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I want to try to write down my "elevator speech" from the recent AHA National Conference in Philadelphia, where I led and represented the AHA Feminist Caucus at several activities. Before and after the FC business meeting held over lunch on Friday, the State of Humanism Plenary meeting later in the day (at which I was part of the parade of group leaders who gave short reports to the membership), and the awards luncheon on Saturday, where I had the honor of presenting the 2014 Humanist Heroine Award to Jessica Valenti, I was approached by dedicated humanists of all ages with many questions and ideas for the feminist movement. Their earnestness convinced me that with such a strong desire for institutional change, and such actual, dramatic change on an interpersonal level when it comes to gender identity and equality, we must surely be poised to prevail. Strident opposition to the mere word "feminism" has started to sound more like the howl of a dying beast than a battle cry. Maybe there's less fight in the champions of the status quo than we imagine. With this in mind, my own call to arms, such as it was, came out something like this:
Not everyone is an activist. We get involved because we have to - we see something that is wrong and we jump in. There are people who are good at activism and enjoy it and make a career or ongoing project of it, but that's not for all of us and it shouldn't be. If our desire is to live in a free and fair society where we can all pursue our unique interests and fulfill our unique potential, then activism, for most of us, cannot be an end in itself. If a goal of feminism is to have more women achieving more opportunities and positions of influence in all walks of life, then we have to set our sights beyond the next cause and tend to our own careers and self-actualization.
Yes, there is a lot that needs doing in the feminist-humanist movement, and a lot to be gained from getting involved and learning organizational and leadership skills. There are serious injustices to rectify, and we all have our part to play in mobilizing against discrimination. Ultimately, though, I think that all of our humanist organizations need to focus more on helping and urging women and men to get down to our own work, to valuing and cultivating our unique interests and skills, to becoming accomplished and successful in whatever we do, so that we will be influential by virtue of the examples we set. This is where we truly make our mark on the world, in our daily living and interactions.
I am an artist, writer and publisher. I feel that when I do these things well, I am helping humanity and not letting humanity down because I didn't do other things. I'm lucky to live at a time when I can pursue such endeavors and even aspire to achieve recognition for my work - without having to change my name to George. It would be ironic to divert all of my energy to organizing for equal rights while neglecting to "do my own thing." I'm an activist because I have to be, because I see my sisters and brothers in the fight and I want to share the load with them. But I owe it to the ones who came before me to seize the opportunities they didn't have, to assert an identity unique and of my own choosing. And that is what I want for everyone.
It concerns me to see people, especially women, simply shifting from one kind of self-sacrifice to another, or from traditional domestic roles to modern but equally constricting social projects. Cooperation toward a worthy goal should not mean submission or regimentation. That's why, to all the wonderful people who want to know, What can I do? What more can I do? for the feminist-humanist cause, the best I can recommend is this: Go out and be awesome.
By this time, the elevator has definitely landed, even from floor 36, but I have a little more to add specifically for my HSNM readers:
Naturally, group activities play a big part in personal fulfillment. We want to take our awesomeness and share it and combine it in rewarding and frutiful ways. When we get together for common purpose, organization is required; leaders need to step forward along with many volunteers to perform routine tasks. Some people like to lend their particular expertise to a project, and others are looking for something completely different from their daily work. Some of us simply notice that something needs doing, so we set about trying to do it.
Over several decades HSNM has grown in membership, diversity, visibility, and influence. With success has come more work, and even more ambitious plans. As we move into our membership renewal period and Governing Board nomination and election process this summer, you will see requests for volunteers in this Newsletter and at our meetings, and you may receive a personal call or email. All I ask is that if you think you can help out even in a small way, then say Yes; and if you say Yes, then make every effort to do the task conscientiously, knowing that you are not expected to do it forever. The example we set by volunteering now will perpetuate the pattern of service that has brought us this far, and hopefully will secure our continued existence and growth.
Previous Copyright © 2014 Zelda Gatuskin
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