Turning Pain To Power

I’ve been a part of The Vagina Monologues since my first year of college, and I’m currently striving to become more actively involved in the causes relevant to TVM and the V-Day organization. V-Day’s 2009 spotlight campaign is called “Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource”, and focuses on the appalling sexual violence against women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. V-Day has taken incredible steps to help Congolese women, and there are many different ways to get involved with the cause.

Two terrific ways to help:

  • Host a teach-in. All you have to do is download a Power Point and find somewhere to present it. It’s an easy and effective way to educate yourself and others about the issue.
  • Buy a purse handmade by a survivor of sexual violence. The organization Healing Arts, based out of a hospital in Goma that specializes in fistula repair surgery, teaches survivors how to bake bread, sew, make soap, and weave. Once a woman is able to leave the hospital and return home, Healing Arts gives her a grant to allow her to further develop her skills and business. Many survivors of sexual violence in the DRC are stigmatized and discriminated against–often more so than the perpetrators of the crimes. The money made from the sale of these bags helps Congolese women overcome their limited economic opportunities and continue to support themselves and their children. I just ordered one; I hope you do, too.

If you want to learn more about the situation in the DRC and what you can do to help, V-Day is always a great place to start.

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This Is What A Feminist Looks Like

Recently, I was out with two (male) friends of mine. The subject of relationships inevitably came up, and I made a comment that led one friend to note, “That’s a very feminist stance on dating.”

My other friend immediately turned to me and replied, “But…you’re not a feminist.”

What?

A feminist is someone who is concerned with the rights, interests, and legal protection of women. That’s it. While there are a whole host of different movements, theories, and opinions that fall under the umbrella definition of “feminism”, fundamentally the word signifies a belief in (as trusty Merriam-Webster puts it) “the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes”.

Yet the word has been appropriated to mean any number of things, many of them pejorative. It is frequently–especially in pop culture–attached to portrayals of man-hating, granola-eating “womyn” who refuse to shave their legs. Just think of the character in Legally Blonde who wants Harvard to start calling its terms “ovesters”. (Incidentally, “semester” is derived from the Latin “semestris”, meaning a six month period–nothing to do with semen!)

Why has a word for someone who defends the rights of themselves and/or others become an insult? Why did my friend assume I wasn’t a feminist just because I’m not a walking stereotype?

Shouldn’t the majority of educated, aware, compassionate people be feminists almost by default? Wouldn’t it be nice if more men wore these shirts (and didn’t look as surprised by the message as that male model does)?

Of course, we can always turn to Reverend Pat Robertson for his sage thoughts on the matter:

“Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.”

Obviously.