Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Lifestyle Activism, The Realistic Way

The concept of “lifestyle activism” has been showing up on my radar a lot lately. It was the subject of one of our Leadership Training Institute Workshops, lead by Amy Richards, and I’ve heard many a young activist bring it up in conversation. The idea is basically, “practice what you preach”; if you’re an animal rights activist, go vegan; if you’re an environmentalist, go green; etc. I had never thought about it before, but I love this idea, because it really focuses on the grassroots spirit of activism—something YWTF is all about! It’s different from lobbying, joining an organization, or demonstrating. It’s something that anyone, anywhere, can do at any time, and it’s based on tapping into your own personal power as an agent of improvement.

Okay, I admit it. I am far from a perfect lifestyle activist. Not all of my clothes are sweatshop-free, I have been known to duck into a McDonald’s every once in a blue moon when the desire for a taste of the fries I grew up on overwhelms me, I have an inexplicable penchant for the kind of misogynistic hip hop that gives most mothers the vapors, and if someone offers me a cup of coffee, I don’t ask if it’s fair-trade. But, by this definition of lifestyle activism, who is perfect? In today’s world, it’s pretty impossible to avoid patronizing some people and corporations that aren’t exactly female-friendly. What’s important is that we recognize the value of our money and actions, and realize that we can enact significant and sustainable change, all by ourselves; what’s important is that we make an effort. By watching where we spend and being a good neighbor, we’ll find that even the smallest action can make a world of difference!

As a consumer, my money is highly coveted by a wide variety of businesses and corporations, so I try my best to make sure that, in spending, I’m supporting companies who will, in turn, support women. I use the services of woman-owned businesses as much as I can. Do some research to find out which companies, both locally and nationally, are owned and/or operated by women; most areas have women’s capital funds or economic development groups that would be glad to provide you with listings. Bars, restaurants, garages, cab companies, housepainters, law firms, boutiques, bodegas—whatever service you can imagine, there’s sure to be a female entrepreneur who offers it. Women are often marginalized and excluded from the male-defined world of big business, so do your part to support your sisters!

One way I do my part is by purchasing clothes and bath products from companies with healthy-looking models, who rely on quality products to motivate my patronage. This way, I’m advocating positive body image for all girls and women by refusing to give my money to corporations who make me feel like there’s something wrong with me that needs to be fixed (by their product, with my money, of course!) A lot of the music I buy comes from small, independent distribution centers who support female artists. I respect female performers who value their skill as artists rather than as major-label sex-appeal products, and I respect the companies who support them even more! If I hear a movie’s got an explicit rape scene in it, I don’t go! I’m not spending ten bucks to see yet another hack male director shove that in my face—I’d rather check out some sweet flicks penned by women that offer insight into my life.

If you want to take your activism a step further, an intense scrutiny of your favorite name brands is in order: What do they pay their women workers? Are they equal opportunity employers? What is their stance on child labor? Do they provide day-care to their laborers? What percentage of management is female? You can find answers to some of these questions here, here for international companies, and here for companies with progressive policies toward women. If you find that the business in question is seriously lacking in these areas, it’s time to find a new brand, or at least significantly cut back on your rate of consumption.

Lifestyle activism can also be conducted through how we form and support our relationships. Mainstream American media often tells us that sisterhood should be replaced by acrimony and animosity. Instead of sharing our experiences with one another and deriving strength from these connections, we’re often encouraged to be catty and immediately dislike women who aren’t exactly like ourselves. As a woman, I keep open eyes and open ears to all of the women in my life. Acquaintances, family members, co-workers, clients, neighbors, teachers, whomever—they all have my support and I make sure they know that I am always available as a resource. Whether you’re walking a friend to her car, lending your couch to someone who has problems in their home life, or just checking in to say hi, your sisterly actions probably mean a lot more than you think. Most of the women I’ve spoken to about this say that what they want the most is someone who knows how to listen. So listen to the women in your life without an ulterior motive, be silent when necessary and know when to offer constructive advice. Be empathetic without being overly sympathetic; no one likes to be labeled a victim. I try to be as empowering as possible when someone’s talking to me about, say, an overbearing boyfriend or how they’re getting harassed at work. If someone has a problem I’m uncomfortable handling, I will refer them to someone who will, and then I’ll make sure that person follows up. But most importantly, I let them know that they’re not alone!

So, yeah. I like fast food and bad rap. But I throw all-girl sleepovers where we watch Thelma & Louise and Waiting to Exhale, eat chocolate and popcorn, and get silly. I get super excited every time I see a Dove ad with healthy, beautiful women on the side of a bus. I make heating pads for menstrual cramps out of socks adorned with buttons and patches and filled with rice to give as gifts during holidays. I try to be a good friend and a conscious consumer as much as I can—and I truly believe that the world, or at least my world, is that much better because of it.


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for a time I was like you, and is too cool all the things that we can do as activist, but the best way to really make a change is fighting in correct way, talking with authorities, and if this people don't listen you, well it's time to burn something.

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