I shouldn’t be at work. I’m sitting here, working in red and black, and I feel my whiteness stark against the colors. I could’ve just said something. I could’ve just taken some time to figure out an answer, a reason, something I could live with to just say no. But I am here, writing this, trying to feel ok with my decision. I’m not. Then again, I wouldn’t have been comfortable striking either.
Maybe it’s a cop out, but pleasing is easier than saying no. Growing up, I was a girl who became very good at pleasing. I learned to know what people wanted and I gave it to them. I became the friend always willing to listen. I was the girl who finished her homework by herself. I had all the answers to their questions.
People liked me because I made their lives easier. I was willing to nearly erase myself for their approval.
However, striking isn’t about ease or comfort. Today on Twitter, I saw someone complain at the inconvenience of strikes. You aren’t persuading us, he said in less than 140 characters. His words, underneath that white avatar photo said it all. How dare you inconvenience me? You need me, but if I’m unhappy I won’t help you.
His myth says that equality can only be won through a popularity contest. If women were just likeable enough, just desirable enough, they’d give us equality. Apparently, we just haven’t been wearing the right shade of red lipstick to close the pay gap or stop sexual assault.
Even history tells us a different story. 1920’s newspapers labeled early labor unions demanding a living wage as selfish communists and anarchists. The Civil Rights Movement not only struggled against white supremacists, but moderate southern whites asking people of color to just wait a little longer for the end of segregation. And today men talk at me, tell me the same old and tired lie. In time it will be better. You’ll see.
And yet I am the one remembering all the ways freedom and dignity have been won. They have not been given freely. They were not bestowed upon people at the right time or place. They were fought for and earned by activists, by writers, by farmers, and by doctors. People fought for these rights. Why? They weren’t asking to be liked. They were asking to be respected.
Someone in my office asked me today what I was doing for International Women’s Day. What was I remembering? What was I honoring? The only honest answer I have is the conflict inside of me. The fight for justice means dismantling my own internalized oppression. I have to let go of the myth that pleasing people is enough; that being liked is enough. Popularity doesn’t equal respect. Being liked will not make our world a fairer place.
So today, I am incomplete and unsure. Like our movement, there is still so much work to do.