Life Doesn't Fit in a File Folder

Changing The Things I Cannot Accept: Time To Fight For Feminism, Ladies

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Feminism in Buffalo, New York, circa 1992. I am, of course, the one in the hat.  

In 1991, I landed my first job, teaching 3rd grade English as a Second Language. Kathy, the teacher with whom I worked, was smart, generous, kind, and warmhearted. She treated every child equally. She arranged the desks in neighborhoods and talked about community responsibilities. She bedazzled her bulletin boards and spent a lot of time doing little things she believed mattered to her students.

In the spring of 1992, as the debate over Roe v. Wade heated up, an event was planned in front of Buffalo’s GYN/Women Services. My friends and I agreed it was our obligation to ensure that women were able to make their appointments free from harassment from the notorious rabble-rousers who were coming to town. After all, GYN/Women Services provided prenatal care and regular obstetrics appointments for its many patients. It was not a killing field. It was a medical office that mainly provided routine office procedures like breast exams and pap smears in addition to providing legal abortions.

I attended the rally with two friends.

People screamed at each other from both sides of the street, on both sides of the issue. I didn’t like the things the Pro-Choice people were chanting: things like “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” and offensive rhymes which dragged religion into the issue. My friends and I didn’t have a problem with anyone’s religious practices, and we didn’t want to be associated with all that noise.

So we walked across the street to CVS and bought electrical tape, and we taped our mouths shut.

Reporters and photographers were busy looking for that one cool angle, that one interesting image.

Their camera lenses landed on us.

When our picture was published in LIFE magazine, I brought a copy to school to show Kathy, my teacher-friend. I wanted to talk to her about the caption, which read “Women tape their mouths shut to represent the Silent Majority who favor safe, legal abortion” — and explain how that didn’t quite capture the whole story. I wanted to tell her how — at the end of the day — when the news vans with their giant satellite dishes had driven away, I felt used, like a pawn in someone else’s chess game. How it had occurred to me everyone had an agenda and we, women, had been pitted one against the other by religious leaders and politicians, by media spokespeople who encouraged participants from both sides of the street to shout louder when their cameras were rolling.

Kathy squinted at me coolly.

“We were on different sides of the street that day,” she said.

Kathy and I worked side by side for the rest of the year, but our interactions were different. I learned so much from her: how to treat children with dignity, how to walk the fine line between friend and disciplinarian, how to integrate non-native speakers of English into the larger class: so many things. I wanted to make things right.

I tried to talk to her about her feelings regarding reproductive rights — I believed we could find some middle ground — but Kathy held up her hand.

“We’ll have to agree to disagree,” she said, shutting down my attempts at dialogue.

I never realized an issue could be so divisive that it could destroy a friendship.

Lately, when I watch the news I feel like I’m back in the 1990’s.

Issues and rights I thought long settled are being challenged again.

But this time around, it’s not only reproductive rights that are being challenged.

This time, the rhetoric is more ominous as basic human rights are being challenged.

As a feminist, I believe in reproductive freedom, and I will never accept federal, state or local rollbacks/cuts or restrictions to our access to quality healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education.

I may be older, but my core values remain the same in 2017. 

I believe all women are free and able to care for and nurture themselves and their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments. I believe women deserve to live full and healthy lives, free from all forms of violence against our bodies.

I believe it is our obligation to protect the rights of all people, including our gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender or gender non-conforming brothers and sisters.

I believe in an economy governed by transparency, accountability, security and equity; that all workers must be paid equitably with access to affordable childcare, sick days, healthcare, healthy work environments, and paid family leave. I believe civil rights are our birthrights. This includes voting rights, freedom to worship without fear of intimidation, harassment, freedom of speech for all citizens regardless of race, gender, age or disability.

I believe every person and every community has the right to clean water, clean air, and access to and enjoyment of public lands. I believe our climate must be protected, that our land and natural resources cannot be exploited for gain or greed, especially at the risk of public safety and health.

Twenty-five years ago, people kept their politics pretty quiet. But, with the advent of social media, people have become much more open about their political leanings.

I’ve taken the electrical tape off my mouth.

Now is not the time to be silent, friends.

Decades of polite silence has created a divided country.

We have to start having these uncomfortable conversations if we ever hope to move forward as a country.

I’m fortunate to have nurturing relationships with women of every race, class, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, and religious practice. My life is enriched daily by the interactions that I have with these women. We laugh and cry together. We share food and we share stories. We celebrate each other’s successes and hold each up during dark times.

