Rilke says in Letters to a Young Poet, “In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself, must I write?” Not only do I continue to ask myself that question when it comes to writing, but I also find myself asking, "must I do the best I can to leave the world a better place for the generations to come?" The answer is always a resounding yes. Primarily when it comes to being a good role model for young women. That's something that's always stuck with me.
In my junior year of high school, I participated in a program called Sister to Sister, where we were paired with young women from 7th and 8th grade, and mentored them over the course of two days. We spoke with them about their education, what to expect in their freshman year, and answered any and every question they had ranging from using a pad or tampon to which clubs to join. It was a deeply profound experience that has stuck with me over the (I won't even say how many) years. Contributing my time to helping young girls feel confident in the next phase of their lives is a feeling I haven't been able to let go of. Primarily because my own junior high experience was pretty damn awful, and I so wish I had an older sibling or mentor to help me find my way through it.
Since the election - well, for that matter, since everything leading up to the election last year, my urge to work with young women has grown more and more everyday. In the evenings, I scroll through my list on Netflix and see films like Audrie and Daisy, The Hunting Ground, and Hot Girls Wanted flash across the screen. I read articles like It's no accident that we hear so little about missing black girls in this country and Hundreds of Marines Investigated for Sharing Photos of Naked Colleagues, and my heart breaks. Then there's this photo of a group of men deciding my health care coverage. And it haunts me. Seriously. I keep telling myself that I need to be doing more. Even though the Women's March in January was all sorts of amazing, there's still so much work we need to do - like so much.
Speaking of work (awesome segue!), the reason I'm sharing all this with you, is because I have a rather exciting announcement regarding my career. In April - yeah, in like a week and a half, I will be starting a new job at a company dedicated to the empowerment of young women. This means, I will be leaving my current position at the independent film and theater organization (you know the one), which I've been at for a little over three years. This transition is definitely bittersweet, but I am just so insanely stoked to get started working for the betterment of adolescent girls that that's really all I can focus on at any given moment. I keep going back to all the memories I shared with Sister to Sister, and know that experience never left me for a reason. I'm following my true calling, my passion if you will, and this next step is just the beginning of the work I'll continue to do in this field. I've said "yes" to this next chapter of my life and can't wait to show you all that it entails.
I started writing this week's blog in a completely different voice. It was titled "The Liz Lemon Complex" and pertained to my association with the fictional character on 30 Rock and how she's influenced my life both good and bad. I was putting the words to paper, but kept getting frustrated with myself because it felt like such a fluff piece. It was as if I was writing it for a class assignment and just had to turn in 1500 words by tomorrow, and it didn't matter what they were. But, I realized, writing that piece at this moment in time is a great disservice to me and to you, the readers. While this is my blog, and I write about things I experience, I want to focus my energy on issues that impact me, issues I want to change, instead of trivial things like a TV show I've been watching nonstop for about eight years. There is the time and place to write those funny articles, but for now, I want to discuss something else.
If you read my tiny newsletter (and if you don't, you totally should and subscribe to it), you'll see that this week I included the section "What's Fueling the Fire." There's quite a few articles in there, primarily focusing on the Marines United scandal. It's something I've been paying a lot of attention to as I believe the subject of sexual assault in the military is a big issue that we need to address more often (I recommend watching The Invisible War for starters). At the same time as this scandal broke out, we've seen a man in a suit humping the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue, a teenager 'murdered by ex-boyfriend' after police fined her for wasting their time over her fears about him, and Emma Watson and Amanda Seyfried among actresses whose personal pictures were stolen in a celebrity photo hack. There is some toxic energy in the air, and having it centered around a branch of the United States Armed Forces is just gut wrenching. I believe Julia Pierson says it best:
“This is way beyond stupidity and boys being boys,” she said.
Not only is the invasion of privacy going on with Marines United, but you have the trust broken between brotherhood and sisterhood. You have the objectification and ownership of women at play. You have people, like me when I started writing about 30 Rock, ignoring the issues at hand, sweeping them under the rug, and telling themselves it doesn't pertain to them. It pertains to all of us and impacts us in ways we might not be able to even see right now.
What makes me livid is to read remarks like "well the women shouldn't have taken those photos in the first place." That is not the problem here, and please, to anyone who has said that, stop shaming women for feeling strong and sexy. Just stop. It's not about what women are wearing or not wearing that determines if we're asking for whatever behavior takes place. We never ask to be sexually assaulted or objectified. What we do ask is for the respect of our peers.
We continue to fight against the hate, and rise from the ashes of those who have lived before us. We find strength in ourselves and let the fire burn within us, hoping that others catch an ember and it ignites something within them as well. So with that, I urge you to look more closely at sexual assault in the military and pay more attention to it happening everywhere else.
This is just the tip of the iceberg I'm touching upon. I'm going to keep writing about this subject matter moving forward and hope we can have more conversations, be better allies, and put an end to these atrocities. It's time we acknowledge what's happening and do our part. It's on us.
Last Tuesday night, my dad called me on my drive home from work. He was watching the news and wanted to let me know that there was a strike going on the next day in Washington D.C., and did I know anything about it. I told him yes, and explained what I knew about “A Day Without a Woman” and that it was also International Women’s Day. He was incredibly curious about what I was doing to be a part of it all. I told him that I thought it was a privilege to be able to not go into work, so I would be in my office, wearing red, and not be spending money. Then, he asked me, with complete sincerity, “Well what can I do to be a part of the women’s movement?” I took a deep breath and thought about it. I suggested he could wear red as well to show his support (which he did), and told him I would be emailing him other ideas later.
My dad has always been an ally and advocate for social justice. I think I get a lot of my inspiration to make change from watching him as I grew up. The past few years, specifically, he has been a huge part of the Alzheimer’s Association. Last month, he and my mom went up to Sacramento on State Advocacy Day to speak with legislatures regarding funding and raising more awareness for Alzheimer’s. That’s just the kind of people they are. They speak out and get involved.
When my dad asked me what he could do for the women’s movement, he was so genuine in wanting to do something, but was at a loss of how to go forward. I've noticed this in the movements I partake in (which are mostly centered around gender issues), and how the construction of feminism has left a lot of people behind. The first and second wave feminist movements did a poor job including women of color, and currently I’m seeing it happen with men, trans women, and queer people. I keep reading more about intersectional feminism, and am trying not to beat myself up too much for my naïve feminist views I held onto in the past. Yes, I have a coffee mug that says “Male Tears” on it, which I found funny because of its ironic misandry, but now it just kind of makes me cringe.
I heard the earnestness in my dad’s voice the other night, and it was then when everything hit me. He was asking if he could have a seat at the table I was setting, but wasn’t sure if he belonged there. He wanted to know if there was anything he could do to help, because that’s just the kind of person he is. Which got me thinking that maybe a lot of people in our lives are observing this movement happening, but don’t have a clear understanding of what is going on (especially if you’re not on social media or tons of email lists). So many people want to be a part of the greater good, but it helps to invite them to do so – not just wait for them to figure it out. We have left too many individuals behind in the past, and I think we all need to be better on sharing various ways we can get involved. That’s what I’m vowing to myself right now: I’m going to be more inclusive and live up to what it means to be an intersectional feminist. And I urge you to reach out to someone and invite someone to join you in whatever social justice movement you’re involved with as well.
Copyright © 2019 Christine Drew Benjamin | All Rights Reserved