Friday, July 8, 2016

O Captains, My Captain

The Battle of the Sexes was a term heard reliably and consistently throughout the Seventies and Eighties. By the time the Nineties came around, we were concerned with people of color at long last, but before then, feminism was clearly tied up with the idea that middle class white women were pitted against, and in constant struggle with, middle class white men. This emotional warfare model shaped an entire generation, and, being one of the audience steeped in the language and imagery, left me feeling out in the cold.
I had then, and still do, see myself as in partnership with men, and with my male peers. I never thought it was “us against men,” but saw the struggle as “us against The Man,” meaning the dominant culture that was hostile and suspicious of families, friendships and communities in general. All of us deserved a wonderfully supportive, nurturing existence, filled with ample leisure time to bake cookies, read books to ourselves or our children, to play cards and take vacations.
Like the two dozen Massachusetts male student athletes of Phillips Academy who issued a letter explicitly endorsing feminism, I believed that “This culture may not be our fault, but it is our problem to fix.” I believed that not only about the corporate culture that was sucking everyone’s souls; I believed it about the ruination of the environment, the way we as a nation use water, the way we produce and consume everything from food and clothing to electricity. I believed that all these problems were collective problems, and I believed that the only way to look at solutions was from a collective standpoint. I still do.
More than three decades after I first began thinking about social problems such as illiteracy, hunger, poverty and domestic abuse in America, I am more convinced than ever that the only way to begin to address these ills, and the myriad attendant ills surrounding them, is to get active in our communities, at the local level. We might not be able to save everyone, true enough. But if we can improve one life, we should. Frankly, I find it callous to the point of immoral and evil to deny efforts to improve the social conditions and the lives around us once we see that we can. This is why I’m a utilitarian, a taoist, a minimalist, an activist, a feminist, or, as I like to think of it: thoughtful.
I see myself a peace officer in the battle between the sexes, a paladin and champion for civil rights for everyone: men, women, children of all races, colors, creeds. I see all of us struggling harder than ever before to live in a way that hurts everyone around us, ourselves included, and I am optimistic and excited to share the message that we can stop hurting, stop harming ourselves, stop the neglect that ripples out from our centers.

We can breathe, and we have feminism to thank for it, from the First Wave of Suffragettes to the captains of the teams in 2013 who still stand with us all to say “We are one; we will not accept less than being whole.”  We are not alone, and that is the most optimistic message of all.