But then I have a conversation or exchange comments online and I remember. I know why I do this. I see others doing what they can, what they know how to do, every day in their ordinary lives, and I remember.
Last night, I had a terrific exchange with a couple of people on my Facebook page. Nothing earth-shattering, but it was cool. I connected with one old friend and one new one, and we shared some thoughts.
The original post, which I shared via a fellow blogger, was a link to a Christianity Today article in response to the Steubenville rape case and the aftermath. After a few comments from one friend, another jumped in and asked what I thought of the post I Am Not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter which was linked in the CT article. (I agree, by the way. I think it’s a weak argument that continues to perpetuate the idea that women are only someone in relation to a man. I feel the same way when people use the “it could be your friend/relative/coworker” argument to “humanize” any group of people.) I won’t bore you with the details of our conversation, but eventually, it sparked my new friend to post this question:
Thought experiment: There are two magic buttons. One makes all men see all women as persons. The other allows all women to see themselves as persons. (Person = full empowerment; full ownership of one’s own body, mind, and destiny.)
If you could press only one of the magic buttons, which would you press? Why?
Both my other friend and I (in a rare fit of solidarity; we often disagree with each other–but that’s one of the things I like about her) said we would choose the latter. We disagree on why we would make that choice, but it struck me as important that two people who have vastly different approaches to addressing the ills of the world would be of one mind on this.
The next question, of course, was why we (feminists) don’t focus more on empowering women rather than changing the way men view us. My friend said that what’s important to her is not to worry about educating those who won’t change their minds, to be a better person than those who came before her, and to pass that on to the next generation.
Those are admirable things, and I want to go on record saying that I am absolutely certain–whether she always feels it or not–that this friend is making a difference (even though she absolutely does not need my approval!). We haven’t seen one another face-to-face in many years, but even when we were in college together she was making an impact. She might not remember it, but she was a good friend (along with our whole group) at a time when I needed that. So if nothing else, she affected me. I have no doubt that she is having that effect on others, likely in ways she’s not aware of. She is doing what is meaningful for her and being the person she wants to be. That should never, ever be discounted as unworthy or unimportant.
Which brings me to why I do what I do. I have a vastly different approach. What’s key, though, is that my way of doing things is not better than anyone else’s. Nor is it less worthy. I choose to take on educating the ignorant because I believe that’s what perpetuates cycles of violence and hate. It’s not the small number of perpetrators who allow it to continue–it’s the uneducated people who stand by and do nothing while violators do what they do. It’s the people who sit around asking questions about why rape victims “allowed” themselves to be in that position. It’s the average church-goers who say nothing when their pastors spew hate towards gay people. It’s the ones who say, “I’m not racist, but…” followed by something that sounds remarkably racist.
In the end, people like my college friend give me the courage to do what I do because she has the courage to live it in her corner of the world. It doesn’t matter that we work this out in different ways, because there are any number of approaches to making this world a better place. Instead of being frustrated that all my friends aren’t activists, I’m choosing today to appreciate the beauty of our diversity. And I’m choosing to celebrate and honor the women I know who have the courage to believe in themselves regardless of what anyone else says.
Thank you, friends, for an excellent discussion and the renewal I needed to go out another day and work against oppression.