This post is by Mindy Stokes and is a part of the Culture and Human Rights series (Part II).
When I was three years old, my father tried to kill my mother in front of me. The response from the judge: “I’m tired of you women coming around here asking for restraining orders against your husbands. Your request is denied.” My mother courageously divorced him, but never received one cent of child support.
When I was eight, my great-uncle molested me. My grandparent’s response: Don’t tell your father, he might kill your uncle and end up back in prison. The result: I was silenced.
When I was 12, my step-dad proclaimed fishing a male-only sport. I was left home.
When I was in high school, my history teacher claimed the first time women had the right to vote, the worst president in history came to power. Women’s fault he announced.
When I was 16, my mother left my step-dad. He never gave us financial support. We quickly moved into poverty.
When I was a teenager, my mom’s new boyfriend beat her on a regular basis. This occurred repeatedly for three years.
When I was 19, my boyfriend terrorized me daily. His abuse included battering, emotional and verbal assaults.
When I was 20, I became a drug addict. My new boyfriend made me do humiliating acts for drugs.
When I was 22, a different boyfriend abused me physically, verbally, emotionally. He humiliated me in public often. This lasted for four years.
When I was 24, my mom married her third husband. He battered her for the duration of their marriage; 14 years.
When I was 28, my next boyfriend lied to me. He forged his name on my checks then stole my mail so that I didn’t get notices from the bank concerning my errant account. The bank filed a police report. His family moved him to another city and hid him from the law. I never received compensation for my losses.
When I was 30, I came out as a lesbian.
When I was 30, my landlord stalked and harassed me. He said it was due to my sexuality. When I went to the police, they suggested I move and suffer any financial losses. I hired a lawyer, but sexual orientation is not covered under the Fair Housing Act of 1968. I didn’t have any legal recourse. I moved and lost my last month’s rent and security deposit.
When I was 31, I was sexually-harassed on the job by a gang of four men. They informed me that my lesbianism could be “fixed” by having sex with them.
When I was 34, my partner of four years and I had a Commitment Ceremony because same-sex marriages were illegal in the state of Florida.
When I was 34, I worked for a technology company. I was harassed by my co-workers who claimed they had higher morals than I because of their Christianity.
When I was 38, I had a baby.
When I was 39, our family of three moved from Florida to Oregon because gay second-parent adoption was not allowed under any circumstances. My partner and our daughter didn’t have legal rights to one another. If something were to happen to me, anyone could contest my partner’s custody.
If I had the right to marry my long-time partner, our daughter would be protected under the laws of the land. We as a family would have more money in our pockets. Her mother and I would have the ability to send her to more dance, piano, and kung-fu lessons. We’d be able to take grander vacations. We’d eat only organic foods.
If we were married, we’d pay less in health insurance, less for car and home insurance. If we were married, our family would be more readily represented in history books and in my child’s school library.
The United States patriarchal culture privileges men over women and heterosexuals over homosexuals creating a tapestry of oppression sometimes hard to untangle. Our nation was built on the philosophy that men inherited the Earth and have dominion over land, sea, animals and ultimately women. This view marginalizes those aspects deemed female–and manifests in violence, in all its forms, against women and girls.
Due to the second wave of the women’s movement, we’ve witnessed women moving into public positions. This is good, but not sufficient. Our culture of domination/subordination needs to be addressed, stripped, deconstructed. We must build a new concept of society, where difference is valued. Where equity flourishes. Where women, lesbians, poor people and people of color have a seat at the table. And not only a couple of seats meant to pacify those working for change, but a fair number of seats that represents society.
It is only when we view culture as inclusive; giving inherent value to all people regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, and gender will we have a just society. And ultimately, personal and institutional violence will no longer flourish.
Mindy Stokes is a mother, feminist, activist, lesbian and educator. She teaches Women’s Studies and Human Development at a community college in the Pacific Northwest. Mindy lives with her life partner of 13 years and their precocious five-year-old daughter. In 2011, she published her memoir, Momma Baby Mama: Story of a Knocked-Up Lesbian. It chronicles the struggles she and her family face due to homophobia and sexism. A number of Mindy’s blogs concerning lesbian and feminist parenting have been published. You can find her work at www.mindystokes.com.