If Not You, Who? If Not Now, When?
by Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez
Was it coincidence that on International Women’s Day 2012, Earth was bombarded by one of the most intense solar flares ever? Could it be that the Sun was urging us on, sending us the pulse of a solar storm to motivate us to action?
For one thing, I am tired of women being held hostage on the basis of their reproductive capabilities.
Yes, we are the ones who bear the babies after sex.
Sex happens and we love it.
Babies happen, too.
If a woman doesn’t want to bear the baby that takes root after sex, she has every right to decide what to do about it.
Period, end of statement.
Women have the right to be educated about their reproductive options.
Women have the right to have access to contraception, no matter their age.
Insurance companies have no right to treat contraception differently than they would treat any other drug.
Men are very happy to have insurance cover their Viagra so they can screw to their heart’s delight.
Fine. But don’t deny women the same right to manage our reproductive capabilities as we see fit.
* * *
I recently attended a brilliant one-act play by a Bard College at Simon’s Rock senior, sensitively and with almost painful honesty focusing on the relationship between a pair of best friends, 15-year-old girls, as one of them goes through a secretive, excruciating home abortion.
At the talk-back after the play, the author, who also played the lead, said she wrote the play because it was so clear to her that young women’s voices need to be heard more broadly in the theatrical world — not just as love objects written by men.
To me this is a hopeful sign, because as more women’s voices find their way into the great collective unconscious of the human public sphere, they will have an impact on the way we think and act as a social body.
The shame, secrecy and psychic anguish felt by the lead character of the play is so unnecessary, as is the fact that although it took two to implant that fetus, the other teen parent, the guy, was entirely absent from the drama that followed.
If young men were more aware of what an abortion entails, I dare say that many of them would be more responsible in doing their part to avoid pregnancy until they were ready to assume the mantle of fatherhood.
* * *
The other day in my class, when we briefly discussed IWD and women’s equality, it was inevitable that one young woman present had to tell the group how much she enjoyed cleaning house, so that she couldn’t imagine that the “second shift” would be a burden.
I just let it go. Honey, let’s talk again in another 15 years, I wanted to say (my students are generally under 20 years old).
I would like you to come back to me in 15 or 20 years, when you have a toddler and an infant and are working fulltime, and tell me that you love cleaning and it’s perfectly OK that you do more of it than your so-called partner.
* * *
Yeah, OK, a little bit of anger there.
I was glad to see an article on Common Dreams recently entitled “That’s Enough Politeness: Women Need to Rise Up in Anger.”
Women like me have been trained to be oh-so-polite.
We don’t rock the boat.
We are grateful for our jobs.
We are grateful for our mates.
We are grateful for our home and our children.
We don’t talk about the personal sacrifices needed to maintain all of the above.
As Laurie Penny puts it in her Common Dreams article:
Women, like everyone else, have been duped. We have been persuaded over the past 50 years to settle for a bland, neoliberal vision of what liberation should mean. Life may have become a little easier in that time for white women who can afford to hire a nanny, but the rest of us have settled for a cheap, knock-off version of gender revolution. Instead of equality at work and in the home, we settled for “choice,” “flexibility” and an exciting array of badly paid part-time work to fit around childcare and chores. Instead of sexual liberation and reproductive freedom, we settled for mitigated rights to abortion and contraception that are constantly under attack, and a deeply misogynist culture that shames us if we’re not sexually attractive, dismisses us if we are, and blames us if we are raped or assaulted, as one in five of us will be in our lifetime….
Politeness is a habit that what’s left of the women’s movement needs to grow out of. Most women grow up learning, directly or indirectly, how to be polite, how to defer, how to be good employees, mothers and wives, how to shop sensibly and get a great bikini body. We are taught to stay off the streets, because it’s dangerous after dark. Politeness, however, has bought even the luckiest of us little more than terminal exhaustion, a great shoe collection, and the right to be raped by the state if we need an abortion. If we want real equality, we’re going to have to fight for it.
* * *
This Women’s History Month, I want women to dare to take some risks. Dare to get angry! Dare to think outside the box! Dare to want more than whatever you think you should have!
Women of the world, you are needed as never before.
The Earth Mother herself lies bleeding, prostrate, raped and pillaged and on the edge of complete surrender — which will mean the death and destruction of all of us, her children.
She needs us to stand up for her, to stand up for ourselves, to insist that the old conquistador’s model of forced rape will not cut it in the 21st century.
This Women’s History Month, I want American women to stand with our sisters all over the world to insist that we are more than the sum of our reproductive organs. We are more than house slaves. We are more than corporate slaves. We are not reducible to any of the ciphers by which some of us are regularly netted and ensnared.
Women of the world, there has never been a time when your input, your perspectives, your influence has been more important.
Don’t assume that someone else will take care of it for you.
We are depending on you now.
The Earth herself is depending on you now.
This Women’s History Month, I say to the world’s women: there has never been a more crucial time to step into your power and act to protect your communities and our planetary home.
If not now, when?
If not you, who?
Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, Ph.D., teaches comparative literature, media studies, and human rights with an activist bent at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, and directs the annual Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and the new Citizen Journalism Project at WBCR-LP. She is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision, and blogs at Transition Times.