— People For Bernie (@People4Bernie) September 2, 2016
In the wake of the Brock Turner verdict and his early release, I found myself waiting for one of our feminist leaders to direct us.
I wanted Gloria Steinem to tell us what to do. I wanted to hear Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama offer a suggestion or two. I wanted direction from Emma Watson or Oprah Winfrey or Ellen DeGeneres. I wanted to hear Ruth Bader Ginsberg tell us what comes next.
I wanted to commune with the spirits of Maya Angelou, Betty Friedan, Sojourner Truth, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
I wanted someone, somewhere to tell me what I could do to change things.
I wanted specific positive actions that could be taken to say:
This is not okay. We will not stand for this.
And I wanted one of the feminist leaders to step up with a blueprint of how we should proceed.
But there was only silence. And I realized that no one is going to tell me what to do now.
And then I realized that it’s incumbent upon us to be the change.
Not only do we have to be the change we want to see in the world, we also have to figure out how to influence change. Because the truth is that it’s no one else’s responsibility to do it. And we may have to become the leaders when no one else steps up to do it. Suddenly, I realized that my passion makes me an ideal leader, even though I truly don’t want the responsibility. I feel like it’s chosen me, and I cannot escape from it.
And for me, signing an online petition to remove the judge responsible for the light sentencing is just not enough. When is the last time that we saw a petition that was actually effective? And I’d be willing to do a real protest, a sit-in, whatever, if I knew where it would be effective. Or how to garner enough support to get anyone’s attention.
The truth is that I am a shy person. I don’t know how to rally crowds or command attention enough to achieve what I want to see, which is actual change. I don’t know how to be that, and I am grieved that I don’t see more people stepping forward with true action. But maybe they, too, are at a loss of how to proceed. Feminist pioneers led the way, but now we’re here, and we don’t know how to move ahead because our lives have not been filled with activism.
Many of our role models are celebrities, athletes, reality stars. Our knowledge of women’s rights activists of the past doesn’t necessarily inform us as to where we need to go from here.
And we need to move forward.
The Brock Turner case clearly illustrates how imperative it is that we find a way to stand up for women everywhere because the justice system just sat down and absolved itself of responsibility for justice to his victim and to every other survivor of sexual abuse—past, present and future. But we’re seeing more of a public outcry, particularly with men, that an athlete sat down through the national anthem. Never mind that the justice system just metaphorically sat down to allow a rapist his future and his freedom at the expense of his victim. But please, let’s be outraged some more about the personal choice of an athlete to exercise his free speech.
We’re angry. And hurt. We’re disappointed. We’re frustrated.
We want justice and true reform.
So where do we start?
1. We need to use our vote.
And I’m as guilty as anyone of only voting in presidential elections. It’s not enough. We need to exercise our right to vote at every level, and we need to take the time to educate ourselves about each candidate and also about the system itself. If a judge is appointed, we need to be making our vote count with the person who will appoint him or her. We need to inform ourselves and vote accordingly.
2. We need to use our voices.
We can spread awareness on social media. We can open a dialogue with our friends and family. We can put pen to page and write letters to our representatives, to celebrities, to anyone who might have any influence at all in raising awareness for the issues at hand. We can blog about the problems we’re seeing, and we can do whatever it takes to speak up, speak out and draw attention to the fact that there’s a real problem that needs to be addressed.
We need to stop endorsing bad behavior with our silence. When a friend makes a joke that demeans women, we need to call attention to it. Or when we, as women, receive inappropriate attention from the opposite sex, we need to call them out on it. We need to educate others on why this isn’t okay. We don’t need to shrug it off and say it doesn’t matter.
This isn’t about being “politically correct;” it’s about acknowledging that there’s a deep-seated double standard that needs to be confronted at every level in order to weed it out.
3. We need to stop promoting double standards in our homes, in the ways we raise our children.
We need to stop saying things like “boys will be boys.” We need to take away male entitlement and start talking about respecting the privacy and personal space of other individuals on this planet. We need to talk openly about consent with our sons and daughters. We need to stop joking with boys and young men in a way that allows them to believe that objectifying women is ever okay.
4. We need to find a way of being a part of some kind of grassroots activism to create real change.
And again, I don’t want the job, but since I don’t see anyone else stepping forward, I’m thinking hard about what action I can take in my own community to influence change. And I wish I could tell you that I have so many ideas on how to get started, but I am overwhelmed at the thought. But as overwhelmed as I feel, I will start. Because the justice system just failed us, and no feminist icon is going to magically appear to tell us what to do next. No one appeared for them and handed them instructions on how to bring about the changes we now enjoy. It’s on us to create the change without a blueprint.
5. So we identify the issues.
We figure out where we want to make changes, and we do it. We can address the pay gap or reproductive rights. We can bring awareness to violence against women and the failings of the judicial system. We can find some aspect of the cause that we’re passionate about and begin to take true action. No matter how small. We need to begin to create those ripples by doing something. We can always start at home in our own families, and we can start looking at our communities to see where the need for change exists.
My first step is here, today. This. I’ll draw attention to the problems I see with my words. They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and this is me arming myself for the battle ahead. We need to be warriors for our cause in whatever way we can and with whatever talents that we are given. No one else is going to step forward and fix the problems for us.
And yes, it’s overwhelming. It’s a daunting task. But we do have to be the change if we want to see the change.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Editor: Renée Picard