The Positive Language of Feminism

Nearly a month into 2015, but it’s not too late to add a New Year’s resolution. This year, I will be a positive feminist and use my language to uplift women.

I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend in my speech this past year: when speaking about feminism, social justice or human rights I fall into the category of one who sees some of the problems but frames my responses from a negative outlook. Instead of saying “Women’s voices have been devalued by patriarchal culture,” I say, “Women are told their voices don’t matter and that we’ll never matter.”

The difference is in the tense. It is true that women’s voices have been devalued in the past, and that in the present women still struggle to be heard, but that does not mean WE’LL NEVER MATTER. If I frame our current struggle as a losing cause I keep my self down, I keep others down and surround myself with the fear that nothing I can do or say will matter because the past=the present=the future.

Not true.

In a conversation with a group of women of color at my university the other day, many of them spoke about how their mothers and female role models never told them that they were worth less as women. Looking at my own background, my mother never told me that I was worth less for my sex. I was telling myself this lie because to be a feminist and to be a part of feminist culture and debate means to drop into a fist fight and always keep your arms up for defense. You will be attacked.

Maybe I wanted a lost cause. Maybe it felt good to rant in absolute statements that said negative words like NEVER.

But feminism is not a lost cause.

With your arms up you are also on the offensive and you choose how you fight. This year, I choose to fight with positive language. Women’s voices are valued. Women’s voices are valued because I value them. And I am not alone.

When  I was home in CT for winter break I met up with a friend I’ve known since elementary school. The year before we both went off to college we were both afraid of the word feminism and wouldn’t listen to a mutual friend begin to question the patriarchy. We only meet up once or twice a year, and in 2013 we sat in Barnes and Noble and laughed at the articles in Seventeen Magazine for its portrayal of young girls as sex objects in a heteronormative world. I was a feminist then but was too afraid to say so to my friend and she was a feminist, but was too afraid to say so to me.

This year, I followed her facebook page as she posted about Ferguson and the fight for human rights across differences in race, sex, gender and sexuality. When we met up this year, she told me that as a creative writing major, “I’m tired of reading stories by and about men.” Wow, did I understand the feeling! Finally, we came together as the feminists were always terrified to be, but we lifted each other up through our bravery. Feminism is a positive language to make positive change and connect individuals for a more just and peaceful world of equality.

In 2015, I will be a positive feminist.

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How Superheroes Can Demonize People of Color

I went to an anti-police brutality rally protesting the death of Mike Brown recently. But it wasn’t just about Mike Brown. It was Trayvon Martin. It was the woman down the street.  It was for everyone who ever suffered under a racist police system.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/8460113914/

Anti-police brutality rally, Feb. 2013.

And as I stood in the crowd and chanted and yelled with my voice ringing with a myriad of voices around me, I thought about superheroes. I thought about the Justice League coffee mug I own and how out of all the superheroes depicted everyone is white.

jla

The mug features head shots of Robin, Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Wonder Woman. Everyone is white. What this means is that the heroes are white. The good guys are white. The guys who win, the guys who have the power, the moral righteousness that lets them make difficult choices. These heroes are white (and overwhelmingly male). I know not all police officers are white. I know you can be a person of color and still be racist both against your own race and against others. But I also know the message DC sends to its fans when it produces merchandise like this.

Cyborg is now on the Justice League and I’m thrilled that DC has taken this step, but it’s not enough. We need to show comic book readers of all colors  that your race has nothing to do with your morals. We need to show casual fans that in a world where racist police exist, at least in fiction it doesn’t have to. That’s the joy of fiction: it can illuminate the world’s problems and it can also offer solutions to them. And sometimes the solution is depicting a world where it has already been overcome.

What to Yell in a Public Space if You Feel Threatened

I’ve been taking a domestic violence advocacy training over the past few weeks. Each week a group of 20 or so participants gather together to learn more about the realities of domestic violence and that the answer is never to victim blame. The victim is never the cause and to combat domestic violence we need to teach abusers to not be violent.

At the last session a police officer came in to speak to us. He is a feminist and has been training new recruits in Georgia how to handle domestic violence cases. What struck me the most was when he asked our class:

If you ever feel threatened in a public place what is the best thing to yell to get help?

We yelled out all different answers from “Help!” to telling the abuser “Leave me alone” loud enough for passers by to hear. We talked about screaming until you get someone’s attention.

The police officer told us however that the best response is:

I don’t know them!

Whether or not this is true, I know I felt an immediate reaction to these words. I knew that if someone yelled that and I was within earshot I would go to help and I don’t think I would make the same decision otherwise. This is frightening because we assume the abused (and 90-95% of the time this person is female) belongs to the abuser. We assume the woman has done something to deserve this treatment, whether it’s being bullied into leaving a store, getting into a car or unwanted attention on the street. We assume the woman is in the wrong and by sitting passively we give license to abuse.

