Feminism and the Face of Violence
Feminism and the Face of Violence
What happens to one woman happens to all the women of the world. If you understand this consciousness, then you can begin to make things right.
© The Teachings of Yogi Bhajan, July 9, 1979
In the wake of one woman’s death in a faraway place—that may as well have been next door for all the fervor and clamor it generated here—and the specter of violence against women every day in the United States, taking Yogi Bhajan’s words to heart is a challenge to our social construct. What would it mean “to begin to make things right”? There is no making things right for the young woman on that bus in New Delhi. So we must ask ourselves, is there a way to make things right for her classmates, her sisters, her mother, her friends? Is there a way to create not just security but safety for women; because it’s not safe to be a woman. And if you’re a woman, you know exactly what I mean. You’ve lived with the insecurity: you’ve walked fast down a busy street; you’ve crossed that same street, even when you didn’t need to, because the streetlamp was out; you’ve turned and stared down the potential attacker, only to realize it’s a pack of middle school boys or a homeless man down on his luck; or maybe you’ve run away, only to fall down and feel humiliated and exposed. These are parts of my own story, anyway. And every woman has her own.
When I was a young woman, “take back the night” was a social movement to create safety and security for women, a movement that espoused the notion that a woman had the right to move about the world without fear for her own physical safety, a movement that questioned the norms which said that if you were out late at night you were “asking for it”, a movement that demanded that men be responsible not only for themselves but also for other men. Then the 80s happened and slowly but surely women’s rights, so recently earned, were chipped away one state or federal bill at a time, one crime at a time, one nasty slur at a time. Women helped too. There was an intense backlash against feminism, so much so that today, young women don’t relate to feminism at all. It’s just some bra burning hippie thing that their great aunt participated in back in the day. They have no connection to the fundamentals of the movement or to the experiences of women that led to that movement.
Today we watch Mad Men from the comfort of our living rooms while our husbands do the dishes and we forget the humiliation, the exploitation and the imbalance of power that women had to endure—only 40 years ago! In one generation we have forgotten. And those who forget are doomed to relive it . . . So to New Delhi, the New Old World, where commerce and education and expansion—life itself—abounds. It’s booming—and women are beginning to take advantage of this golden opportunity to break away from the social constructs of their traditional culture and make a life for themselves. And what does the dominant culture do in the face of change, especially change that threatens their own privilege—it attacks. It does everything it can possibly do to crush the life out of those who would seek that change. What else can explain such gross violence, such viciousness? And such deafening silence by those standing by, witnessing it?
Feminism is the not-so-radical idea that what is best for a woman is best for everyone. Because feminism recognizes the fundamental vulnerability of being in woman’s body, while at the same time it recognizes the fundamental power that comes from the identity of a woman—creative, sacred, invincible! It is her vulnerability that must be acknowledged—and protected; it is her power that must be respected—and honored. These larger social issues seem to transcend the personal, the intimate, the here and now. And yet, a woman who was brutally attacked, raped and eventually died from the injuries of her attackers, her story, affects us all as women. So what can we do “to begin to make things right”? Are we powerless in the face of such profligate violence? That’s what they want us to believe. Every time a woman is senselessly attacked, raped, beaten or abused, it’s another notch in the belt of the oppressor. It’s another mark in the arcline of the shared consciousness that is womankind.
Our work must begin here at home, in our own lives. It seems small but the moment we reject the world’s idea of who we should be and instead simply be ourselves—unafraid—that is a victory. The moment we refuse to believe the lie that we’re not good enough, the moment we reject the notion that we aren’t capable enough, the moment we laugh at the thought that we deserve less instead of much, much more, the moment we take a good long look in the mirror and decide to like what we see, bumps and all—that is a victory. And in our victory we cannot forget to bring our brothers along with us, for this heinous crime harms them too. We as brothers and sisters must stand together and know that what is best for woman is best for everyone—and that is true feminism. The Aquarian Age will be manifest when the woman is honored, when the goddess is once again seated on her thrown in the center of all the lively things, when the good in everything is praised.
We begin to make things right again when we stand as women, unafraid, undaunted, and unbound. We begin to make things right again when we become women, once again.