have fought my share of battles on both the right and the left--because sexism and misogyny do not observe party or ideological lines.

I am proud to be a feminist--to have committed my life to making a better world for women AND men by releasing both from expectations that limit who they are and can be.

And I am tired. I am desperately weary, in fact--but there can be no rest now. To rest is to lose everything for which I've been working for my entire adult life. It is to consign both my children to a future in which their humanity will be limited by rigidly enforced social and religious gender norms that I reject with every ounce of my being.

On this 101st International Women's Day, I am not sure how much energy I have left. What I need are reinforcements.
If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won't cry, I won't cry, no I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
Probably everyone who is reading this will have known me, in some way, shape, or form, for years. Many of you I count as friends in real life.

So, on this day when we remember and celebrate the fact that women hold up half the sky, I decided to write and ask you--men, women, and gender-queer--to stand by me and give me reason to hope for the future and the energy to keep working for a fair and equitable world.

Here's how:

1. Respect women's bodily autonomy. Trust that we are the best people to make choices for our bodies/ourselves. Accept that "No" means "No" --and recognize that silence does NOT equal consent. Acknowledge that only "Yes" means "Yes."

2. Respect women's moral agency. Trust that we are the best people to make moral choices for ourselves. Recognize that MY moral choices are MINE. I am the one who has to live with them, not you--so it is not up to you to make them for me or any other woman.

3. Show respect for women by the things you say. Don't call women "bitches," "sluts," "whores," "cunts," or any other derogatory name that is tied to the feminine. If you feel the need to insult a particular woman, there are plenty of words you can use that don't demean all the rest of us.

3a. As a corollary, don't use the feminine as an insult to men. When you call a man or boy a "pussy," or a "sissy," or tell him that he does X "like a girl," you turn being a woman into an insult.

4. Show respect for women by the media you consume. Be mindful that sexism in the media pollutes our culture and does incalculable damage to women and girls. Take the time to ask yourself if the movies you watch, the music you listen to, the books/magazines/websites you read, the jokes you laugh at, etc., send positive or negative messages about women. Press for change where you can--and take your attention and money elsewhere when you can't.

5. Remember where the pathology lies. Experts believe that one out of six women in the United States will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime--some more than once--and that is a conservative estimate. The only person responsible for sexual assault is the person who violates another person's bodily autonomy (see #1). It doesn't matter what a woman was wearing, where she was, who she was with, whether she was drinking or taking drugs, whether she's ever been sexually active (with the perpetrator or anyone else), etc. Stop putting the burden on women to prevent sexual assault (they can't) and start holding men accountable for committing it.

I could go on, but these are the big ones. As you can see, it's mostly about respect. If people who are women or who love women would do these, I believe the world would be a much better, safer, and more humane place for EVERYONE.

And if you can do these for--and with--me, I will promise to do this for you: