Jeez, it seems like forever since I did one of these.
Regular readers may have noticed a significant up-tick in the number of times I’ve talked explicitly about women’s issues in these past couple of weeks. Really regular readers will have noticed that I often go to bat on behalf of the ladies, even on issues that have nothing to do with race, free speech or religion. The same goes for LGBT issues, actually – it seems as though I can’t stay away from women and gay shit.
It may seem somewhat antithetical, or at least counterproductive, to spend the amount of time and energy that I do talking about issues facing communities to which I have little-to-no connection. Sure, I have sort of a vested interest in women’s issues – many of my friends are women. However, I don’t really have any close gay friends (a fact that has baffled me for years), nor do I think that blogging about women’s issues will somehow impress or mollify my female friends (the women I am friends with are smart enough to judge someone based on his/her actions, rather than his/her blog). Why then do I put so much effort into pointing out women’s and LGBT issues?
First of all, I defend those positions because it’s the right thing to do. Not having a selfish interest in an issue is not license to simply ignore it. To be sure, there are a number of issues that I don’t talk about (quick list: genocide in Sudan, global warming, third world exploitation, naval piracy in Somalia, loss of the manufacturing sector… the list goes on). These topics are all worthy of intense discussion, but there are only so many hours in a day and, as callous as it sounds, there are things I am more passionate about. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care, so much as it means that I have different priorities. I am glad that there are people out there who care more about world hunger than they do about race issues – both are problems that need passionate advocates. I’ve chosen my fight.
Second, I actually do have a selfish interest in the advancement of women. As the rights of women improve, so too does the standard of living for the entire society. From the moment we are conceived, the health of our mother is of direct impact to our physical health. The better educated both of our parents are, the better chance we have of receiving education ourselves. Our interactions with women in the workplace or out in society generally give us a wider viewpoint than we’d expect in a male-dominated society, which allows for cultural progression and growth. From the moment we are born to the moment we die, the welfare of women is directly tied to our own well-being, regardless of our sex.
Thirdly, and perhaps most selfishly, when I speak on behalf of women I am actually speaking on behalf of myself as well. While I may not be a woman, women are a political minority that face generations of prejudice and antiquated attitudes. They are marginalized, and have been for so long that it has simply become the norm – so much so that sometimes it is other women who are doing the marginalizing. Women in North America face economic disparity, are more likely to be victims of crime, and face a disembodied and largely invisible series of obstacles that seem, without discernible effort, to put them at the bottom of the ladder.
The above description could have just as easily been written about black people. The cultural establishment has been, for years, stacked against the advancement of black people, to the point where our standing in the social ladder is thought to be essentially inevitable. The forces we struggle against are no longer concerted efforts by a shadowy cabal of active racists who are trying to disenfranchise the black population, but if one takes a step back, the outcomes are identical – black people are pushed as though by active effort into the margins of society. Being a minority within a minority (black atheist), this kind of cultural pressure is even more palpable to me.
So wherefore the gays? Well it shouldn’t be too difficult to piece together the fact that the same kind of ancient hatred and exclusion that has faced women and black people is currently shouldered by the gay community. The absurd taboo about same-sex attraction is older than the scriptures that are used to justify it. We have begun, as a society, to recognize that gay people are part of the human population and have been since time immemorial. There is no reasonable justification for the way they are treated, or to curtail their civil rights.
So even though Glenn Beck has forever ruined the quote for me (and he gets it wrong in that clip, which I wouldn’t bother watching unless you enjoy the paranoia-stoking ravings of a carefully-cultivated clown act), it does remind me of the old adage:
First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Or perhaps even better expressed by Martin Luther King Jr.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere
I speak about women’s issues, LGBT issues, atheist issues, race issues – all of these and more – because they are all the same thing. The forces stacked against women and against gay people are also stacked against me, and they’re stacked against you too regardless of who you are. It is only by recognizing the shared threat that we all face that we can struggle against them, and prevail.
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