Happy Women’s History Month! Since I wasn’t great at updating this blog last year, my goal is to write at least 2 posts this month related to activism and my identity as a woman. This one is the first in series.
When I lived in New Jersey, my place was about a 5-minute walk from a train station. I’d walk the busy path almost everyday, along with many people coming home from New York. Occasionally, I’d get a cat call – from men driving by. By the time I realize that it was directed at me, they’d been long gone.
While I’d often ignore them, mostly out of embarrassment and irritation, inside I was raging, wondering what would be an appropriate way to respond. Should I yell or flip a finger? That didn’t feel like me. But remaining silent also felt like I was allowing them to disrespect me. Don’t they have to be told it’s wrong? It just felt like an emotional “hit and run.”
I also hear stories from my friends of their experience of sexism. Men making comments about their physical characteristics – sometimes at professional settings. Men stating that women should be “flattered” when men talk about their bodies.
Those are intelligent, confident and capable women, yet because of their bodies, they are treated like objects, not a whole person. That also raged me. So I kept thinking – what do I do, so that I can stand up for myself and other women?
Luckily my training in nonviolence has given me insights. Rather than feeling powerless, I realized there are at least 3 things I can do about it.
- Don’t let their comments and behavior affect me. Nobody can make me feel intimidated without my permission. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in the civil rights movement did not let any hateful action toward African Americans define their sense of identity and dignity. Likewise, if some people are unable to see me – or other women – as people worthy of respect because of our gender, that is their bad, not mine. It does not define who I am. There is no reason for me to be embarrassed.
- Speak up against sexism whenever it is there. I must not condone any sexism in our immediate environment, for fear of criticism or appearing too sensitive. Often people make sexist jokes and comments casually, without thinking much, but that does not mean we should just pretend it did not happen. It can be an educational moment, if I can remain calm and respectful. One thing to remember is, as the principle of nonviolence teaches, I am against the behavior and not the person.
- Take action. I should not only oppose what is unacceptable, but also have to be part of creating a world where women are treated with respect. And being part of the change is the best way to remain hopeful. That is why I joined the Women’s March locally. At the personal level, I also remind myself to model the behavior, by being respectful to others and never forgetting my sense of dignity.
If I think of the progress that has been made over the years, thanks to many women (and men) who have fought for women’s rights, I cannot help but remain optimistic. Women have come a long way.
Gandhi used the term satyagraha (truth force) to describe nonviolence. He was confident about the power of nonviolence because it was the power available to us when we hold onto the truth. And it is the truth that women and men are equal, that we all possess inherent dignity. Therefore, there is no reason to doubt that it will not prevail – if we work hard for it.