Why wouldn’t I want everyone to have the same inalienable rights that I enjoy?

Who would have thought that twenty-five years later the personal would be so political… again?

Have your relationships changed as a result of political differences? If not, how have you managed to make it through the election season without any shift in friendships?

tweet me @rasjacobson

5 thoughts on “Changing The Things I Cannot Accept: Time To Fight For Feminism, Ladies

  1. I agree with your position. As far as religious anti abortion, Jesus never went to the Sanhedrin or Roman senate to get legislation. His message is by conversion so if religious against abortion take their preaching to the pulpits not the legislature. In secular democracy we do not seek to impose our religious views on others. Would they like it if Islamic Sharia law was imposed on all of us?

  2. Renee, this was a fantastic post and personal story! Thank you so much for sharing it with us and with me — a white hetero male that is TRYING to better understand a vastly more diverse world and nation! I’ve learned the very FIRST THING I must do in order to achieve that is to listen, and listen again, suspending for a moment (however long necessary) my own personal experience, background, and notions about life issues. Then, when a party is finished speaking, hopefully I will be asked my thoughts, my feelings on the matter, and I will be afforded the same length silence to speak or ask questions. Hah! I always, always have questions… typically MANY! 😉 And as two educators, you and I understand the critical importance to have polite, orderly, dynamic conversation in the classroom, right!? Engaging ALL students only enhances the learning environment!!! Why this simple concept of shared dignity disappears in the public sector between “adults” often baffles me too. :/ Where did basic critical-thinking skills being taught — which should be done from at least 5th grade through 12th grade — disappear to? Where has the Art of dignifying debate and discussion go? Why are volatile emotions the rule and norm and NOT patient reasoning and etiquette? 🙁

    Have your relationships changed as a result of political differences? If not, how have you managed to make it through the election season without any shift in friendships?

    Some (many?) of my relationships have indeed changed, not just over the last political year, but have done so the last 2 decades. And sadly, the majority of those have absolutely been the result of “religious beliefs”. Sadder still, those changes were turbo-charged after 9/11 when so so many Americans wanted to do horrible things to any and ALL Muslims; in many cases, to non-Christians. 🙁

    Though social media has had many positive affects on nations and cultures — e.g. the Arab Spring! — it does indeed come with its curses too, and thus reveals a person’s heart-n-soul via print and images; which for the sake of “truth” allows us to know MORE PRECISELY what and who we are dealing with! In that sense, broader “Freedom of Speech” nurtures at least the opportunities of raw, honest communication, right? In the fields of counseling and therapy THAT IS CRITICAL for any progress and/or healing! As both of us are divorcees, we deeply appreciate raw truth… and it is sometimes very unpleasant. Yet, it must be out on the table. Otherwise, a couple (people) is existing in a ficticious alternative reality and that is merely a minefield of ticking time-bombs.

    As I currently see it, EMPATHY with shared dignity — what all good educators nurture & protect in our classrooms — is one of the first critical skills more Americans need, and badly and soon!

    Thanks again for this Renee. You are truly a beautiful person!!! 🙂

  3. I try not to let religious, social or political differences change my relationship with others. I enjoy a good conversation which explores the issues, as long as the parties involved treat it as a discussion and not a war. I realize that I won’t be in perfect alignment with every person I know and that our ideals and methods to achieve them will differ. It’s a part of being a member of society and as long as I’m not trampling someone and they aren’t trying to do likewise to me, we’ll find a way to work it out. Of course, there are those issues which, to me, appear to have no equitable solution; issues where I’m torn between both sides. It troubles me greatly, especially when I see the passion and turmoil which arise over these things.

    The little scroll wheel on the mouse can get me past much which I find unpleasant. I can’t do that in the real world. I have to interact with people. All people. I can’t always choose. And even if I could, just think of the great ideas, opportunities and friendships I’d miss out on. I have some great friends and I have some great differences with some of those friends. I think that’s just part of life.

  4. Great post it is so house. I live in a house where we aren’t just across the street from one another, but possibly we may be across an ocean from one another. This election cracked open that divide in ways I imagined (morefor me). I’m so proud and inspired by you and am so glad that you ripped the tape (however stinging) off.

  5. As a mother, I see a girl who is expressing her feelings. It is wonderful we have the right in this country. The freedom of speech is so awesome. Your words were clear and precise. May you always be able to write. Amen

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