Growing up, I avoided the news. Hearing about the horrors endured by so many people all over the world broke my heart. I would feel frustrated and guilty for turning off the TV and climbing into my warm cozy bed. Over the past few years however, I’ve started to feel a call to action. Granted, I’m moving at a slower pace. A few years ago, one of my good friends went to Bolivia to work in animal shelters there. Things like this both inspired and terrified me. I’ve always been a bit of a wimp. But that has to change.
This morning, the legendary Gloria Steinem came to the office where I work and spoke a little about her life. A few months ago, I embarrassingly couldn’t tell you who she was, but now, she’s one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. At 81-years-old, Steinem is still a ball of (polite but fierce) fire. She spoke about equality, about her parents, about how times have changed since her feminist beginnings. One of the things I loved hearing was her opinion on masculinity in young boys. Like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Steinem believes that raising boys to be hyper masculine and claiming that certain qualities (patience, tenderness, etc) are strictly “feminine” is to raise them to not be “whole”. People are people, and patience, tenderness and so many other qualities are not “feminine” qualities. They are human qualities. This was one of my absolute favourite arguments in Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists (which I raved about here) and I loved hearing Steinem’s words echo this sentiment.
But my absolute favourite moment was when she said this: “We are all linked. We are not ranked.” THIS cut through my skin like a switchblade and poked a hole in me somewhere. This was why the news killed me as a kid; why I shy away from devastating stories. Because seeing “ranks” applied to people makes me sick. I wanted to hug this small woman, for her big heart and her big ideas and for telling me a very basic truth that I already knew but never digested. I can be a force against this. I can be an advocate, a supporter, a feminist, just by telling people what I think. Then, when the time is right, I can take action.
When I got home, clutching Steinem’s new memoir My Life on the Road in my hands, I began pulling books off my shelves. Non Fiction books. Books about poverty, vegetarianism, science, the treatment of aboriginals and more. Books with big ideas, and books I may have been a little afraid of up until now. But I don’t want to be a bystander and I don’t want to see the extent of my attempt to change our world stop at signing a petition every now and again. So over the course of the next few months, I intend to educate myself. I will use my greatest love – books – to learn about the world and the things I can do to not just be a part of it, but be a force within it.