Category: feminism

Protests Don’t Work

Protests don’t work. Yes, I’ve said it. I’ve been an activist for over 30 years, spending a whole lot of time shouting slogans and waving signs, but I’ve been known to say it and will say it again. Protests don’t work. But, let me go a little deeper here and share what’s inspired this post.

On August 18th, 1920 the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed giving women in the US the right to vote. (We could get into the discussion of who exactly got the right to vote, but that’s another post for another time.) Historical societies and museums across the country are celebrating the 100th anniversary of this amazing victory right now with exhibits, documentaries, and educational events. Yesterday, a friend and I went to visit the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison to view their exhibit on suffrage. It was an excellent display and I would encourage anyone in the area to check it out.

As we wandered and viewed the images my friend questioned whether some of the tactics used by the suffragettes might provide lessons for organizers today. Could we use any of the same tools? She lamented that protests and rallies no longer work because of the fact that we live in a world of social media in which messages move so quickly and can so easily be modified. I proposed that protests have never worked and never will, at least not on their own.

Protests are only a tool. It is the actions between the protests and behind the scenes that make the work successful or not. Protesting remains important, if well used. It is a tool that can draw public attention and influence decision makers. However, it is important not to expect that protesting on its own is going to bring change. A large portion of the museum display was dedicated to the banners, signs, buttons, sashes, and tunics worn and used during fight for the vote and later fight for the ERA. This makes sense as they are very visual pieces of history. Still, it only shows us the highlights of what was really a much more complex history.

In the 1820’s, one hundred years before the amendment was to pass, white men had gained the right to vote in most states and discussions had begun about this right for women. By 1948, the movement solidified through the Seneca Falls convention. For nearly one hundred years women met, discussed, strategized, argued. They built partnerships and alliances. They wrote letters, created newspapers, handed out pamphlets, spoke to handfuls and to huge crowds of people. They coordinated conferences. Women, and some men, committed their lives to this issue of justice. Some would never see the results of their work as they would die before the passage of the amendment.

We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that social change is some sort of fast food where we head up to the capitol or wherever to protest and come home with our win. There is much more. The struggles are long and hard, but the victories and the loves found along the way are well worth it. Take good care of yourselves my friends and keep on moving forward.

Women and the Fear of Aging

I was listening to a podcast by Michelle Obama earlier today. She was discussing women’s health and talked a bit about our fear of aging and our general dislike of our own bodies. It’s a common belief, but I’m not sure I understand anymore. Sure, I have disagreements with my body. I’m not happy that I have seizures. I would like that to change. But, at 49 years old, I have to admit that I look in the mirror and I feel pretty good about what I see.

I don’t see the image that society would call a a model or a superstar. What I see though is a story and that story is far more valuable than any commercial image that we’re sold.

I see my scars. I see where my cat jumped on my face when I was asleep some years ago, missing my eye by only an inch or so. I see where my friend’s dog took took a chunk out of my arm leaving a mark that looks strangely like a smiley face. I see that reminder on my finger of when I was maybe six or seven and I wanted to see if I was strong enough to break a glass with my bare hand, I was. I see the reminder of swimming with friends in college and jumping off the cliff and the memory of when my puppy in his over energetic play landed on my ankle causing it to break, and the lines of surgeries most notably my my VNS implant that keeps me safe from seizures. My scars are like a physical storybook of myself.

I look at my hair. It’s wild. It’s always been wild ever since it started growing when I was two years old. But now, it’s something special. It’s turned almost entirely white. It’s been turning this way for years. I never really got into coloring it. I dyed it at home a couple times, but just for fun. The white means a lot to me. My father’s hair was silver or white since black and white pictures. I don’t know if anyone remembers or knows what color hair grandma had before hers turned white. They both had the most beautiful white hair. I look in the mirror and I see them. How can I not embrace the gray that reminds me of these beautiful people who are now just memories?

I look at my body. There’s extra here and there. My muscles aren’t as toned as they used to be. But, I take good care of myself. I eat healthfully. I walk and do yoga and maybe some other workouts. Still, it’s the body of someone who’s lived some years. Yet, I think of my mom. At my age she’d lost one of her breasts to cancer, was bald, and dealing daily with the impacts of chemotherapy. I cannot feel anything less than extremely grateful for my body and all its flab.

