I hope some folks read last week's column and found it interesting, perhaps educational. I also hope that if you noticed the column title, "a Woman's Place," you were puzzled and/or disappointed by its inappropriateness. I sure was. the chosen title reached me via email the night before the paper went to the printers. This, my first journalistic venture, had some justifiable anxiety surrounding it. When I read down to the line of the title, I thought about it, considered the obviousness of the irony, and screamed. Then I laughed, and then screamed again. I am still laughing, which is, I guess, the best of my options. Here I will retype the highlights of the email returned too late to Rick Swart, the editor and guilty name chooser.
"Sorry, no ... cliche ... I do not write about women's issues. I write about people issues. Is it controversial because I am a woman? I thought my ideas were interesting, not my gender. Please, please, do not print under that title."
Every title in the list of considerations he sent with the final call had the word woman or an insinuation to it. My own first choice was Irreverent Liberal Feminist, a very tongue-in-cheek reference to the editor's label for me not five minutes after we had met. Rick said it was too blunt (not too blunt, however, for our introduction). The list of runners up ranged from "The Other Half" (Of what, may I ask?) to "Little Woman" (Have we met? Maybe I am glad I was not in on this conversation). What I am glad about is the opportunity to address the issue of "A Woman's Place" and not in the literal sense.
I run across a generalized opinion of who I am, quite often directly associated with the work I do at Safe Harbors, a "women's" organization. If that is due to the observation that primarily women do the work, I just think women are more willing, and through their experiences, are more aware of the gravity of the need. This is changing rapidly as more men get involved and I see true hope in that. Safe Harbors clients are primarily women because it is a form of violence directed primarily at women. We would be fools to say that domestic and sexual violence only affect women, and it would be counterproductive. The reality is that what affects an individual affects the whole society. Even if through my thought wanderings I address issues that are immediately focused on women and the injustice that befalls them, it is only because when women are not safe, healthy, and free to live through self-determination, we are all held back, and our national principles are jeopardized. Therefore, my work is not about advancement for women in an isolated context. It is about the betterment of the human condition. Unexclusively, I hope.
So what does the new name mean? "Write to Be Heard." I think it is one of the most valuable and necessary of the intangible human needs. We are not all that different having the basic needs of food, shelter, safety and nurturing. What I find more elusive, yet no less essential, are the rights/needs of things like acknowledgment as respect, freedom of beliefs and self-determination, and of course the right to be heard. To take a person's voice, to not allow them to speak or to be heard, is at the root of violence and dehumanization. The fight for the right to vote; being talked over because you speak softly or deliberately; the last thing a woman is likely to hear before she's hit is "Shut Up." If I do not have to listen to you I do not have to acknowledge your needs, I do not have to think about the effect of my actions.
What frees us up to better hear people is knowing that we do not always have to agree. Each human experience is valid. Though I may not agree with an ideology, even if I see it as harmful; if it is not listened to and the experience leading up to the beliefs not taken as valid, how can we find solutions within the conflict. Hearing someone that says things you disagree with can be the hardest thing in the world, and I will generalize when I say, we are not very good at it. Accepting new information constantly threatens my tightly held belief systems, until I learn to let go. Considering opposing viewpoints can threaten a way of life; jeopardizing what has come to be a person or a society's sense of security.
I will no doubt bring up subject matter, be it about peace, people, politics or my day-do-day annotations that differ from some commonly held perceptions and ideals. What I hope to keep in my mind, and perhaps in the mind of the reader, is how worthless a venture is if not done with the intention of greater good. That means many things to many people; I guess we will see what that means to me.