I have long been a fan of Joss Whedon’s, i.e., He Who Created the Ass-Kicking Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but never more so than now. Today, he has posted a statement about the brutal, horrific stoning death of Dua Khalil Aswad in Northern Iraq. You can read it and his cri de coer about the state of global and local misogyny, which is only getting worse by the day, at http://www.whedonesque.com.
In addition to writing one of the strongest female characters in the history of television, Joss Whedon is also a staunch defender of women’s rights. Of women, period. Joss Whedon isn’t threatened by free, independent, smart women; he celebrates them. He seems to understand that we are half of society, and we have a right to be here, to have power simply by virtue of that 50% status, and that we don’t have to make dinner in order to sometimes hold the remote. He’s also incredibly eloquent (in case you weren’t the Buffy freak I was, else you’d already know that), and what he writes in his blog statement made me tear up.
And then it made me want to kick some serious ass.
In case you don’t know the story, Dua Khalil was a 17-year-old girl of the Yezidi faith who had a relationship with a Sunni Muslim boy. The two sects hate each other, apparently–just one more dazzling thumbs up for religious extremism. Well, for religion in general, but that’s another post. For this “crime,” Dua Khalil was dragged into a public square, beaten, stripped, kicked, and eventually killed by having a stone dropped on her head, while a group of men and police stood by, cheering the beating and capturing it all on cell phone video like some You Tube link to pass around to their frat brothers: “Hey guys, check THIS out!”
She was 17 years old. 17. A kid with her first boyfriend. And for that, she was savagely murdered in an “honor killing.” As if there could be any honor in killing a defenseless teenage girl pleading for her life.
Like Whedon, I’ve been dismayed by the growing, insidious hatred of women worldwide. Why? What fuels this? How is that the clock is turning backward and what are we doing to stop it? I have thrown up my hands at the “empowerment” of Search for the Next Pussycat Doll (don’t get me started…), the constant attack on working mothers (working mom is redundant, by the way), the escalating violence against women, the slurs and disrespect–all this while our rights, rights we fought and won, are being eroded faster than the Florida coastline. Gonzales v. Carhart had me in a stupor for a week. (Nothing like an opinion decided by a group of older men who will, to my knowledge, never be pregnant, though it’s one of my recurring fantasies…)
I am a lifelong feminist. I have never shied away from using that identity. It’s amazing to me that that one small word can so frighten people. It’s like saying, “I pulp babies and drink their blood from Club Med margarita glasses.” To me, being a feminist says to the world that you know who you are–a woman–and you will not apologize for it. It says that, being half the population of the earth, you feel entitled to certain kooky things, like power over your own body and your medical choices. The same pay for the same work. Equality. Justice. The right not to be stoned to death in a public square. It’s a powerful word, feminist. Perhaps that is why everyone from the religious right to self-loathers like Ann Coulter try so hard to discredit it, to paint it with a wash of disdain, to make women feel shame in the word. I refuse to allow them to take my identity from me so easily. Let me say it again: I. Am. A. Feminist.
I benefitted from Title IX. I marched for NOW when I was 17. (17, the same age as Dua Khalil.) I read Gloria Steinem’s Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions and felt my world being rocked. Back then, sex ed was taught in the schools; Planned Parenthood was there to give women information about their bodies and their options; Roe v. Wade was a given; and women were fighting to pass the ERA.
Now, two decades later, Roe v. Wade is under serious attack. So is Planned Parenthood. Abstinence only programs pass for sex ed because, it turns out, we don’t want young women knowing too much about their sexuality and their bodies–it scares people. And the ERA was never ratified. Just so we’re clear: there is no constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights under the law for women. It’s incredibly demoralizing. Maybe the bullies think we’ll be so beaten down we’ll slink back to the cave and sew up some window treatments.
I remember once describing what I do. “I write for teen girls,” I said proudly.
“Oh,” was the condescending response. The tone was clear–why did I want to waste my time writing that girly stuff for such an insignificant audience? Girls. I mean, jeez, they don’t matter.
(It was tempting to reach into his chest and pull out his beating heart with my bare hands, but I’d just spent $15.00 on a manicure.)
Me? I’ll put my money on teen girls any day. They are smart. They kick ass. I know–I’ve met them, listened to them, watched their bands play, read their work, enjoyed some healthy political/philosophical/artistic debate with them, shared their pizza. I’ve met girls who want to play the bass. Write poetry. Apply to Harvard. Stop poverty. Meet a great guy. None of them expressed a desire to pose for Maxim in a g-string. They are the future, the change coming in the world. They will not allow their rights to be eroded. They will not allow a culture to define them in such narrow, objectified terms. They will be heard and seen and when one of them becomes Speaker of the House or (can I dream?) President, she will not have to smile graciously while some asshole makes lame jokes about how she might want to redecorate her office or answer a million questions from a seemingly dumbfounded media about how she’ll survive out there as a woman. She won’t have to make everyone feel comfortable by reminding them she’s a mother of five and so a “traditional woman” underneath it all. She won’t have time to coddle the idiots; she’ll have more important matters to tackle, like maybe finally ratifying the ERA and replacing the old men on the Supreme Court with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I believe that. I have to believe that.
For now, I’m accepting Whedon’s plea:
“All I ask is this: Do something. Try something. Speaking out, showing up, writing a letter, a check, a strongly worded e-mail. Pick a cause – there are few unworthy ones. And nudge yourself past the brink of tacit support to action. Once a month, once a year, or just once…Even just learning enough about a subject so you can speak against an opponent eloquently makes you an unusual personage. Start with that. Any one of you would have cried out, would have intervened, had you been in that crowd in Bashiqa. Well thanks to digital technology, you’re all in it now.”
So, speak out. Act up. Make a fuss. Don’t let other people define who you are and what you’re entitled to. Hold fast to your voice, your rights, your power. And when the crowd starts gathering rocks, stop them.
Make the world a better place. God knows, we can use you.