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September: Activism
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© Brooke Williams

essays

Tell Them You Were Just Getting Started

by Marcelle Karp
September 12, 2018

Marcelle Karp is a force of nature. Back in 1993, she co-founded the third wave feminist zine, BUST. She has been speaking truth to power ever since, be it through her online magazine Barb, her supporting role as the mother of 17 year old outspoken feminist/comic/supergirl Ruby Karp, or the quietly consistent way she energizes her network of remarkable friends. She is a true Gladwellian connector, if ever there was one.— Brooke Williams 

"Because when I stood with her I was told I was too aggressive. Do not let anyone tell you to be quiet. Tell them you were just getting started.” — Ruby Karp

I sat in the audience, listening. My daughter, The Teenager, on the stage of LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts. Yes, the Fame school. This, the yearly talent show. She is a comic, but for the purposes of this performance, a spoken word artist. A piece she wrote, and was performing, called Ten Things I Learned in High School. The usual things, like high school being petty and boring. The alarming things, though, the alarming things. She, a MeToo. At 17. A MeToo. 

Motherhood aside, as a woman, to watch a young person openly admit to thousands of strangers sitting in the dark that she was assaulted, was a gut punch. Of society’s failure to raise better behaved boys. Of a girl’s choice being robbed. Of so many things, dire things.

Of the things I agitated for in the 90's, before I became a mother and started blogging.

Of when I was in my twenties, and I was angry as fuck at what was what happening to Anita Hill, and the Male Gaze, and the need to Take Back The Night.

As a Third Wave Feminist, what mattered to me was my equal value, my ability to speak up, my fighting for my right. I was a girl who was at the front, with every other girl, body rocking to Bikini Kill, to Sonic Youth, to every relevant anthem that came in the wake of Hear Me Roar.. 

Sound familiar, right? It's what we, and my daughter's generation, are doing at this very moment. I have raised my daughter with intention, infused with moxie, with support, with love yes, and embedded in feminism, a knowledge that women and men are of equal value. To hear my child on that stage, "sexism won't stop if women are bringing down other women, sexism won't stop if we let boys be boys, equality starts with education," I was reminded of this: we have so much work to do.

I knew in that moment that for all of the pronouncements, the women coming forward in recent months, that at the most basic influential stage — high school — the behavior patterns of boys to men were in an endless summer.

I felt the stirring, like every woman I know did.

I felt the pull, of how I’m tired, too.

I felt the gnawing, that bitter throb of knowledge: that it’s time for a change, that I’m mad as hell, that I need to know, now what?

Now is what.

Here we are now. Famous men are toppling, Ronan Farrow is our Walter Conkrite and yet, I know that there is a Problem With A Name that we, the non-famous, have to confront every moment of every day. That the personal is so very political. And that problem is misogyny. That even when we have these victories — of when Billie beat Bobby, of when Lupita beat Harvey, of when Hillary will always in my mind have beat Donald — we still have so much more work to do. And it's not about abandoning the myth of the good girl, or of winning the battle of the sexes; it's about having a universal language in the way women and men behave in their personal and professional lives, and creating infrastructures to regulate those, particularly in the latter.

Beyond the hashtag and towards of moment of change. One we are in need of. We are at a titular point in history. The behavior of men and women, the chaos that is constant, is not NEW news. It’s been front and center forever.

Forever ever?

Forever ever, as Chris Rock says.

Because even though we persist and we resist and we rise up, we are not running the world, no matter what Beyonce says. Studies show that women in the workplace are not satisfied. Studies show that women are at odds with each other, often bullying one another. Studies even show that retail therapy is real. All of these studies point to a common theme: the lack of satisfaction in the inner lives of women.

Women, the trans community, and non-alpha males live, still, in the shadow of toxic masculinity. And it is a toxic cold shade. Where boys and men push the heads of girls and women down to their crotch. Where boys and men shoot up schools, parks, offices. Where boys value Voltron. Where boys grunt and call their arms “guns.” Where boys become men who continue their untouchable status. Where they are not held accountable for grabbing pussies. Where a so-called public shaming like beating a well-known star, okay fine, Rihanna, gets rewarded with a Grammy. Where men continue to get away with murder. 

Being a feminist, the doctrine of it, is that you believe women and men are of equal value. It does not mean women hate men. Or that boys are stupid. It means this and only this: that men and women are of equal value. This includes those of us who do not identify as either. This extends to all of humanity. 

That men are in a crisis, however, is in defiance of the definition of feminism. That men who are serial killers stalk, torture, and kill women is in defiance of the definition of feminism. That men rape women is in defiance of the definition of feminism. That men troll women on Twitter is in defiance of the definition of feminism. All of these things are pointers to men in crisis, and that men are in a crisis is inside the realm of behavior, and that? That must change.

We are in a moment of divisiveness. Of black and brown versus white. Of straight versus gay. Of the military vs Trans. Of White Houses vs the Left. Of well-meaning movements imploding because of lack of leadership or lack of alignment or lack of fill-in-the-blank.

Race. Gender. Sexuality. All being used as tools to further stir discontent.

And when I see this?

I think of what my daughter said in her spoken word piece. “Because when I stood with her I was told I was too aggressive. Do not let anyone tell you to be quiet. Tell them you were just getting started.”

Because here’s the thing: I want my child to be able to speak her mind. To be fierce and stubborn and contrary. I want her to be all these things in addition to what and who she wants to be. I worry, I worry about the future. Because mine rests in the one that is female, that lives with me. And I want her adulthood to go a lot smoother than mine did. I want her to know she has to work hard to get what she wants in her life, I want her to stand up for herself, and I don’t want anyone to push her in any corner, ever. If she can get on a stage in front of thousands of people, night after night, and tell an audience, If You Get Told To Shut Up, Tell Them You Were Just Getting Started — she has a fighting chance at not being pushed into a corner again. And if she can, so does every other girl in the world. Beyond girl-coding and playing on a softball team. Because it’s not simply the skill that determines we are of equal value: it’s the beat within.

So let's write the Now What doctrine. Let's get involved in what matters, what matters to you right now. Pick your point of entry, and follow it through, on a blog or a tweet, or in real life, with your friends, your classmates, your colleagues. We need your solutions, a constant evolution of writing history, so that our society can find its egalitarian balance. I know it's possible. We have seen what can happen, when we speak up with #MeToo. 

And we are just getting started.