Yesterday, I took leave from work a little early to enjoy the sunshine and 40+ degree temperatures. I also needed to take some time away from my computer, which kept bringing me news of the anti-woman agenda of the United States House. I walked toward the little patch of woods near my house through deep puddles of snow melt on the sidewalk, looking at the dipping sun and the amazing ways it was reflecting on the trees. Suddenly, out of my reverie I was pulled by the loud call of a man out his car window, “YOU BITCH!!!!!!!”
At first, I simply shook my head and kept walking, hoping to return to the joyful observer I had been a few moments before. A sadness crept over me and I became once again connected to the larger culture of woman-hating that seems to be on the rise. I walked in the woods still trying to shake this feeling, this fear, this question of what to do now. I came upon a tree that had been devoured by woodpeckers and was now clearly the home for small animals. There were elaborate patterns of holes and whorls chipped away by birds, and perhaps other creatures. I stood for a long while looking. I hoped that my spirits would lift with the reminder that all is impermanent, but I could not shake the sadness that clung to my skin, my hair, my coat.
I have read some incredibly smart articles about what is happening in Congress right now. I have watched videos of Congressional women speaking passionately about women’s health and the hoax that is Boehner’s call for “deficit reduction” by cutting family planning programs. (You can check out one of my favorite blog posts here.) I spoke out in support of Planned Parenthood, which the House of Representatives defunded yesterday. Planned Parenthood, an agency that has served as my reproductive health care provider for most of my adult life, is somehow viewed as a threat to the men in our new Congress. Do these men not have daughters, wives, and mothers? Is this simply a classist attack on the women in this country who cannot afford private insurance? I find myself awash in questions, fears, and a sense that all I have worked toward in my activist life could be gone in the span of a few weeks or months. These actions by a relative few men in our country has had the effect of undermining my faith in human nature. And all of this is part of the great confusion in which we all live.
I want to believe in my power on a local level, within a community. I see the ways that I can counteract my feeling of hopelessness. In other years, I have chosen to turn off the radio and to pay little attention to the news so that I could function in my life, but this feels like a kind of shutting down that isn’t healthy either. I am sure there is some way I could work to see these men not as enemies of women, and I am sure that I will get there, but right now, I am struggling to understand. I am struggling to get my breath back from all these blows. This is the time when I feel the conflation of the personal and the political. These macro-level actions are representative of something going on in our society, a continual undervaluing of women’s lives, which I could pretend does not affect me; but when I walk down the street enjoying the feeling of air streaming into my lungs and some man I’ve never met screams that I am a bitch, I feel my safety on the micro-level slip away. This is a challenging moment in history, and I don’t want to give in to the fear that can so easily creep in. Now is the time to cultivate the values we share, to seek connection in community, to maintain our strength in the face of the instability that surrounds us.
I see these initiatives in Congress as a backlash of fear, of clinging to a way of life that no longer exists, of trying to make people fit into narrow views of right and wrong. I do not imagine that these few men can hang on for too long. I do not see them as powerful. I see them grasping onto some sense of power. The rub, though, is that while the balance returns, these guys have the floor. And they are terrified of the power of women, the power of connection, and the power of truly taking our place in the world as part of a greater web rather than rulers of all things. As the climate changes, as economies collapse, as the myth of the United States as a superpower comes crashing down around us, the realities begin to wear away at our security. One reaction is fear. Another reaction is hope for a different future built on values that serve humans, other species, and the broader planet. I am working on building this latter reaction instead of going toward fear as my knee-jerk response when things get difficult.