For about one third of my thirteenth year, I got up each morning and looked in the mirror while I applied my lipstick before going to school or out to the mall. My parents didn't let me wear makeup, but I didn't hide this lipstick application from them. I wasn't putting it on my lips, see; I put it on my face. During the entirety of Canada's involvment in the first Gulf War, I wore a peace sign on my right cheek. In November of 1990 when the States and UN called on Canada to involve itself in the war, I declared that if we did I would protest it until it ended.
For the most part it was a quiet protest. I didn't believe we belonged "over there" and felt that the entire war was a sham for the Americans to gain oil grounds and establish an operative foothold in the middle east. I didn't agree with Hussein, but I didn't agree with the war either.
When people asked me about my facepaint (and, yes, even at 13 I understood the irony of wearing war paint to protest a war) I explained my reasons to them. The reactions I received were varied, from the president of the local Plowshares group telling me I was the coolest kid he ever met, to raised eyebrows and invitations to debate from my teachers, to accusations of not supporting our soldiers from relatives of those serving.
I explained it wasn't about the soldiers but about the war. I thought I was showing the best sign of support ever - that they could come home.
And yet, one day, shortly before the end of the war, I received a voilent reaction unlike any other. As I stood in the school hallway talking to a friend, an older and much bigger girl approached me. She demanded I wipe my face. I explained that I wore the sign as personal protest. She punched me in the stomach and laid me out on the floor. I lay on the floor at the top of a staircase, certain to tumble if I was touched again. As she reached for me declaring "my brother's a soldier and you want him to die!" I shouted back "I'm not fighting you!"
She spat on me and began to walk away. I tried to explain - I support your brother; I don't support the war. She called me names and walked on. For the rest of the year she followed me and taunted me, even after I washed the peace sign from my face at the end of the war.
I remembered that girl this week (though damned if I can remember her name) as I watched other's being attacked. But in these cases they weren't being attacked for their activism, they were being attacked by activists.
Last week I blogged about the breastfeeding message and why I think it's neccessary to promote breastfeeding. I was impressed by the mature response of most comments. Until someone decided to use my blog as a platform to lauch an attack on formula-feeding mothers. Very Bored in Catalunya? I am sorry that happened and I admire you for standing your ground.
Let me make it clear. I don't believe formula feeding moms should be attacked. I don't believe they should be accused of poisoning their child or of being too selfish to do what is best for their child. I won't give every one of them a "get out of jail free" card for their choices (by saying formula is just as good as breastmilk), but I respect their choices and their personal stories. I understand that often the choice is made under duress. The thing about my support of breastfeeding is that it's part and parcel of my support of mothers the world round who want to do best by their babies. I don't think attacking any mother for choicing or being forced to use formula will in any way further the cause of breastfeeding.
Who do I attack? I attack the formula companies. I do think there are harmful ingredients in formula (though I wouldn't go so far as to call it poison). So I ask the companies to change; I lobby against those ingredients. I attack marketing campaigns and the institutions that support them. I attack ignorance and old-wives tales (though they're new old-wives indeed).
The other day as I sat nursing my toddler at the doctor's office, a heavily pregnant women asked me why I was still nursing. Turns out she planned to go straight to formula. We discussed my reasons for nursing. We discussed her reasons for her choice. At the end she agreed that she might try breastfeeding. I didn't badger her; I didn't use scare tactics; I just gave her my honest beliefs and encouraged her to do what a niggling part of her must have wanted to. I cleared up some misconceptions she had (you can't drink ever; you're stuck to the baby; they nurse all night; my breasts will get saggy; my mother says it's not normal and she'll give the baby bottles).
At no point did she ask me to "back off" or seek to end the discussion. If she had, I would have. Because activism is not meant to be individual attacks.
What good would have come of attacking this woman? Even if she sat there feeding her six month old from a bottle, what good would judgment and unkind words do? The choice was already made. The best way to change her choice in the future is through support, encouragement, and sharing information.
To me, that is the sign of a true activist. One who encourages; who peacefully stands their ground; who attacks ignorance and corporate agendas and not people and individual choices. For how does attacking an individual further a greater cause? One must attack the institutions that are against one's cause, not the individuals that are merely going about their lives.
Earlier this week another form of activist with which I identify attacked an individual. On her blog, Jill Haskins revealed the death of her infant son from HLHS - a congenital heart defect. His death happened to occur shortly after he underwent a circumcision operation.
I'm not just a lactivist, I'm an intactivist too. In other words, I believe that a baby boy's foreskin should not be cut off for cosmetic purposes. I give heed to religious reasons but not so much social ones (so he can look like his Daddy). My belief in this is simple: first, do no harm.
Despite my personal beliefs I would never have dreamed of attacking a grieving mother for her choices. Yes, sure, if she had beaten her child to death I'd attack her. But she did not. She made a choice based on the information and knowledge she had. And I don't neccessarily believe that had anything to do with his death.
She sat by her baby's bedside for 51 days straight. She expressed her breastmilk so it could be fed to him through his NG tube. She loved him with all the heart that was in her and prayed for the heart that was in him.
In the end this struggling mother said goodbye to her child.
For 51 days she fought with him. She had many moments when she had to make decisions and fight for her child. She made a single choice I don't agree with. She was encouraged in that choice by the doctors and the hospital. And as a mother of a sick child myself I completely understand the need for some normalcy in your child's life. For her family, the circumcision was part of the normalcy. I can understand that even if I don't agree with it.
The thing is, Jill was attacked. She wasn't even given a full day to grieve before others had taken her story and made it their own for their own purposes. They subverted her voice, they stole images of her child and they personally attacked her on her blog. I read some of those comments. They were horrible. I've read the posts that attacked her or judged her. They disgusted me. I will not link to them because I don't want to give them credence. I think I've been an authentic blogger - you can trust me when I tell you what my impression was.
Today, I watched on Twitter as they continued to force their views and beliefs on her despite her asking that she be left alone. A grieving mother wants to grieve her child and they could not understand that.
As an intactivist I support educating pregnant women that circumcision is not neccessary. I support lobbying professional medical groups to speak out against it. I support spreading the message of intactivism through a display of my beliefs.
I do not, as with breastfeeding, support attacking any individual. I don't support judging indvidual choices. I don't believe in hatred and stubborn dissaproval of anyone who choices differently than me. I don't think the war is won soldier by soldier but battle by battle.
Mostly, though, I don't believe in hitting someone when they're down. That's not activism, that's just inhumane.
*Please note: I have never before moderated or deleted comments (well except that one time when I was asked to by the commentor and also, of course, spam), but if someone decides to use this post to propogate hatred or attacks on individuals I will delete your comments. Also, Jill has not seen this post before it was posted. I asked her if it would be okay to use her story to illustrate my point. However, if she indicates she rather not have it out there I will remove any mention of her from it.(edit: she has seen it and approves) If you don't agree with these sentiments than take your ball and go home; I have other friends to play with.