related by equality

There’s a petition on The White House’s site asking that the President stop using the phrase “wives, mothers and daughters,” because it is counterproductive to the fight for women’s equality. Tracy Clark-Flory, writing for Salon, quotes McKenna Miller on the issue as it would be applied to gay rights: “The reason to fight homophobia isn’t because ‘you’ve got a gay friend,’ it’s because it’s simply the right thing to do. The reason why a woman is valuable isn’t because she’s someone’s sister, or daughter, or wife, it’s because of the person she is unto herself.”

True. The reason to expect, let alone fight for, equality among sexes (male, female, or transgendered), or among those with different sexual orientations, or among those with different abilities, or among those with different religions, is because it’s the right thing to do.

But why do we do the right thing? We do the right thing because we know we wouldn’t want the wrong thing done to us.

Each one of “us” in this country comprise a community: A big, messy community in which you may never meet even one 10,000th of one percent of all of its members. It’s a community that can make you feel lonely, isolated, or safe and in good company.

When you hear a phrase like “wives, mothers, and daughters,” and in the case of gay rights, perhaps not the phrase “gay friend,” but the more accurate, if not all encompassing, phrase “sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters,” the people named are no longer “them.” They become one of “us.”

There should be no reluctance in using the fact that one is a part of something–a marriage, a family, a community–in arguing for equality. Nobody diminishes me for naming what I am in relation to others. I am proud of my relationship to others: as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, an employee, a volunteer, a citizen. I am not isolated, I am not alone. I am safe and in good company.

Sure, the President used shorthand, likely because he is trying to appeal to a pretty stubborn segment of old-school old boys’ club members. Whatever. There are bigger fights to fight.

Being alone

I love this.

Tracy Clark-Flory quotes Judy Ford:

“We are born alone and die alone, and deep within our souls we live alone,” she tells me in an email, instantly invoking those universal truths that hurt the most. “No one else ever abides in our skin. If we haven’t yet come to terms with this ultimate truth, we are scared out of our minds to be alone.”

In the spring of 1995, over a period of two months, I traveled alone to seven cities across the country to attend conferences, make presentations and lead workshops. I was 25, and it was a bit overwhelming–given the average age of the conference attendees was 47. Near the end of my U.S. tour, I was in Greenville, South Carolina, and it was only then that I finally got the hang of it. I remember quite fondly my first dinner alone at white-linen-napkin restaurant. I ordered a glass of wine. I read a book. I gazed out the window. I didn’t feel self-conscious.

That sense of calm was a long time coming. The previous year, I had moved to Washington, D.C., to start a new job at a think tank and be in the same city as my boyfriend at the time. I quit the job after four months (it was an awful place), and on the same day I quit (October 3, 1994), my boyfriend quit me (we were an awful match).

It was devastating. I started a new job with no confidence whatsoever, waking each morning with the painful recollection that I had been dumped. I felt unworthy, ugly, useless, stupid, weak, and generally, hurt and angry. A friend of mine recalls that period of time and described me as “utterly inconsolable.”

But I distracted myself with work, with friends, and with countless reruns of “Roseanne.” (It was a dark, dark time.) I was fortunate to have friends with shoulders to cry on, and a roommate who made sure that I ate and slept.

One roommate, two jobs, three relationships, and about four years later, I moved into my own apartment. I had lived without a roommate once before (second year of grad school), but this apartment was different.

I actually had an income, for one thing. I was better able to create my own home. I loved spending time alone in those 750 square feet, reading, or cooking, or watching old movies on AMC.  I loved having people over, too, as much as I loved going out. And I loved my job.

I felt worthy, beautiful, useful, smart, and strong. My general sense of hurt and anger had been replaced with a general sense of optimism.

I was happily single, but I don’t think I learned how to “be alone.”

I learned how to be.

Maybe I can invite Woman B. to read this.