Gay Pride, Woman Shame

Along with so many others, I cheered for New York State last weekend--for our Governor who showed courage and resolve, for all the beautiful people who could now marry their beloved.  At the Gay Pride Parade on Sunday, we were all bubbling in a soup of triumph and ecstasy.  Most of you know that several years ago I decided to divorce my heterosexual spouse because the unfairness of the whole thing, especially the "Defense of Marriage Act," was unbearable.  My gay friends strongly advised against it and then gave me an education about legal rights and economic justice.  So, there I was cheering for this important step, feeling sorta part of it all like many hetero queer wannabees.   Many facebook posts followed, much congratulation, many engagements, and it was all good.  But then I got an email from my friend, Barbara Bleier, that made me stop and think.  

She posted a letter from a friend, Michael, a gay rights activist, continuing an ongoing conversation about gay rights and women's rights.   Barbara's position over the years has been that "the task of achieving equality has been for difficult for women because we live with, love and are often financially dependent on our 'oppressors.'  We are wives, mothers and daughters of men and, as such, we are not 'ghettoized' but integrated into the mainstream community, which makes it harder for us to organize."    His letter challenged her to rethink her position, and I offer it out to all the 'nice' women out there who are not standing up for themselves and their sisters.  

Michael asks:

When are women going to get it together and change their lives?  When are you going to force the world to change you from a second class citizen in the US and Western Europe and a tenth class citizen in much of the rest of the world?  And I use the word "force" very specifically.  I'm afraid the only way women are going to be able to achieve this is to do what they have been reluctant to do up to now....get angry, get dirty, and get out in the street and fight.  It's no longer an excuse to say you are the mothers and wives and daughters of men.  So are gays and lesbians.  Civil rights are tough and you cannot be nice in achieving them.  

Where is the women's GLAAD where you monitor everything offensive said in the media and scream bloody murder when things happen?  Look how many apologies the black actor on "30 Rock" has made already for his stupid and hurtful remarks...  and the apologies of the network and creators of the show as well.  That would not have happened without monitoring the networks.  Where is the women's group that organizes picket lines around products that are harmful to women?  I still shudder thinking of the Hillary nutcracker in the last election and the fact that not one single women's group threw a picket line around any stores that sold that product or the manufacturer of it.   Where is the women's group that gets women out in the street with pickets and stops traffic and shows the world how angry they are like ACT UP?  Where is the women's group that lets other women and the world know know what companies are treating women unfairly and calls on a boycott of that company?  I can remember receiving many many letters from gay organizations telling me which companies are and which companies are not honoring partners in their medical coverage and also in their companies....and I avoided spending my money on the negative companies.  Women have more power than anyone else when it comes to spending money....a very very powerful weapon.  

Money and political power.  Those are the tools.  Political clout had an enormous impact on passing this marriage bill.  Gays have a great deal of political and financial power and that is what women need to USE....and in the most brutal and not nice ways.  You cannot continue to be "nice" and achieve your rights.  You really have to get down and dirty.  And as I recall, there were a group of women who were willing to get down and dirty a long time ago.... to get into the streets and disrupt and fight.  They were the suffragettes.  How come there are no more suffragettes? 

Anyway, sorry for this personal explosion...but the success of the gay rights movement has made me even more impatient with other groups who have not achieved what they need to achieve. And it truly hurts me to see women treated the way they're treated here and around the world.

I appreciate this man's hurt on our behalf, and I appreciate his impatience.  I also agree that the most corrosive obstacle in our path is the fear of not being nice.  And I agree with Barbara that it is difficult to show force because we are oppressed by the very people we love and depend on.   So I am drawn into the question of whether being in the ghetto is more empowering, at least in the short run.  It makes me think of the costs of belonging, the often irresistible tendency to go along with things that insidiously kill us for the sake of peace and comfort.  How many are staying in marriages with financially successful men just because we can't make a proper living in those undervalued 'women's jobs' like caregiving, teaching, cleaning, psychotherapy, or the arts?   In my work as a shrink, I have tried several times without success to help depressed women in marriages like that.  Given what the culture values, hooking up with the oppressor is often the only way to survive, but it takes a chunk out of integrity and inner life.   

It seems to me that LGBT partnerships are less prone to this pattern.  Is it because the process of coming out is good practice in not being 'nice?'  Is it that being in the margins makes you less indebted to those in the center?  Or is it that you get to belong to a powerful group with strong and clear interests?  I know that the answers are complex and progress slow, but we can take the lesson offered and stand up for justice.  

Parity inspires love.   Unequal power inspires anger, helplessness, and simmering conflict.  Only by standing up for our interests--valuing them, articulating them, fighting for them--can we create a world where we can be free to love truly.   

July 2011  



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