Originally published in June 2007.
Inspiration. How do you bottle it and keep it with you for those times when you’re feeling down? I was wondering about that conundrum the other day after I participated in a rally for gender equality organized by a group of high school students.
About 40 people gathered on the town common in Amherst, Massachusetts on a sunny late afternoon at the end of May for a Speak Out on Gender Equality organized by the Women’s Rights Club of Amherst Regional High School (a group of 60 students, more than a quarter of whom are male). I’ve written about this group before in this spot and in the pages of Voice Male magazine. The Women’s Rights Club, some may recall, is the group which, among its other activities, successfully staged the Vagina Monologues at an area arts center last February—and did so completely on their own.
The movement for gender equality is growing on college campuses and in communities in pockets around the country. It is fueled, in large measure, by women and men who decry men’s violence against women. But it is also energized by the growing ability of younger women and men to communicate honestly and openly with one another about relationships, their different gendered experiences, and their hopes for a better world. If you want to feel hopeful consider this: one young women told rally-goers that she joined the Women’s Rights Club because her boyfriend knew it was a great group and thought she’d find it worthwhile!
Both women and men spoke. Older women and younger women took the microphone at the rally, sharing personal experiences of the damaging effects of media representations of women (and the stereotyping of men). It felt good to be among kindred spirits who shared an analysis of the media: television’s dumbing down of women and men and its unrealized promise as a vehicle for raising consciousness and hope was roundly castigated. Their was a sense of outrage that today, several decades after the movement to challenge men’s violence against women began, women are still being assaulted physically, emotionally, sexually in alarming numbers. And yet. And yet when it was announced that when the club resumes activities next September it will be co-chaired by a female and male student I felt a surge of inspiration and hope. That this group, less than a year old, has reached the place many women’s and men’s organizations of longstanding are just now arriving at—collaborating more intentionally and regularly—should give us all pause. I found myself breaking out in a broad grin when I heard the incoming male co-chair announce that one of the club’s goals for next year is to recruit more young men to at least attend a club meeting.
Among the many remarkable speakers—professors of women’s studies and media criticism, astute high school women whose wisdom balanced both what was in their heads and in their hearts—one other speaker’s message stayed with me. It was a man who had been walking by the rally and stopped to learn what was going on. After listening for quite a while, he took a turn at the microphone to say he was moved by what he had heard. He said he initially had had no intention of speaking but felt compelled. He was 27, he shared, and in every relationship he’d ever had with a woman, somewhere early on in the process of getting to know one another, all had shared that they had been abused in some way by their male partners. He was saddened and upset to be remembering that but being in the company of those at the rally, he felt hopeful too, he said. It only took a few dozen young people a half a generation behind him with a wisdom a half a generation ahead of them to make the difference. Neither he nor I may have the elixir bottle to fill with the over-brimming sense of inspiration we shared, but both of us have our memories of that day. I hope each of you has some of your own.