Friday, August 31, 2012

Regaining the Fucks

I'm sure that, by now, our readers around the world have gotten an earful about U.S. Congressman Todd Aiken and his unbelievably medieval remarks about rape and biology. I've spent the past few days in a haze of disbelief and rage, including a memorable moment when I burst into tears over a stupid commentator on National Public Radio. I've been avoiding the news ever since, knowing that any mention of His Idiocy (or the idiots that believe him) will set me off again. I'm exhausted from caring to the point where, as Erin Gloria Ryan so eloquently put it, "So many more fucks need to be given, and I have exhausted my fuck supply. The fucks are on backorder." I just can't do it anymore. I can't take the overwhelming tide of misogynistic crap that American politicians somehow keep spewing.

In some ways, it's a bit of a wake-up call. Cis women of any race have never really had it easy during my lifetime- marital rape wasn't federally codified as a crime in the U.S. until I was eight, for example- but all the same, I was born with a lot more rights than my mother and grandmother were. It was never a question that I would be eligible to vote when I turned 18. Going on to university, and later a job, was not only an option for me, but also the preferable one. It never had to cross my mind that being raped could result in a forced marriage. Plenty of cis women in the U.S. and around the world can remember times when they had to fight for these rights- or still look forward to a day when they may have those rights respected. The fact that one fool's lack of basic biological and social knowledge can cause such an uproar in my home country ought to be a sign of hope. Elsewhere, beliefs like Aiken's have been legally accepted for decades and residents of those countries have been working their butts off to change that, with limited success.

At the same time, however, my natural optimism is silent. I guess that's largely because I had believed that, once rights are recognized, they won't be taken away. It's an incredibly naive and privileged perspective to carry, I realize, but I've always been the Scarlett O'Hara type anyway, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to counter it. Hell, I'm in a profession where optimism is an essential trait for survival. I've finally been shocked into (relative) silence by the shattering of that most beautiful illusion. As much as I thought I'd overcome the tendency to take hard-fought rights for granted, I'm learning I have been. What I'm experiencing right now is the abrupt and terrifying realization that yes. It can happen to me.

It can happen to me that I'll be a citizen of a country that will progressively strip away the rights that my foremothers fought so hard to gain.

It can happen to me that I'll live in a country where policymakers make important decisions about my body based on a complete lack of knowledge.

It can happen to me that visiting other, more feminist-friendly countries will mean visiting places where cis women are very much more privileged than I am.

It can happen to me that a potential representative of my country would (and did!) suggest that rape is just another method of contraception.

I can hear a lot of you readers laughing at my naive perspective, and a few others shaking your fists (wait, what? A White American feministmissed something? Never!), and a couple of others telling me to join the grown-up club already (in which case, keep your arrogance to yourselves). I can also hear a lot of our readers from around the world shaking their heads and sighing because you're all much more accustomed to the back-and-forth misogyny that takes rights away as readily as it grants them. I know. I've been living a pretty privileged perspective. It happens a lot to Americans.

With this realization in mind, I'd like to subvert the age-old American feminist tendency to believe that "we" have it right by calling on the rest of the world: how do you get your fucks back? In less cavalier language, how do you find the energy to carry on when you feel utterly overwhelmed by the challenges facing your movements? It's obvious to me that I- we- can't afford not to care, not with so much at stake, so the only answer is to keep on caring enough to do something. But how?

Go Girls (and Go Folk) the world over are a daily reminder that we're all moving, shaking, and changing the world with every step on a plane, every backpack zipped, every tijn spent. Somehow, wherever we're from and wherever we're going, we always manage to keep ourselves in motion. It's unbelievably inspiring. So as a movement, as a tour de force, let's brainstorm. How can we keep ourselves going against not logistical odds, but sociopolitical odds? How can we make and preserve lasting change?

How can we get our fucks back?

1 comment:

  1. Maybe it's because we grew up in the same town (heck, practically on the same street!) but I have been just as surprised by this rolling back of women's rights, and just as embarrassed to admit that I've been naive.

    In each presidential election I've voted in so far in my life (just two), I've always taken the view that abortion shouldn't be a major part of my decision, because I didn't see Roe v. Wade going anywhere. For awhile, courting the moderate vote was so important that presidential candidates took very, very similar stances on the policy.

    When my sister used McCain's and Obama's stances on abortion as the key issue to decide her vote in the last election, I rolled my eyes and said, "Roe v. Wade is going nowhere - focus on other issues." Now I see that even if Roe v. Wade does remain intact, states can and will push through legislation that prevents doctors from providing abortions on some technicality.

    I think the problem is that as Americans we don't have enough history to look back on, and what we do have is taught with an emphasis on forward movement - yes, slavery happened, but then it ended. Yes, women of any race still had no vote, but now they do. Yes, segregation was a problem, but now that's illegal. And yes, there are still problems, but they'll keep getting better.

    But that's not how history works. Social change comes from groups pushing for it, and groups push for any number of changes.