Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lesson #3: Feminist is NOT a Dirty Word

After an author event a few weeks ago where I spoke about the importance of women to give voice to their stories, a woman came up to me and said it was refreshing to hear someone speak who was an unapologetic Feminist. “I hope you’re not offended by that,” she said.

“Offended?” I said, “I’m flattered.”

No matter how bad the connotation of the word Feminist gets in our culture, you will never, ever hear me say I am not one. In fact, you will never hear me say that I have moved beyond Feminism, (honestly what is beyond the true equality of the sexes?) And please, don’t start with me about how being a feminist makes me a man-hater. I’ll just yawn in your face out of boredom. You want to tell me women have achieved as much as men in this country, this contienent, this world? Then I will seriously have to ask you to pick up a paper and read it every now and then.

The mere fact that feminism is a term men and women shy away from should be enough of an example of how bad things have gotten. It’s like saying the civil rights movement made everything okay for African Americans – oh wait, some people believe that too don’t they?

Feminism is a hot button topic for me. Consider yourself warned. It has been since I was a young girl. No matter what the world has tried to teach me, I fervently believe that I am second to no one and that I have an unalienable right to make the same amount of money for doing the same job as a man or a gorilla.

I do not believe that men and women are the same in the way they see the world, approach relationships, business or their feelings. I don’t want to make men more feminine or women more masculine. I want the same pay for the same job. Let me rephrase that, I DEMAND the same pay for the same job.

I want to live in a world where women and children are not repressed, are not trafficked, sold, abused, degraded, oppressed or killed simply because they are women.

I want to live in a world where girls are not bombarded endlessly with images and expectations of perfection which are not only impossible to achieve but not worth achieving. Feeling beautiful is the essence of beauty and any woman over thirty knows that doesn’t happen with the right mascara.

Being pleasing does not give you happiness, turning yourself into an object of adoration denies your own humanity – why are we asking our girls to do that?

The truth is women are assaulted, molested, raped and abused at alarming rates. When bodies are found in unmarked graves, chances are they will be the bodies of women, and most likely they will be women who worked in the sex trade and lived a few blocks away from any address anyone cared about.

Many of the plots of TV shows, bestselling novels and movies revolve around the mutilation and murder of women. As if all the pampering, makeup and primping we get from these so-called “women’s magazines” is just preparation for becoming an ideal corpse.

I am a feminist and will be one until the day I die – and if I have done my job right I will leave behind a new generation of feminists who know the fight is not over, it is just beginning.

Look, the math here is simple, take care of women, you take care of the world. That makes me a feminist – what does that make you?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lesson #1: Everybody Has a Story

I collect stories like some people collect stamps or coins. Chances are if I’m a passenger in your taxi, or seated next to you on a plane or waiting at the doctor’s office, I’ll get your story. Not just the one you tell everyone that covers the basics of who you are, what you do, and what your relationship status is…no I’ll get that one thing out of you few people know about. I’ll get you to tell me what your spiritual beliefs are or your secret wish. At some point during our conversation you will find yourself saying, “I can’t believe I’m telling you this…” and then you will go on because once you know you can tell me, once you see the glint in my eye urging you on you won’t be able to stop yourself. You will tell me you used to shoot heroin while you ran a successful consulting business. When I ask you how it feels to get high, you will tell me.

You will tell me about the time you cheated on your wife and how sorry you are…when I ask you when it was, you will tell me it was when you were in the war. I will ask you what war and you will say the big one, WWII. Your wife passed away twenty years ago and still you feel bad, “worse than killing a man,” you tell me. I don’t ask you what that feels like. I can tell you don’t want to go there.

Maybe you will tell me about how much you cried after you had your baby and how you didn’t feel anything for a long time and how you worried there was something wrong with you until one day the fog lifted and you thought your heart would break from loving her.

Or you will tell me about your debt and how you lost everything from wanting too much and as we drive down the LIE with the meter ticking, you tell me how good it felt to let that desire go…to only own what you have paid for…and to know your wife loved you no matter what.

People tell me these things because I believe everyone has a story…and most stories are more dramatic, interesting, funny and inspirational than any book you’ve read or movie you have seen.
I don’t start the conversation most of the time, but I am open to where it can lead and I’m not afraid to ask a probing question if I trust the willingness is there to answer it. My intent is not to pick at a wound or throw gasoline on a fire…it is to understand more fully.

My friends tell me I am like this because I am a writer…but I think I am a writer because I am like this. I am not in love with language the way many writers are, nor do I yearn for historical accuracy or mass appeal, I am a story junkie. I want you to tell me yours and I want to tell you mine.

I am honored to hear anyone’s truth…even when it is painful. I am willing to listen because the telling of a story, no matter how dark or tragic, is a triumph. There is no greater achievement than living to tell the tale.

That is the whole point isn't it? The joy of living is not just in the doing, it is in the sharing.

Everyone has a story and if you are lucky you might just get to hear it.