But the moment the abused shows they are not owned by someone else (a partner or otherwise) we feel sympathy because now the abuse is no longer justified. Except, abuse is never justified.  It shouldn’t take us so long to realize no one should have ownership over another human being. But it takes time because we are used to seeing women as objects owned and controlled by their partners. The moment we realize our own misconceptions of a violent situation (including verbal and emotional abuse) is the moment we can take a stronger stand against domestic violence.

end domestic violence

 

Websites You Need to be Following

I always struggle to be politically informed and I don’t have an excuse. I have access to print and online sources. I have no excuse not to be informed. However, I am always concerned about where I read my news and what sources I can trust to give me a full picture of current events. Here are a list of websites I’ve compiled for anyone suffering under the same dilemma I face. These websites are not just news sites, but also websites with links to important petitions and social action campaigns.

1. http://www.truthdig.com

Truth Dig (founded 2005) is an online news website dedicated to digging up the truths more mainstream media would not cover. Some of their most famous publications include “The Last Letter” (written by a paralyzed American veteran who served in Iraq and writes to former President Bush and Dick Cheney calling them war criminals) and Sam Harris’ “The Atheist Manifesto.” The website has won 5 Webby awards for best political website.

2. http://www.democracynow.org

It’s an independent news site. That in and of itself immediately makes it more trustworthy  because I know they are not bought and sold by corporations. The hosts, Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, contribute to the news both through broadcasts and online journalism. If you do not want to read their stories online, check them out on NPR.

3. http://www.justforeignpolicy.org

As Just Foreign Policy explains on their homepage, they are about changing American foreign policy to be more just and reflect the views of average Americans not corporations. Like Democracy Now, Just Foreign Policy is also an independent news site. Their current campaigns range from releasing the US’s torture report to the public, to ending Drone Strikes in Pakistan. What I like best about this source is that it does not just encourage you to donate, but offers alternative means of action. Most times you are asked not only to sign a petition but also to make a phone call or send an email to your local representatives or even President Obama.

I am open to further suggestions of your best news site and I plan to add to this as I become more educated.

 

 

 

Bring Back the 2% Solution

In December 1930, Albert Einstein gave a speech in New York expressing his dedication to the peace movements in America and abroad. But he did more than speak in abstract ideals of a peaceful future. He proposed a solution. He said:

Even if only two per cent of those assigned to perform military service should announce their refusal to fight, as well as urge means other than war  of settling international disputes, governments would be powerless, they would not dare send such a large number of people to jail.

On December 30th 2013, the US census bureau projected that in 2014, the US population would be 317,297,938. Two percent of the American population is over 6 million people! Imagine the political strength of 6 million especially if, as Einstein suggested, each of these individuals encourages others to stand against war and militarism.

What if 2% of the American people decided to stop paying their income taxes until military spending is cut down and the money transferred to education or sustainable energy? What if 2% of the American people rallied against the NRA? What if 2% of the American people demanded Guantanamo Bay be shut down?

What if 2% of the American people realized they have a powerful voice?

I’m speaking specifically about the American people because America, and specifically American youth, have become depoliticized just when the world most needs a protest movement that moves beyond internet circles.

Politics and politicization is not just for radicals, but for everyone who has something they believe in. Politics is for everyone.  It is the way to have a voice and recognize the power of that voice, especially in standing for peace in a violent world. The suffering of people in Syria, in the Ukraine, the violent attacks on protesters in Taiwan and in Turkey cannot be ignored as conflicts for others to deal with and broker peace. The US cannot take any stance for peace beyond its borders until the US government cuts down its military budget and takes steps toward a domestic peace process to end their own state monopoly on a violence. The US relies on a racist and sexist system inherent in a violent culture to control its population.

Bring back the 2% campaign! With enough people believing in a world free from militarization as a means of political  control, radical change can be made toward a realistic peace.

For more information on the history of an international peace movement I recommend reading Peace: A History of Movement and Ideas by David Cortright.

Our masters have not heard the people’s voice for generations and it is much, much louder than they care to remember. -Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

 

Culture of Protest: Do not Fear Change, Fear Passivity

Before coming to Turkey concerned friends and family only knew Turkey was part of the dreaded Middle East. They told me not to go near Syria even though I’m living on the opposite side of the country on the European continent. They told me not to go near Gezi Park–the site of anti-government protests summer 2013 which turned violent when police used water cannons and tear gas canisters to disperse Turkish people encamped in the park. The protests have been compared to the Occupy Movement and the 1968 protests in America because of how people of all political affiliations have been involved and it is not just one issue they are fighting for.

When the Occupy  movement swept through American news, it was a joke to me. The people holding their protests against Wallstreet weren’t making change, they were making fools of themselves and contacting TB while they struggled to get organized. From my sheltered life as a college student in GA these protests were futile and I barely paid them any attention.

