Getting into the Trenches: Staying with the Fight
“If you’re going through hell, keep going,” my best and forever-friend, Sarah, said to me, quoting Winston Churchill. This woman has been instrumental in supporting me throughout our evolving feminisms together. The benefit of such a wonderful and intimate friendship is that I never feel guilty about telling her that things are not going well, and it is often the case that I hang up the phone with her feeling much better. In the context of the conversation in which she quoted Churchill, she was reminding me to stay the course in the multiple dimensions of my life that sometimes feel groundless. In future posts and right now, I would like to underscore the importance of having woman friends. I would not be where I am without throwing an estro-jam with other strong ladies! And, the message I want to send out to the universe today is to keep going.
There’s a documentary out now in select cities about Anita Hill, and she recently did a “Feministing Five” interview with the Feministing blog. In response to the question of the greatest challenge facing feminism today, Hill explained:
“Now we’ve got to do the real hard work of making sure that bias is not built into our institutions and so on the surface things may look fine but now we gotta get down to the hard work of clearing out all of that old baggage from how decisions are made in ways that favor men and how do we look at how equality or inequality is experienced in our day-to-day lives as opposed to thinking of equality as something abstract.”
Hill warns against getting into a position of complacency in thinking that we can just sue whoever discriminates or harasses us. Indeed, though there may be policies and procedures based on legislation to address gender-based offenses, the actual practice is a different matter. We can see this in the myriad of Title IX complaints coming from all over the country of how colleges and universities handle complaints of rape and sexual assault.
On a side note, I debated with myself for a long time about whether or not to talk about the Title IX complaint I filed this year in this post. Sometimes the hierarchical nature of academia seems incongruent with the examination of power structures, and I worried that because I had not reached an upper-echelon of my career (or at the very least finished my doctorate), my disclosure may seem “inappropriate.” However, in truly acting in accordance with my values, my intuition tells me that my transparency is more powerful than my silence.
After a rather disturbing class period, which was preceded by less intense but also disturbing class periods, I submitted a complaint for discrimination and harassment based on Title IX. Though I will not be going into detail in this post on the nature of the complaint, I want to highlight certain aspects of my journey that have had a profound impact on where I am right now.
First, equality is not an overnight phenomenon. My complaint was filed in October, and I am still in a back-and-forth on the matter. When we commit to challenge and change something, we have to be prepared to be in it for the long haul. Even though we get frustrated that people simply do not “catch up,” our patience and mindfulness allow us to stay in the moment for much longer.
Second, we have to be aware of and open to neutral and negative reactions from others, even those we feel close to. Over the past few months, I have fluctuated from being overly argumentative, disengaged, depressed, invigorated, etc. Most of my friends stayed with me and rode those waves, but the time was not without isolation, alienation, and feelings of betrayal. Though awareness may not prevent these feelings, it is helpful to know what to expect.
Third, we must use our resources. I would not have gotten as far as I have without friends who were willing to offer legal advice, legal aid services, and websites catered to this particular problem (www.knowyourix.org). In addition to these more instrumental forms of support, I also had a number of people, men and women, who were in my corner.
The concept of social support brings me to my next point: thank people for hanging in there with us. Express gratitude to those who hear and stay up-to-date with what we are going through.
My final point is to keep going. One-time protests can have a powerful impact, but staying in the trenches day-to-day and holding others accountable is really where change resides. Keep checking in. Keep connecting with people. Keep filling out the paperwork and forms. Keep writing letters. Keep up with your friends. Keep up with taking care of yourself. Keep the goal of equality close to you, especially when it feels far away.
Written by Teresa Young