Or: In which we are inspired by Selma opening up a can of whup-ass
Some things just demand to be written. They sort of grab hold of your collar out of the blue and get their nose right in your face and say “Hellloooo! Get on it sister!” The signs were coming at me from all corners this morning: "This is what the story is about today."
Sometime in the mid-morning I read this fabulous post by my friend Selma, which prompted a too-long and impassioned response. But as I read over the thing before burdening her blog with it, it started screaming "I BELONG ON YOUR OWN BLOG." Then I caught some catty jesting coming over Twitter. Then there was an unnecessarily barbed comment in a meeting. And here I am.
Selma’s piece was about several things, but mostly about her rising up and taking a stand against some uncalled for catty behaviour by some acquaintences. Opening up the proverbial can of whup-ass and the subsequent "Whoo! I rule!." But the issues she raises have resonated with me for many years.
So, a few hours prior to reading that I’m on the streetcar headed to Union Station, and there are two attractive young women in the seats in front of me having a conversation. It is just chatting about mutual friends and what-are-you-doing-this-weekend kind of conversation, nothing real interesting to your average eavesdropping blogger.
Then another attractive young woman gets on and sits near the front. She’s turned sideways in her seat and is surveying the people in the car behind her. Again, nothing so remarkable, until she fixes on the two women in front of me and starts giving them the old “up and down” look. Not just an “up and down checking out the outfit” kind of look, but a repeated “'I scorn thee' up and down;” increasingly scornful with each journey of the eyeballs. She “ups and downs” them for so long I wonder if she is trying to get them to notice her doing so.
So I get thinking, what is it about them that irks you so? All three of you are attractive, well dressed and seemingly going off to decent jobs – certainly luckier than the majority of the women on this planet.
I get to the station and onto the subway and forget about them; until later in the morning when I read Selma’s story about self confidence, soldiering on, nightgowns, cows catty sorts, words and brown eggs.
This is not a new issue – us women have talked about us being catty to each other for decades. Most of us have probably behaved this way on one level or another. At the very least we've seen it – starting in elementary school. There are numerous explanations for it put out there by various factions – from the “you women are petty and shallow creatures anyway” to (what I consider to be the most logical one) the notion that we have a good deal of fucked-upness based on centuries of cultural oppression and objectification.
I can just see my mother cringe. She and I differ greatly on the merits of the women’s movement and women’s issues. I expect that’s related to her devotion to Christianity, one of the biggest culprits in the objectification of us gals as far as I’m concerned, but that’s another post.
And let me say, this is not a man-bashing post. I love men, I adore them. I’ve often said I’d rather hang around with the men at a party than the women. Maybe that’s got something to do with womens' inherent prickliness toward one another. But I can say with confidence, I have many amazing men in my life and I do not hold them responsible for my, or anyone else’s, fucked-upness. Our fucked-upness wasn’t their idea.
I guess you could say it’s more of a women-bashing post. Because let me put this out there sisters: as long as we are divided, we’ll always be conquered. As long as we are judgemental of each other and our bodies, our looks, our beliefs, our actions, our intentions – as long as we make catty, underhanded remarks designed to make ourselves feel somehow superior to each other – we will not rise above anything that held us down in the past.
Selma says she thinks people should have to obtain a license before they speak. How about we just think for a minute about the power of words? I am still working on rising above someone telling me I wasn’t talented enough more than 30 years ago. And once, in my early 20s, I was dancing with a guy who told me I was a bad dancer. At 49, I’m only learning to dance with joy now.
I take 100% responsibility for my own life. I’m not shifting blame for my issues to other people – but I am trying illustrate the power that words have. I would suggest that my best qualities – my strength, self assurance, compassion and competency are no doubt also the result of the many positive messages passed on to me.
What I’m trying to say is that maybe us gals should think more about these issues that seem to pit us against one another, wherein we see each other as the enemy. Because there’s room for all of us. We’ve shown we’re strong, capable, innovative, and, by nature, we work great in team situations. Imagine what it would be like if we focused positive energy on one another; imagine if we directed our attention away from our privileged selves and directed our energies to our less fortunate sisters, and said “yeah – rock on girl.” The world, in turn, might be rocked right off its axis.
One of the last signs that I should write this post: After I drafted out part of this piece, I saw that a friend had posted this on her facebook page:
Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace. ~ Buddha
It's International Literacy Day today. This is a re-post of a piece I did a year ago. I hope you'll read it and think about how lucky you are to be able do so.
I teach creative writing courses in a continuing education department of a college. Most would consider these to be “special interest” courses, which people take for enjoyment. And that’s great – one of the reasons I teach these courses is because I enjoy it.
But there is another really big reason I do it. It’s because I believe that lifelong learning is a fundamental right of every human being, and that lifelong learning makes better citizens, communities and countries. I teach courses because I want to help people achieve that feeling of satisfaction and power I get when I expand my own knowledge. When a learner says to me “I’ve changed because of this course” the sense of gratification I feel in having engendered, just a little, someone’s personal growth and the power they feel at having told a story is enormous.
But adult learning is so much more than that which I promote in my own little world. According to UNESCO, one in five adults is not literate. Two-thirds of those adults are women. 75 million children on this planet are not in school. You want to talk about how literacy is about personal empowerment and human development?
Then think about what it means that that 776 million adults lack minimum literacy. It means that 776 million people lack the skills necessary to overcome poverty. 776 million people lack access to information about how to take care of themselves and their children, about how to find help and support, how to achieve gender equality and how to carry out sustainable development so they can support themselves and their communities. Literate parents raise literate children. People who are literate participate more in their communities and they make their voices heard through actions – like voting.
And just as literacy is a tool of personal empowerment and human development – illiteracy is a tool of oppression and domination. We all know the Taliban work hard to oppress and dominate by withholding education. It’s not a new idea – it’s been going on for centuries, and continues around the globe.
Today is International Literacy Day. Stop for a few minutes and think about what literacy means in your world. What your access to education and information affords you and those around you. Think about what it means as you sit at that computer, accessing and contributing to the world of ideas and information on the World Wide Web.
Think about the sheer courage that girl in Afghanistan must drum up just to go to school in the morning because she probably heard stories about angry dudes throwing acid the faces of girls who go to school. Think about your laid-off neighbour who is suddenly faced with navigating the “information society” for a job his high school education didn’t equip him for all those decades ago. Think about your new neighbour who has escaped an oppressive regime but lacks the language skills to read a simple street sign, a carton of milk, a prescription bottle or the newspaper.
And maybe instead of buying coffee at Starbucks this week, give that ten bucks to an organization like this one or this one or one in your community (check your local library), and imagine the possibilities for a world in which 776 million people don’t lack basic literacy skills and have a chance to rise above poverty and oppression. Literacy is power. Share the power.