I recently crossed over into my 30s. The lead-up to the day was a slurry of thoughts and feelings about this huge milestone, marked by bursts of self-reflection and a quick skip down that list of classic questions about "where I am" in my life. I thought it prudent to try to gather this slurry into a collection of lessons best learned over the last three decades.
1. There is no choice without access. Women don't have the right to safe abortion if there are no clinics. Women don't have the right to vote if voter ID laws marginalize them. Women don't have the right to be in public spaces if there is the omnipresent threat of physical and sexual violence. This is structural oppression, and (unfortunately) we need to promote access to these most basic rights.
3. The personal is political.
4. Ask for a raise. I have my critiques of Lean In, but the main and most helpful lesson I extracted from those pages was that you have to know your worth, ask for what you deserve, and fight until you get it.
5. Rock that body of yours. No matter how much I always knew in my brain that my body was perfect, it definitely took convincing to get there in practice. Women are supposed to be small, and inconspicuous, and graceful, right? Whether you're trying to find a seat on the subway, or standing in line to buy movie tickets, or at yoga next to Bendy McBenderson -- you're an amazon woman. A warrior princess. A crazy goddess. Your body is amazing, and nothing should make you feel otherwise. That space you're in is yours, so own it. And while we're all in the process of reorganizing pop culture as we know it, turning upside down the very same structures that define "beauty" very narrowly and make women feel "less than," these are the small battles we fight, and our bodies are the battlefield.
6. Know your privilege. Understand it. Critique it. Don't take it personally. Then reject it.
7. Respond to street harassment. Most men who feel comfortable calling out disgusting things to you on the streets are actually quite embarrassed when you ask them how they would feel if a man said that to their sister or girlfriend or mom. Embarrass them. I'm not sure many of them would really think otherwise if you don't at least try. And while it will be nice to live in a world where respect for women in public spaces is the norm, this is the interim band-aid.
8. Women's health clinics need you to show up, because the anti-choicers show up and harass women. They call them names. They tell them lies. They shame and horrify them. And it's totally legal, and absolutely terrifying for women to experience as she's going to see her DOCTOR. It's not ok. Be like these guys! They nailed it!
9. Become trans-literate. To quote my smart friend V -- "Feminists will be more powerful when we listen to the voices of trans activists directly."
10. Reproductive justice is truly transformative. There's a huge difference between being a reproductive health vs. reproductive rights vs. reproductive justice activist. Reproductive rights are basic human rights, and require a social justice approach if all women (and men) are to enjoy them.
11. Don't read the comments. Because it's not a safe cyberspace to have feminist ideals... yet. And while we still live in a world where it's appropriate to leave rape threats in comments (BECAUSE THAT'S OK, RIGHT?!?!?), just ignore the trolls.
12. We need more men to identify as feminists, and truly mean it. Challenging rape culture, patriarchy, and inequality isn't going to happen until we have allies, partners, and supporters who challenge their own privilege and subvert masculinity. Also, because...
13. ...no, reproductive rights are NOT just a "women's issue." Last time I checked, women can't just cook up a baby like an Easy Bake Oven cooks up a pink Bundt (although that would be cool...). There's not a magical powder you mix with water, and a baby comes out. Men are involved in reproduction. Therefore, men should be involved in whatever family planning (or family non-planning) that suits the couple (obviously taking cues from his partner, because it's her Easy Bake Oven, after all...).
14. Support feminist filmmakers. Two words: Obvious Child.
15. Speak up when people say stupid crap about feminism. People are uninformed. The Internet was rife with this the last few weeks, making it really clear that a lot of people don't really know what it means to be a feminist. It's not about your leg hair, or your last name, or your choice to stay home with your kids, or about liking men. It's about equality, friends. As with any stupid crap people say about all kind of things, sometimes it's really just about breaking it down and starting with the basics.
16. HOLY MOLY SELF-CARE. "Put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping small children." If you short-circuit, burn out, tailspin out in a cloud of "need to rock back and forth in a dark room," the movement suffers. Your brilliant brain is no longer shining for equality and justice. I know it feels futile sometimes. Ya gotta take a nap, and a bubble bath, and a sick day every now and again. There will always be stuff to do when you're rested again.
17. Leave the bubble. We all have one: our comfort zone of people who think like us and who understand our views and our ethos and don't make us feel like we have to explain our most basic principles. Time to leave the comfort zone. For me, it's been about understanding critiques of white feminism, learning, and being better next time.
18. Sisterhood is not so global. Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean I understand what it means to walk in the shoes of the woman standing next to me. We both experience gender inequality in its micro and macro forms, and owe it to each other to create space for those nuances and intersections.
19. Talk about sex. Sexual relationships should be so fun, and safe, and healthy, and interesting, and exactly what you want them to be. They should yield millions of orgasms and lots of fun for everyone involved, and one of the ways we do that is to make sure that sex isn't taboo. And obviously, one way to break some of these taboos is to talk about sex. And not just sexual health, but pleasure. All the time (not just on Valentine's Day). With your partner. With your friends. Good sex is a feminist issue.
20. Share your story. Your abortion story. Your rape story. Your birth story. Your addiction story. Your family story. It creates a safe space for others to do the same.
21. Never underestimate the power of a group of young, smart women determined to make change. Ever. I honestly believe that if I brought together all of the amazing young women I know into one room, the earth would crack open from the immense drive, power and grace they all emit into this world. And that's amazing.
22. Take your daughter to work. And to marches. And to the polls. And to the library. And to the Hill. The message you are sending her is: You belong in all of these spaces, and can be whatever you want to be.
23. Thank your feminist mom (or mom equivalent) and her feminist friends. Even if you don't have a feminist mom (or mom equivalent), she went through some CRAZINESS to get to today, so thank her anyway. Thank you Sue, and Morgan, and Rob, and Lynn. And thanks Anne -- you're a good one.
24. Call your Senator, Member of Congress, local policy-maker. They work for you. You pay their salary. They often do bonehead stuff that doesn't represent you or your best interests (you = women), so hold them accountable.
25. Work with teenage girls. I can't imagine how many people wanted to send me off to my own island when I was a teenager. What a nightmare. With the hormones, and the Backstreet Boys, and the glitter, and the time I stole your beer. (Sorry dad.) But teenage girls today have a struggle of a totally different magnitude. Sexting. Video footage of their rape that goes viral. Cyber bullying. Social media. See if you can be a mentor.
26. Your working mom friends are superwomen, and you should worship the ground on which they walk. Holy moly. The multi-tasking, and the lack of sleep, and the cheerios stuck to your pants all while maintaining professional prowess... There should be an award.
27. Read all of the feminist literature you read in college again. bell hooks does different things in your 29-year-old brain than it did in your 19-year-old brain.
28. Read the news. It's really depressing. It usually makes me really sad for the world. But to develop a truly social justice lens, it's imperative to see how the things happening in the world connect to one another. It's all connected.
29. Gather. Convene. Brainstorm. Organize. Support. In the '80s this was called consciousness raising. We gotta stick together.
30. And most importantly -- KEEP IT UP. It all makes a difference.
This post originally appeared on sherights.com.
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