By Barbara Craig
When I graduated from high school in 1972, a reform-minded contemporary of mine gave me a copy of the sensational book, “Sisterhood is Powerful”. A new wave of feminism was gripping the minds of millions of women, and this provocative book introduced me to a whole new world of thought and analysis and reflection. I devoured it chapter by chapter. One summer afternoon, I walked into my house to find my father waiting for me; he announced that he had seen my book, read a chapter or two, and burned it. He forbade me to ever bring ‘trash like that’ into the house again.
I joined the nursing profession because I loved the medical field, and I had a great career. I maneuvered my way through countless encounters with men who flirted shamelessly, made derogatory or suggestive comments, touched me just a little bit too much or smiled a little too slyly, and told filthy ‘nurse’ jokes that I did not find funny. I didn’t challenge their behavior, but instead, tried to ignore them for the most part until the night when I openly declined a shoulder massage offered by a fellow male nurse. He was so offended at my refusal that he never spoke to me again - as if I were the one acting inappropriately.
I raised my kids and worked my jobs and had my hobbies and lived a great life, all while being mildly cognizant that other women were still fighting for equal pay and anti-discrimination laws and the recognition of sexual harassment in the workplace. None of it seemed particularly relevant to my quality of life, and I was not engaged.
Then along came Brett Kavanaugh.
I was able to watch all the Senate proceedings encompassing the unspeakably brave testimony of Christine Blasey-Ford, and, in razor-sharp contrast, the blustering and blistering attack-dog response of Kavanaugh. Just as compelling to witness in real-time was the frenzied fury of Lindsay Graham, whose self-perpetuated righteous indignation on behalf of Kavanaugh was almost comical in its delivery, had it not been so pathetic a performance by an American statesman.
During this same week, in conjunction with this debacle of a Senate confirmation, and in an uncanny sleight of coincidence, feminist writer Rebecca Traister released her third book, “Good and Mad”, a brilliant literary account of how women’s rights have evolved since the earliest organized efforts in the 1840’s to present. She writes about individual women and how they struggled but persevered, often without ever fully achieving their personal goals, but yet, painstakingly contributing to Sisyphus-like progress over time. I saw Traister interviewed on television twice that week. I was engrossed as I heard her brainy and colorful descriptive of the current state of women’s rights, all while I was seething over the performances of Kavanaugh and Graham and McConnell and Grassley. A realization started creeping over me, almost like a sense of self-actualization, which felt at the same time like a release of spirit. I began to recognize a familiarity in this feeling that was not unlike finding an old friend with whom I had lost contact a long time ago; only this reunion was not one that would culminate with our drinking hot chocolate in cozy library chairs and reminiscing about the good old days. Instead, it evoked a feeling that mimicked the soul-stirring, 1970’s-era resistance to the Vietnam War, protest against The Establishment, despair over National Guard killings of students at Kent State. Four dead in Ohio. Woodstock. Peace and love, and ‘We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden’. This feeling was living and sharp and rising from an untapped wellspring of deep outrage.
I did not know what to do with myself.
Over the following days, I wrestled with my anger as I questioned everyone in my personal tribe as to what could possibly be happening to me. I felt virtually handcuffed, I was having trouble sleeping and I became profoundly restless. I was stuck in an uneasy inertia with no escape plan.
Thanks to my husband’s utmost patience and unmatched gift of listening, it was finally during a conversation with him that I painstakingly revealed how two of the most important women in my life had been victims of rape; one, by her older brother, and the other while on a date. I had never shared this with him before. Telling their stories aloud for the first time produced an unexpected swell of emotion in me such that I wept and shouted and grieved between sobs for them as I never had before. The injustice of their trauma matched the dread I had felt as I watched Blasey-Ford tell her story in her trembling, high-pitched voice that sounded so fragile but belied her immeasurable strength as she steadfastly assumed her irrefutable place in feminist history.
Suddenly, I became near-frantically mobilized to find a women’s advocacy group or some type of suitable organization in which to channel my energy and desire to join the women’s movement. I found contact information online of a woman heading up “Women March in Seneca Falls” and blessedly, was asked to join their planning board for the 2019 march. I bought Rebecca Traister’s book and discovered facts and truths and a million more reasons to engage. I started to consciously identify the ubiquitous presence of white privileged patriarchy and found my voice to call it what it is. I attended seminars where highly-educated and articulate women spoke about the challenges of minority and diversity groups, and discovered how women, not men, have always led the charge for civil rights and equality for all. I eagerly absorbed all of this, chagrined at my realization of the depth of my own ignorance and, until now, my complete lack of active concern for the plight of persons living in inequality.
It’s time. It’s time for me to be educated, to be curious, to be seeking insight and understanding, and to engage in whatever actions are needed to make right the wrongs in our nation. It’s time for the Christine Blasey-Fords to be heard without prejudice. It’s time for political agitation and walk-outs and sit-ins and marches and protests to be in the news every single day. It’s time to mobilize and strengthen. It’s time for women to be safe, to be compensated, to be powerful. It’s time for me to act. It’s time.
Barbara Craig recently retired from a nursing career in oncology clinical research. She lives in Penn Yan and enjoys several hobbies as well as family including three married children and five granddaughters. She has recently become involved with the Women March in Seneca Falls group and looks forward to active planning for the Women’s March on 1-19-19. She is happy to report that her husband will be joining her!