A week ago, I listened to NPR and heard some thoughts from women who had participated in the Women’s March. It sounded fairly sedate.
Then I turned to Facebook on Monday for some catching up on friends and relatives. I have mostly shut them out since dealing with morning sickness and having energy for little more than pure survival.
I was met with an onslaught of “here’s what I think of the women’s march” in the form of memes, shares, personal thoughts, headlines, etc. Most of it sounded angry. Some sounded self-justifying. Some sounded disappointed by some aspect of the march. Some celebrated. Scrolling through it all left me dizzy. I had to take a break to go throw up.
When I took some time to think over what I’d read and heard (this means I had time to shower), it occurred to me what I had not heard. No one seemed to be asking, “Why would those I disagree with feel and think the way they do?” Of course, I’ve seen a lot of straw men (and women–let’s be fair) set up to explain the position of one’s opponent. I won’t quote anyone, but when it comes to abortion, for example, it seems that one side considers their opponents “baby killers” while the other side considers their opponents “woman haters.”
How painted into a corner do you feel when someone assumes that you want to kill the innocent? And how likely are you to listen to someone who says you are motivated by hate? It doesn’t sound like a safe place to communicate anything but disgust and anger.
So what I wish I had heard more of when I tuned into Facebook, and which the NPR snippets had led me to believe is still possible, is perspective.
The range of perspectives available to us is probably as expansive as the world’s population. Unfortunately, not every person has a voice that can be heard, whether it’s because they are unable to speak, they don’t know anyone is listening, or they don’t have a way to make themselves heard.
When it comes to the world population and women supporting each other, I have had frequent reminders lately of a bad example, which might fit in here. I worked full-time as a nurse while I was pregnant with my first child. In a job where I might sit for only eight percent of a 13-hour shift, and in which bathroom visits were a luxury, I have no idea how I survived morning sickness while working. My husband caught this image after such a shift. At least I wasn’t the one driving.
Anyway, I remember arriving one evening to get report on my young patient. The nurse giving me report dug deep into her quiver of compassionate responses when I mentioned that the smell of my laundry detergent was making me nauseated.
“You know,” she mused, “I figure the reason women get morning sickness is to help us not overpopulate the planet.” I threw up on her.
Or I wish I could have. I don’t remember how I responded. I just remember thinking, “Lady, you have two kids. I’m only working on my first. If this is overpopulating the earth, the world is too small for the both of us.”
She probably just thought herself clever for having come up with that conclusion. It helped her feel removed from her days of splashing her lunch into a toilet and feeling lower than a dog.
But did I need her erudite thought at that moment? No. Was I asking her to come hold my hair back for me while I puked? Nope, not that either. But would it have killed her to take a second and remember what nausea feels like? How humiliating it is to lose control of your body and wonder if you would ever feel better?
When I think of the responses to the Women’s March among my friends and relatives, I think of those who would have–or did–march, and those who did not or were not allowed.
So those who would or did march. I think of them among women (and their like-minded male counterparts) who fight for equal rights, abortion rights, sexual rights, and so on. I assume they experience feelings and moments that most everyone can relate to on some level. But it takes finding out what those underlying stories are: What kind of intimidation has she faced? Who told her what she could or could not do based on her gender? What disparities has she witnessed, experienced, or learned about that shaped her motivation to fight? It is easy to dismiss or vilify a person whose story you won’t hear.
And those who did not, or were not permitted to march. They are women (and their like-minded male counterparts) who fight for the rights of the unborn, who fight for their version of public decency, who embrace certain gender roles, etc. They likely have had experiences and feelings that most everyone can relate to. But again, it takes hearing and internalizing another’s perspective. What kind of joy has she found living in her present situation despite the hardships she faces? What connections has she formed because of her identity as a woman that she hopes other women can have? How has she stood up for herself in less visible ways? It might be easy to call her “uninformed” or even a “traitor to her sex” if her story doesn’t matter to you.
But what if you don’t have time to hear everyone’s perspective? What if you hardly have time to gather your own thoughts on an issue or an experience, let alone time and energy to invest in the perspectives of everyone else?
Try using some imagination. For example, you might ask yourself, “What would lead a woman to seek an abortion? Why would this other woman feel so angry at the status quo that she wants to level the power structures supporting male dominance? Why does this particular woman see birth control as a right that government should support?”
Or on the other hand, “Why would this woman feel so strongly about the rights of an unborn child that she would say it is worth the risks to the mother to give birth to it? Why would a woman support a religion that believes God is male? Why would this woman be a stay-at-home mother when she could have done something more important?”
You can gain perspective by looking for it. You can listen to thoughtful dialogue and learn how to share your own perspective in an insightful and instructive way. In my own small way, I am learning, and I think everyone can at least try to improve his or her grasp on others’ perspectives.
The title of this post, like my most recent one, also comes from my days of listening to angst-ridden music. I go through a phase during morning sickness (it has happened every time) where I need some angry music to see me through. This one, “Doll Parts” by Hole, happens to be written by Kurt Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love. So call me traditional, but marriage, baby, that’s what got them angry enough to write great music (just a joke–both the teen spirit one and this one were written prior to their relationship). I just liked the idea that, given a little imagination, each of us might be able to have a sense of what another person might be thinking or feeling. We can see each other as more than a sum of our differing parts.