Thursday, July 3, 2014

Iron Jawed Angels Around the World

One of my perpetual goals as a mother is to get my kids to watch Movies with a Message, something with "redeeming value," as my mother might have said. Recently, I succeeded in convincing Chloë to watch Iron Jawed Angels with me. It's a film about two young activists, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, whose peaceful zeal and unwavering commitment energized the movement to gain women the right to vote in the U.S. 

About 30 minutes into the movie, Chloë said she didn't understand what all the arguing was about.  I explained that the story took place in a a very different time, and that, a hundred years ago, many men were very fearful about giving women the right to vote.  Women had never had the right to vote in this country (except in a few states), and men were worried about the changes that would take place if women were given the right to vote.  "I just don't get it, Mom.  They should know that you can't stop a woman.  Women are too strong for that." 

The movie proceeded to depict the malevolence and violence waged against the suffragettes, from the taunts and threats to the beatings, the maggott-filled food, and force feedings in the workhouse where they were imprisoned.  It was tough to watch, and even more tough to subject my baby girl to watching it. A part of this Mama Bear wanted to shield Chloë from the ugly reality of it all, even in its cleaned-up-for-Hollywood form.  

And a  bigger part of me wanted her to see it.  To prove to her that she was right.  The suffragettes never wavered in their commitment to their cause, despite the many setbacks and even their own personal fears and doubts. Chloë and I both cheered, tears streaming down my cheeks, when the film depicted the moment of glory when amendment giving women the right to vote in this country was passed. This right might have been one she, a child of the twenty-first century, would take for granted but for seeing this movie.

I recently read the book Half the Sky, so I know that women around the world continue to suffer injustices, from lack access to education and healthcare to human trafficking into the sex trade.  Lest we think that's just a problem "overseas," an estimated 50,000 women and children are trafficked each year into the United States for sexual exploitation.  Countless women and children in this country lack access to basic nutrition and health care. 

Such problems seem so big and hopeless that it's easy to check out and say, "there's nothing I can do about it." The book Half the Sky would be far to depressing for me to even read, in fact, but for this redeeming value:  for every injustice it highlights, it also showcases an individual who is working to help the women and children who are impacted. These are not governments or corporations but ordinary people who are taking bold action to address problems that seem as daunting now as women fighting for the right to vote did a hundred years ago.  Their courage and determination give me hope. 

The book also offers ideas about how the rest of us can support them in these brave souls, most being available right from their comfort of our own homes.  Anne Frank said, "how wonderful it is that no one need wait a single minute to improve the world." As soon as I put down the book, I went to to fund a micro-loan for a woman in South America wanting to purchase more chickens so she will have eggs to feed her family ~ and to sell, so she has an income. 

It occurs to me that these small acts are just what is needed to bring about the kind of change we want to be in the world, as Gandhi suggested.  It's tempting to think we'll do something about looming issues when the big project ends, when the kids are bigger or when there's more money to donate.  Putting off action, I have found, means putting off peace.  When I'm feeling particularly bad about a situation, I ask myself, "what can I do about this right now?"  The answer may be to share the video, to raise awareness, or it may be to say a prayer blessing those who are on the ground helping.  Then I do that ~ and let go the guilt that I can't do more or the stress of adding one more thing to my Do Someday list.   

I honor and thank my suffragette sisters whose courage paved the way for my life today, and I bless all who are on the ground helping impoverished, disempowered and enslaved women around the world.  I give an equally big shout out to all of us who are making our own small contributions right where we are, wedged among the PTA meetings, the late nights at the office and folding the laundry.  Everything we do matters, and, collectively, we are proving Chloë right: women are far too strong to be held back by old paradigms and outdated customs.  I hope that it takes less than a hundred years for all of our global sisters to know it, too.  We need all of us holding up the sky to meet the many challenges we face on Earth today.

PS If you're interested in creating change in a bigger way, I recommend the Game Changer Intensive course offered by the Pachamama Alliance. I just completed the course, and it opened my eyes (and heart) to the many opportunities for effecting positive change.