TIME TO RISE AS ONE (A Tribute to Maya Angelou)
Of course, within every movement, within all attempts to make change, mistakes will be made. Missteps will occur. We are learning on the job. Yet, as women, we should not devote the majority of our energy and creativity to attacking these genuine attempts of our sisters to speak up and effect change. That is a misuse of our precious energy and our profound, and to this point, largely wasted gifts. Without a doubt, we can and should all continue to evolve our tactics and hone our skills, especially in a world in which, as women, many of us have been intimidated into holding our tongues.
However, it is crucial that in the unfoldment of this process, we do not silence each other! If you think something can be improved, by all means express that opinion. But first: acknowledge and even celebrate the fact that these women have taken the courageous step to raise their voices. Simply criticizing female spokespeople and telling them that what they’re doing is ineffective—using the artificially constructed arguments of the patriarchy- does nothing to encourage women to speak up and does nothing to forward the cause of true equality for the feminine in society. All it does is continue to splinter our voices and shame us once again into silence. Can’t you see that you are echoing the sentiments of the reactionary forces supporting the traditional one-dimensional definition of masculinity?
Have you ever heard a man called, “you bleeping masculinist?” Have you ever seen men argue with each other about it being the “right time” or the “right forum” to stick up for male prerogatives? Why do we as women, continue to divide ourselves from one another and, in the process, from our own greatness? Why do we let the voice of the patriarchy get into our heads and stifle us? Quell our voices? And destroy our spirits?? Isn’t it time we STOP fighting amongst ourselves and stand TOGETHER? After all, we share the same common experiences—no matter what background we come from. Since the day we were born, we have all suffered the same indignities and heard the same insults to our gender. We have all been forced to accept the reality of our assigned role as second-class citizens. And please don't tell me what a man would say to those last two sentences. I don’t want to hear, "but we have come such a long way." Or that only ugly women speak like this. Or that only lesbians are the ones who air such grievances because they don't like men. This is the 21st century and this is a first-world country. Ugly or beautiful, gay or straight—women should be allowed to speak the truth about the continuing inequalities which confront us and curtail our possibilities.
Unfortunately (though not surprisingly to anyone familiar with the phenomenon of identifying with one’s abuser, known as Stockholm Syndrome), as long as the status quo has been in effect, women have taken it upon themselves to police other women. These constables of female “political correctness” have employed the self-serving rules and false equivalencies of patriarchal society’s image of women to explain to other women why their point-of-view is somehow ineffective, untimely, or invalid. Time after time we have witnessed women, in the name of “helping” other women, undermine and severely limit the credibility of female arguments by labeling them as unjustified, frivolous or flat out untrue. For example, how many times have we heard women joining with men’s voices to make irrelevant and accusatory statements—such as, “Why was she wearing that? What was she doing drinking so much? or, “This isn’t the right forum to bring up equal rights and the fact that women don’t get paid as much as men.” All this done supposedly to help guide women to a more palatable, less "hysterical" kind of feminism? Well, clinging to the masters in order to glean more scraps from their table never once set a slave free. This is a failed tactic. And it’s one that is holding us all back as women.
No matter how many times this happens, it still fills us with deep disappointment. In virtually every Internet forum and arena of public domain, we have come to expect the usual chorus of derisive comments trumpeted by a certain vociferous segment of the male population who are uniformly and consistently determined to justify and maintain the marginalized place they feel women should occupy (Google the term, “manosphere” if you have any doubts these people exist). Yet all too familiarly, we have also learned to brace ourselves for the more subtle and even more insidious response from a female contingent who have appointed themselves the more "reasonable" watchdogs and caretakers of women’s issues. A current example of this is can be found in the response of certain females to the wave of feminine outspokenness that has arisen in response to the Isla Vista killings. Look on any comments section in any article written about the #YesAllWomen twitter feed, and you will find such cautious commentary. They jump in to conversations to shout down the few women who have dared to speak their truth in these domains. Claiming to support the feminist perspective, these female guardians of propriety and logic stifle the genuine feminine groundswell of justified shock at yet another example of misogyny run amok, by chastising the “misguided” feelings and opinions of their sisters and echoing the much more “reasonable” (and loud) talking points of the men.
These arbiters offer up “rational” (male-endorsed) perspectives such as, “Even though he meant to kill a bunch of women, he actually killed more men,” and “This travesty did not happen because this young man, [despite his documented venom-spewing misogynistic diatribes] hated women. It happened because he was crazy and he had a gun.” Ask yourself, honestly: “When have you ever see men using such arguments against each other?” These self-anointed representatives of the female perspective justify their self-hating behavior and delaying tactics by telling us that yes, women do have a valid point, but it is not valid in this “particular” instance or “specific circumstance.” For women such as these, we “misguided” feminists have a question: “WHEN will be the correct time? Exactly WHAT is the right circumstance? WHEN is the right instance to speak up for the feminine perspective??? There is something so chilling about a level of self-monitoring that encourages us to stay mute because of the initial hoarseness of a voice learning to speak after so many years of enforced, isolated, unnatural silence.
Our heartfelt plea to these women and to that tendency within each woman, ourselves included, is: Please Stop parroting the same old tired rhetoric that only serves the status quo of masculine superiority. Aren’t you tired of playing the ventriloquist’s dummy? Isn’t it time to find your own authentic voice? Aren’t you ready to speak, shout, sing aloud the words of your own native intelligence, the beautiful, fierce sentiments of your own resilient and infinitely strong feminine experience? We know that we are longing to hear it. We want to hear what YOU have to say. In YOUR authentic voice. From YOUR own experience. NOT what you think that society would tell you is okay to say, believe, or feel. If we can start to do that—if we can start truly to have a dialogue with each other as women, from the experience of femininity and towards the goal of true personhood— then the sky is the limit. At the very least we will begin to win the rights due every human being , such as equal pay for equal work, the ability to compete for all positions and professions and the potential to chart a course of true self-determination and happiness.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Excerpt from her poem Still I Rise