I look at my face. I see that turkey chin that never used to be there when I was twenty and I see all my aunts and uncles and who I am becoming. I am reminded how all of these supposed imperfections tell me who I am and how proud I am to be this person. I have been gifted this life in this family and my body tells me each day who I am.

Taking Care

I wonder when I became a care taker rather than someone to be taken care of and what the balance of these things is?  When did I decide that others were more valuable than myself and have I changed my mind?

My meditation of late has led me to a practice of turning toward.  I’m being encouraged to take a look at something in my life that troubles me and sit with it for a bit.  I’ve been recognizing that I am a “wonder woman.”  I’ve known it for a long time, but this practice is encouraging me to look at it and see where it comes from.  I help people.  That’s what I do.  That’s what I do for a living and that’s what I do for a life.  I don’t like being helped though.  I don’t really trust it.  I like to be the one in charge of the process or simply just to do whatever it is myself.

The last two days as I’ve done this meditation laying in my bed I could feel my body tied down and the rock in the center of my stomach as my mind took me back to childhood again.  Doesn’t it always go back to childhood?  We must have all been messed up as kids.

This time it was back to grade school.  I remember being really excited about going to school.  I loved books. I wanted to learn.  I wanted make friends and to have a nice teacher who cared about me.  It didn’t totally work out that way.  I did have nice teachers who cared about me.  I learned a lot.  I had a couple friends.  But, I went to a small school so I wasn’t only picked on by the kids in my class, but by the entire school.

It was the 1970’s and 80’s.  Grown ups didn’t step in much if at all to deal with bullying.  I was just told I needed to get over being shy without being given any tools to do that.  In some sense, it became my fault that I was being harassed.  So, day to day I struggled.  I wanted to have friends.  I wanted to be a part and to have fun at this school that I’d dreamed of.  I wanted to feel safe there.  Instead my stomach was permanently clenched and I dreaded every moment never knowing when my tormentors would get me next.  I tried to hide in plain sight.  It sounds unbelievable to me now, but I don’t think I ever, in six years, asked to use the bathroom during school hours because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.  I just held it until I got home.

That wasn’t ok.  I needed a grownup to help me and the other kids develop our relationships.  There’s nothing to change now about what happened then and that’s ok.  It’s just good for me to acknowledge what I needed and didn’t get and now I can move on.  What happened then isn’t the determinant of what could happen in other situations if I allow myself to be helped or taken care of.  I don’t need to always protect myself by being the one who only takes care.  I can both take and accept.  We each can.

Thank you for reading my thoughts today.

Where are the Lines?

My beginning meditation practice continues to open my vault of memories and encourage me to look at myself asking questions of my experiences and responses.  I don’t believe that there are bad people.  I believe that there are people who are injured and need healing.  I wonder now if that doesn’t make life more complicated?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just be angry and just give up on the possibilities of forgiveness? What hurt and anger do I hold for myself when I don’t give it to others?

Many memories are resurfacing these days, some good and some sad or scary.  One that I was surprised to see again came from sometime after I graduated college.  I was back in town for some reason staying with friends.  One of them had an extra bed in his room where his son usually stayed on weekends.  That was where I was going to sleep.  I felt totally safe.  I’d been friends with this guy for several years.  I was tired from my trip and went to sleep before he got home.  When he came in that night he slid into my bed and began to grope.  I swatted his hands away.  He got up and went to his own bed.  Neither of us ever spoke of what happened.

In seconds I went from feeling completely safe to terrorized with just a touch.  He’s gone from my life now.  We just didn’t stay in contact after I left town again.

For years I didn’t have a name for what happened.  I’ll admit I didn’t know which bed in that room was his and which belonged to his son.  I did blame myself.  I said to myself that maybe I’d gotten into the wrong bed that night and maybe that caused him to think what he did was invited and ok.   He was my friend.  In my mind,  I couldn’t translate the idea that it could possibly be assault.  He wouldn’t hurt me, right?  He walked away when my body stiffened and I swatted his hands away.

I had no name for what happened.  All I knew is that the trust was broken and I couldn’t go back to that place of trusting again.  I didn’t want to blame him, after all I don’t believe in bad people and what happened scared me and emotionally hurt me.

