I Am Woman.
I was seven years old when that anthem to feminism hit the airwaves. I am not sure what sort of impact it had on me back then… but it is certainly easy to hear Helen Reddy’s voice in my head. “I am woman, hear me roar… In numbers too big to ignore.” I am 52 now, perhaps no wiser then I was at seven, but oh how those words resonate today. “You can bend but never break me… ‘Cause it only serves to make me.”
Yesterday an estimated 4+ million women (men and children) showed up to Women’s Marches around the United States (in big cities and small towns), and around the world… all seven continents were represented. I went to bed last night with such a feeling of hope and love and positivity. Thinking that perhaps we, the progressive-minded citizens, don’t have to sit back for the next four years watching our civil rights being violated, watching our world being desecrated, watching the people we love and respect being denigrated. Yet before I barely started my day today, I came across a Facebook post that insisted that “certain” women had denigrated all feminists with their words yesterday. Yes… Madonna and Ashley Judd… according to this man… had ruined it for everyone and now no one would pay attention to these feminists out marching. Once again a woman’s TRUTH was too much for certain men to handle. A woman says “FUCK” as she passionately speaks the truth in her soul and she has ruined an entire movement. A man says “I grab them by the pussy… I can do anything…” and not only is it dismissed as mere locker room talk but he is inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America. No hypocrisy there. Nope.
Well, in my total rage and inelegance (among other words) I ended my responding comment with “Fuck You.” This man is a family relation. He married my cousin back in the 80’s. Family politics kept us at arm’s length through the years and our tenuous (and recent) connection through social media was my attempt at perhaps reconnecting. Guess what. We are no longer “friends” on Facebook. And I am quite okay with that. I should have let sleeping dogs lie.
I’ve been thinking a lot about social media this past year. The outrage. The passion. The hurt feelings. People questioning why I bother engaging in a comments section. During the heat of the presidential election I started quietly “unfollowing” and then “unfriending” despite the warnings that we are all living in “bubbles” of our own creation. And I started thinking about why we “connect” with the folks we do. A particular high school reunion prompted a flurry of new “friends.” People I had disconnected from the day after graduation… in 1982. It wasn’t intentional. It was that our lives took very different paths. Different circumstances. Different lifestyles. No judgment. Just different. And while I tentatively reconnected I found that perhaps there too, it might have been best to just leave things as they were. There are reasons we found different life paths. But yet there are other classmates that I reconnected with, a few I had considered close friends, a few more acquaintances with whom I had shared a common childhood experience, who I am grateful to have rediscovered. It turns out we share deep core values that we each, on our separate paths, have grown into. In the past few years we have “recognized” each other across the miles and discovered new mutual interests and graduated to “offline” discussions or real life connections. It’s been a lovely process.
A similar process has happened in my own social circle. Through my work and my interests and volunteer activities I meet many people. I’ll have an interesting conversation or meet someone I have admired and quickly determine “I want to be friends with that person.” Social media is a really great way to get to know a new acquaintance. You see what they “like” and what is important to them… from frivolous (but oh so necessary) cat videos to deep philosophical discussions. And if you are meant to be friends in the real world you meet for coffee or bump into each other at an event, where you are already primed with interesting topics to discuss because you’ve been paying attention to the other’s newsfeed. In some instances it can help your friendship deepen quickly. There IS of course the other side of the coin where you determine, yup, this friendship will never move beyond social media.
And that’s where you find me. When people rage against this notion of “unfriending” and call me or others “weak” for creating bubbles… I am going to call you out. My social media accounts are an extension of myself. Facebook is quite philosophical and values driven (and yes, sometimes downright silly). Instagram represents my worldview through photos, especially the world I hope to create (as I focus on positive imagery), and LinkedIn is my professional side. I follow a couple of entertaining writers on Twitter and check in on rare occasion. If I invite you or accept your invitation to be part of those interactions, it is no different from me inviting you into my home for a meal. If we sit down to eat great food and to enjoy a bottle of wine, we are going to engage in conversation. And if you’ve been invited into my home for a meal, it’s because I am interested in learning more about you, and learning from you. I can honestly say I’ve never gotten into a shouting match over a pasta dinner. So why would I allow my social media (a place I spend time both personally and professionally) to be full of hate, bile, anger… or individuals who tell me to “shut up” or those who propagate fake news or simply want to “educate” me about why I am wrong about some “fact” they disagree with?
