Friday, February 10, 2017

Created Equal

I've seen memes and comments on Facebook the past few days saying that “The Women’s March doesn’t speak for me.”

To be sure about that, though, you need to know what the March was saying. I think it was very simple. The marchers were asking for respect, equality, safety and freedom.

They were doing it peacefully, too. (Those references you hear from Conservatists about violence refer to the previous day, Inauguration Day, demonstrations that were unconnected to the Women's March.)

“I have equality,” said one of my Facebook correspondents. “Why can’t we (women) just be happy to be what we are and stop trying to be something we aren’t?” she said.

Men, she meant. An old stereotype, and false.

Feminism has been draped with a lot of confusing descriptions. Underlying all of them, however, is the desire for treatment that confirms equality. Respect for a woman’s self, mind and body. In law and society.

Equality is an absolute. You can’t be partially equal.

So keep it simple. Whatever one’s social position in American culture, if you’re female, you’re less. Paid less, respected less. Objectified more.

And the usual source of disrespect, the focus of demeaning, unwanted attention, is a woman’s reproductive equipment.

A male candidate for president brags on tape about groping women’s genitalia. The very part of a person we warn our children that strangers must not touch.

When someone grabs you in that way without invitation, it’s a crime.

“Men talk like that.” Some women said.

But even when it is “only talk,” it assumes dominance. He assumes he has a right to humiliate you, to hulk over you, and know that there is nothing you can do about it physically. The only thing preventing rape, broken bones or death is the man’s good will and self-control. (And, if we are lucky, an effective judicial system.)

Many women reacted viscerally to the taped conversation and to the body language candidate Trump expressed in the second debate. Remember how he loomed over Secretary Clinton, invaded her space with his size and weight? A tactic, no doubt.

But it reminded many women of personal experience. It reminded them of unwanted fondling in the workplace or from strangers. Of catcalls on the sidewalk. Of verbal abuse, punches, and yes, rapes.

The frequency of personal invasion is shocking. At work, in school, in social situations, even at home, among the women I call my friends, not one has escaped it.

If you want to know why there are so many people upset and disturbed about our new president, this is one reason.

The issue is power, of course. The human drive to power over others. 

Power is the basic American currency. A show of power, real or pretended, is required. Football enables viewers to bask in the glow of hyper-masculine strength, just by watching. Open carry laws bring that feeling into the supermarket and cafĂ©.

Human beings need to feel powerful to varying degrees. It’s a part of competence, maturity, mental health. Where it goes wrong is when it becomes a matter of controlling other autonomous individuals.

The need to control others can be ugly. Can lead us to dark actions.

That may be why most of us don’t want to examine it too closely. Introspection is not popular in a Republican White House. Both Bushes, as well as Trump have admitted to steering well clear of the process. They can’t take the risk of discovering the measure of their own weakness.

But without introspection, many important things can escape notice. And Power has a way of dismissing what it fails to notice.

The Women’s March made dismissal more difficult. It brought the attention of the world to bear on how our new government intends to exercise its power. It puts millions of faces on the people our government’s actions will affect, for good or ill.

That’s why the women marched, all races, colors, creeds, national heritage; all varieties of gender and orientation and age. Peacefully, worldwide. They were saying women’s equality, human equality, matters. Don’t forget that. Don’t overlook or dismiss it. Don’t destroy it.

And the men who understand the stakes marched with us. Even my 95-year-old husband who couldn’t walk far. He was there, with me, supporting equality.

Why? I asked. Because I think of myself as a fair-minded person, he said.

It’s as simple as that.

(A version of this appeared in the Feb. 2, 2017 Fayette County Record.)