But living in Istanbul I’ve seen protests. I walked outside of Istanbul Cevahir (the biggest mall in Europe) and there was a crowd of people chanting in Turkish, yelling in Turkish words that I didn’t understand. The other American exchange students I was with stopped to gawk, inching closer with smiles on their faces as they felt like such big-damn heroes for braving a protest scene. As soon as the police showed up and started attacking people in the crowd, my acquaintances ran off, yelling for me to follow them. I cannot remember the last time I was so angry. How could these other exchange students be so heartless and exploitative at the expense of people putting their safety on the line for something they believe in? When did protests become a spectacle?

I believe it happens when people find them exotic. The Occupy Movement aside, there is not a large protest culture in America since the 1960s because it seems as if protests haven’t been working. Maybe it’s because America is such a large country that creating national fervor has become near to impossible. Maybe it’s because the American government is so great at turning its citizens against each other that we’re too busy to fight the real enemy of the government who is supposedly elected to serve us. I do not feel served as an American citizen, I feel betrayed by a system I was taught all my life is perfect. American Democracy.

And because have American democracy, things may not be perfect as we’re told they are as children, but things could always be worse so sit down, shut up and don’t complain. Laugh at the people brave enough to complain. Run away when things get too dangerous and don’t you dare try to stand up for your rights. It won’t work.

The protests in Atlanta after the Zimmerman trial didn’t stop the government or the court systems from being racist. The No More Names protest against gun violence following the Newtown school shooting didn’t stop the NRA from keeping its boot on the American government’s neck. They marched on Washington and nothing has happened to pass gun safety laws. It seems as if every protest we have is quickly forgotten as people turn a blind eye to suffering that does not affect them. Again, we are too busy fighting ourselves to fight the government and this is a form of oppression. Although the system of democracy advocates for the voice of the people in making decisions, the real world of living in American democracy tells you the opposite. It tells you not to make change and that maybe change isn’t possible.

Yesterday, March 11th 2014 marks the death of Berkin Elvan a 14 year old who left his home to buy bread during the Gezi Park protests and was hit in the head by police. Elvan had been in a coma since he was attacked and yesterday he died. In Istanbul and Ankara (the two largest cities in Turkey) there were massive protests and looking at the pictures  I wondered if protests like this could happen in America today. I wondered if protests like this do happen today and the government is great at covering them up or turning them into parodies to be laughed at.

But no matter what I wonder, there is one thing I know. One of the most striking ways Turkish protests differ from what I have seen and understand about American protests is that in Turkey, the protesters are not pushing for the government to enact small reforms. They are asking the government to resign. 

That is what American protests are missing: the belief that large-scale change can occur and that we are not beholden to the current system. I do not have all the answers for a perfect government but I do not fear a change in the system, I fear living my life under the belief that change is impossible.

Be a Good Ally

I took a five-and-a-half hour bus ride out of Istanbul to get to the Gallipoli peninsula.

For those five-and-a-half hours, I had a long conversation with a man also studying abroad through the same program as myself. We had talked a bit before, but had never had the time to just sit and get to know each other. He’s an environmental engineer and I’m a writer, but we talked far more about real world issues we were each trying to solve through our chosen profession.

He knew about racial profiling and understood that racism is still alive today. He knew that when I was canvassing over the past summer, it must have been more difficult for me to be walking around as a woman. I told him it was worse for the canvassers of color who were stopped by the police. He was sympathetic and understood that he has privilege as a straight, white, cisgender man.

But, though he said he supported gay marriage, he would not actively pursue the issue because:

 it wasn’t his issue.

By this point in our conversation, I had explained how I do not believe American governments on any level (from local to national) are actually committed to making positive change. I told him that I wanted to use my creative writing to write better media representations of women, people of color, the queer community and any intersection or variation of the above. He was receptive to my ideas and was clearly considering his own opinions on the matter because he told me he wished he were more informed and could give a stronger opinion.

This is why his response that certain issues were not his issues floored me. By all accounts he was an ally. Not just to the queer community, but to the feminist community and to people of color. He understood that oppression is a contemporary issue that needs to be immediately addressed. So how can he see the problems of the world, know people who are affected by these problems and still believe he is only obligated to care about his issues?

His issues are environmental. I respect that. The earth needs an ally too. However, he is not a good ally.

Being a good ally is more than acknowledging issues exist. It is more than saying you support gay marriage or women’s rights. You can say all you want, but if in the end you won’t do anything because you believe you are somehow exempt from responsibility toward helping people who are not your own, you do not understand what an ally is.

The reason I believe American governments are not moving toward equality is because my friend’s reasoning is the norm. Progressive people are saying they support gay rights, anti-racist policies and gender and sexual equality for women but they are not doing anything about it. And if the people on the ground aren’t doing anything about it, how will our government know we are serious about what we say?

Be a good ally and put action to your words. Do more than tell the world you won’t sit back and let bigotry continue. Stand up and don’t let bigotry continue.