There are reasons our homes have front doors. There are reasons “fences make good neighbors.” There are reasons we disconnect with old friends and acquaintances. And it’s ALL OKAY. Why? Because there are only so many people in our lives that we have time for. Back in October of 2014 Maria Konnikova wrote in The New Yorker about “The Limits of Friendship” in which she discussed the work of English anthropologist Robin Dunbar. Dunbar determined that the social group of the average person could contain about 150 individuals:
“The best known, a hundred and fifty, is the number of people we call casual friends—the people, say, you’d invite to a large party. (In reality, it’s a range: a hundred at the low end and two hundred for the more social of us.) From there, through qualitative interviews coupled with analysis of experimental and survey data, Dunbar discovered that the number grows and decreases according to a precise formula, roughly a “rule of three.” The next step down, fifty, is the number of people we call close friends—perhaps the people you’d invite to a group dinner. You see them often, but not so much that you consider them to be true intimates. Then there’s the circle of fifteen: the friends that you can turn to for sympathy when you need it, the ones you can confide in about most things. The most intimate Dunbar number, five, is your close support group. These are your best friends (and often family members). On the flipside, groups can extend to five hundred, the acquaintance level, and to fifteen hundred, the absolute limit—the people for whom you can put a name to a face. While the group sizes are relatively stable, their composition can be fluid. Your five today may not be your five next week; people drift among layers and sometimes fall out of them altogether.”
I am lucky that I count among my “five” a few steadfast life-partners. But I will readily admit that I have never been part of large tight-knit groups. I am more your one-on-one person. I like to walk freely around the room and meet new people. I am acquainted with many people and am known as a net-worker. But I have become quite particular about who I allow in my inner circle. In the digital realm, I discovered something interesting as I’ve let go, “unfollowed” and “unfriended” individuals who were hogging my Facebook “newsfeed” with their particular worldview. As those voices disappeared, new ones took their place. Only this time the voices were inspiring. I saw posts that inspired me to speak up. I was given encouragement. I had engaging, thought-provoking conversations. I learned new things.
As Dunbar stated “your five today may not be your five next week.” Why? Because situations change. Five years ago I was diagnosed with an incurable form of Leukemia (CML) and my life was turned upside down. I learned a lot about friendship during that time period. The people you think will “be there” somehow disappear. I have learned to not take it personally. Yet, it makes those folks who step forward and fill the void oh so much more special. In the past five years I have remade my life on many levels. As I have written in the past… I have been cracked open…and I am stronger for the journey. And now, as I have enjoyed relative health with my Leukemia in remission these past few years—thanks to GREAT medical coverage under ACA with access to world-class doctors and life-saving daily drugs (which I must take for the rest of my life…for that is what incurable means)—I face a new battle. I don’t know if our new administration will prevent me from accessing my life-saving medication if they insist on repealing ACA before they ever come up with a replacement plan. I don’t know what the future holds. None of us can know. But what I do know is that I need people who will STAND WITH ME. MARCH WITH ME. LISTEN TO ME… as we fight for our rights during this transition period.
If I didn’t have a form of incurable cancer would I be so mad or so determined? I will never know. But I do know these circumstances have opened me up in new ways. I have a deeper understanding of my white privilege. I now have a better sense of what it’s like to feel invisible. Of what it’s like to speak up and be told your opinion doesn’t matter. Or simply to be told “trust the government… they won’t let you down”… ahhh…I get it now!
Yesterday as I stood in the crowd of thousands in Philadelphia I was comforted by the African American tradition of singing and drumming… and those knowing voices who have weathered many a storm… reminding us to hold strong to one another as we journey to a “better place” further on up the road. The rally provided resolve. As one speaker said… “I will live like I am living, not like I am dying.” Yes! I will live like I am living!
Life is short. I don’t know how much time I have left on this earth. But guess what? Neither do you. I don’t have time for your foolishness. I will lift you up. I will cheer you on. I will encourage you to stand in your light. I will focus on what brings me joy. And there will be times I will need to SHOUT OUT LOUD. I will scream FUCK at the top of my lungs. And if you love me. If you truly love me. Than that will be okay with you too.
I am woman hear me roar… in numbers too big to ignore.