This morning I looked up the definition of sexual assault on several different online sites.  I saw two things that struck me.  It is any unwanted sexual contact.  It is never the victim’s fault.

Maybe twenty years later now and I have a name for what happened.  It was sexual assault.  I can call it that.  I can be part of that ever growing community of women who’ve been assaulted.  No one wants to be part of that community, but a community it is and strength grows there.

It wasn’t my fault.  It was his.  I still don’t believe in people being somehow bad or evil.  But, I will say he was responsible for his actions and what he did was wrong and hurtful and I didn’t deserve it.

Now, it’s time for me to get up from that bed in that room twenty years ago and walk out into the light of a new day.  Thank you for sharing my journey.

Mother’s Day Memories

Mother’s Day, one would think that eventually it wouldn’t matter anymore.  My mom left this world nearly 34 years ago.  On July 7th, 1984 the cancer that she’d faced most of my childhood took her.  I was 12 years old when we said our last good byes.

There are so many things that I remember.  For one I remember standing around her beside in the hospital room wanting to reach out and touch her hand.  I wanted to touch her, to feel the reality that she was dead.  My dog had died some weeks before and when I touched the dog’s dead body it was cold and stiff and I knew that her spirit had gone.  I wanted to touch my mom’s hand to know that her spirit had gone on, but instead I told myself her body wouldn’t be cold yet, it wouldn’t be stiff,  everyone would think me weird for touching a dead person.

I wish I had reached out and touched her. I wish I had snuggled up beside her one last time and felt the life leave.  But, it’s too late for that now.  Still, while her body is gone her spirit lives on.

I have an afghan that she started for me before passed on.  I remember her working on it.  She got too sick to finish it and my Aunt Coletta took it up and finished it for her.  It was my last Christmas gift from Mom, six months after she died.  When I am sad, lonely, just needing a hug from Mom I wrap myself up in it and can feel her arms around me, just like when I was a little girl.

This morning I was remembering childhood, thinking about Mom.  I can hear her laughing, such a joyous, uninhibited sound, so pure.  I can see her in the kitchen ironing and listening to Brewers game, washing dishes and singing along with Eddie Arnold, visiting with Uncle Fritz or Aunt Dorothy, or all the other family and friends who came in and out our door.  I can taste her bread, those chocolate bottomed cupcakes, Sunday breakfast.  I can see her making those silly baby faces and goofy noises, playing with my nieces and nephews.  There’s so much.

I’ll always miss her,  but I guess there are some things I’ve come to know.  I know that she’s still here, in my memory and in my heart.  And, I know that I want to laugh and sing and make goofy baby noises and spend time with family and friends and eat good food and do all the simple things in life that maybe someday someone will remember and know that my life was well lived.  She taught me well about what’s important.  I thank her and carry it on.

I love you Mom!

 

The Red Dress

Image may contain: people standing and outdoor

Miigwetch to David Manuel or whoever took this photo.

 

I’ll start this by being clear.  My ancestors are from Luxembourg and surrounding countries.  Sometimes when I advocate that the people of the over 500 different tribal nations in the place now referred to as North America get treated with basic respect and dignity I am asked if I am Native. I’m not.  I was just raised to care for and respect my neighbor.  And, I’ve had the good fortune to count some great Indians among my dearest friends.

I saw the photo of the red dress this morning.  It made me think.  I have long believed that racism is an act of fear more than power.  Somewhere in our being white folks recognize that we’ve done wrong for these many generations and we’re afraid of retribution.  We’re afraid of what could happen if everyone else had homes, jobs, money, education, and a safe place to be, at the same level that we do.

I’m not talking about individual fear.  Some people individually have moved past it.  But, as a group, we’re afraid.

We women, we have to address that fear.  It’s our to address because we are strong.  I remember as a young activist standing on the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol, listening to Frannie Van Zile from the Mole Lake Nation.  She was talking about the proposed Crandon mine.  She said “You women, you women out there, you are the keepers of the water.”  Those words changed my life.  In many Indigenous cultures women are respected and honored. They are recognized to carry an important power, that they are keepers of the water, bearers of life.

That red dress reminds me that Native women, in fact all women of color, are in great danger because fear attacks where power resides.  It also reminds me that, as a woman, I have a responsibility to my sisters to care for them, to mourn their loss, and to do what I am able to keep them safe.