Marriage equality is now the law of the land in the USA. I have to admit it is a bit surreal to even write that statement. Over the past few years I have regularly turned to the Human Rights Campaign website for updates about legal battles regarding same-sex marriage, as it has been challenging to keep track of court cases in each state. They have an interactive map that allows one to easily select a state to find more information about the specific laws that apply, using a helpful color-coded scheme.
Red: marriage-related ballot measure
Yellow: authorizes same-sex marriage
Blue: prohibits same-sex marriage
Grey: does not authorize or prohibit same-sex marriage.
I checked the website yesterday and saw that the entire map was yellow.
My eyes filled with tears. Of course I knew about the Supreme Court decision and cognitively understood its implications, but there was something so powerful about seeing it visually. The United States, united by marriage equality.
It really is a day that many people doubted would ever come.
For many years I have worked in agencies dedicated to sexual violence prevention and treatment. While I was in graduate school, I was a victim advocate and therapist at the Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center in Fort Collins, Colorado. I am currently a member of the board of directors for Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) and have worked on sexual violence prevention and treatment on a number of college campuses. I have often told people that the main goal of these organizations is to work themselves out of a job. PAAR’s mission is to Respond, Educate, and Advocate to End Sexual Violence. I wholeheartedly believe it is possible to eradicate sexual violence. But I am doubtful that will happen in my lifetime. So I continue to contribute to prevention and treatment work, helping the organization plan for the future.
What would happen if the day came that such services were no longer needed?
I can only imagine what it is like for the employees of organizations who have dedicated their hearts and souls to fight for marriage equality. Of course they are wondering what is next for them. Numerous non-profit organizations are debating if they should close their doors now that marriage equality has been achieved. There is no doubt that legal challenges remain for the LGBTQ population and that the culture war against homophobia is far from over.
Change can be scary, but it can also be good. Yes, there is more work to be done.
Let us not forget the amazing victory that has been achieved. Let us not get lost in our future-oriented approach to life and neglect to celebrate, revel, and soak up the justice!
Let our joy feed our souls and keep this movement moving!
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
This week one of my colleagues stopped into my office and asked if I had a few minutes to talk. She had recently watched the video of Sandra Bland being arrested and was struggling with the abject horror of it and all its implications. I had delayed watching it myself, worried that I didn’t have enough emotional resources for it. I have since watched it and it is as terrible as I expected.
My colleague and I shared our feelings of sadness, rage, disappointment, and powerlessness. I shared how much I cried while watching the video of a police officer in McKinney, Texas brutally shoving a Black girl to the ground and pulling his gun on teenagers at a pool party.
We also talked about the fact that we know as White women that we cannot begin to imagine the impacts on our friends, neighbors, and allies in the African American community. We know that we benefit from the oppression of people of color and we struggle with our own feelings of guilt while trying to use our privilege to bring change.
I worry that when I speak out my voice will be heard because of the color of my skin. And I fear the ways that recreates the very same oppression I want to fight.
I worry that if I don’t speak out my silence is perceived as agreement and acceptance of a racist system.
So, I try to find ways to use my voice while also supporting the voices of people of color. I bring issues of police brutality into my classroom so my students are aware of what is happening in the world. I encourage them to examine their own biases and to consider the ways they can integrate advocacy into their future identity as counselors and Psychologists. I continue to challenge myself to be aware of my own biases and commit to owning up when I commit microaggressions. I look for ways to engage in small advocacy in day-to-day life.
And I feel like there must be more we can do. I feel that all my small contributions are not enough when what we need is such massive change.
But perhaps right now we have to just stay in the fight. We have to talk to each other, support each other, own our rage and sadness, speak out, shut up and make room for other voices, stand tall, cry, and keeping moving forward. We have to not let ourselves grow numb to the overwhelming injustice. We have to fight for peace and justice. We can only dismantle a system based on greed, fear, and hate with love, humanity, and an open heart. And we sure as hell can't do it alone.
Britney G Brinkman
In case you hadn’t noticed, I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. I have the best/worst excuse—I have been writing my first book (the content of said book will be the topic of a future blog…). The book writing process was exciting, terrifying, stressful, and fulfilling. But above all, it was time consuming. So while I maintained interest in my blog I just didn’t have the time or energy to work on it.
However, I often found myself thinking about the blog—I would hear a news story on NPR or read something on Facebook and think, “I need to blog about this!” Then I would sit down and work on my book.
Doing so much writing on the book also got me thinking a lot about writing, and creativity, and criticism. Although this will be my first book, it is certainly not my first published piece of writing. But this process has felt substantially different in a number of ways, one of which being my worries about how the work will be received. I realized during the past six months that typically when one of my articles is published I just never think that much about who was reading it or what they thought about it. If I was being really honest with myself I would admit that in some part of my brain I just assumed that no one was reading the articles I wrote! Which of course is incredibly silly and would be ridiculous and a shame if it were true. Why put all that work into conducing a research project and getting the results published if it is not going to be useful for anyone?!
Nevertheless, working on my book has forced me to face the (reasonable) terror that comes with creating something and unleashing it into the world for others to evaluate.
Unfortunately, during this time I came across stories that raised my terror alert level from orange to red. In the January 2015 This American Life episode “If you don’t have anything nice to say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS” Lindy West, a former staff writer at Jezebel, tells her story of dealing with internet trolls. She actually interviews one particularly vicious former troll who had used the death of her father to hurt her. He basically explains that he felt threatened and angered by strong outspoken women.
Then there was this:
Feminist writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire
One of my personal feminist heroes, Jessica Valenti, shared her experiences of being trolled, harassed online and off, and receiving death threats. She concludes in the article that if she could do it over she would only write anonymously. That the emotional and psychological toll of the backlash she has faced is just not worth it.
I cried reading this article. Where would feminism be without Feministing.com and its Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet? Would Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters have been as impactful if it had been written anonymously?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not critiquing Valenti for her statement, but rather am lamenting the state of the world in which she (and others) have experienced such debilitating harassment. I admit that I wondered if I should just walk away from this blog. It was on hold anyway—should I even return?
And yet, here I am.
Perhaps I find comfort in my awareness that I am no Jessica Valenti and reassure myself that I probably won’t become a troll target.
But the truth is something bigger and more complex than that.
When I sent my book to the editor for the final stages of production I thought, “Now I just hope that no one reads it.” Which I suppose is not really true. I want people to read it. I want it to HELP people. I just don’t want people to make it about me.
I suppose in this process I have uncovered my own personality paradoxes. I am an incredibly open person with people I know, but I am also private. Sometimes I think that if I hadn’t been a Psychologist I would have become a park ranger, living in a quaint cabin in a national park, spending my days hiking and reading and enjoying a quiet life with a small group of close friends.
I have always felt called to speak out against injustice. Even if that means disturbing my potentially quiet and peaceful life. As a child that meant standing up to bullies, challenging teachers who made sexist comments, and speaking up for what I believed in. And it meant being misunderstood, disliked, (sometimes admired from afar), and often a bit lonely.
As an adult it means pushing students to unpack privilege, it means challenging colleagues when they make racist and classist assumptions. It means writing a book about identity-based bullying, and it means writing this blog. It means facing the inevitable criticism that will accompany publicly challenging patriarchy and advocating for social justice.
But what else is there to do? As long as black men are killed by police officers, LGBT youth are bullied relentlessly in schools, women are raped on college campuses, children are living in poverty, and people defend symbols of oppression (confederate flags and native mascots) there can be no quiet life in the woods.
No one is free when others are oppressed.
So—I guess all I can do is buckle in for the ride. Here we go.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.