Ten years ago when I began diving into the knowledge of women’s rights, it turned my scene of the world upside down. I think that growing up in an upper-middle-class, fairly rural and isolated neighborhood in northern California before social networks, I had never been exposed to the problems facing women on a global scale. I had been exposed to an idea here and there, but the magnitude of the problem had escaped my attention. When I came to BYU I had the opportunity to do a summer internship with the World Family Policy Center at the J. Reuben Clark Law School. My job was to collect data from UN documents and organize into files for further research.
The process of reading and sorting massive amounts of information was profoundly changed the way I viewed myself as a member of a global society. The initial experience changed the way I thought about political, social, and international issues. It changed the way I read t issues and news articles. I went through what I felt was massive internal struggle with what I chose to think about good and evil and what my place was in the world. But shortly after that I married, finished my bachelor’s degree, and began my tenure staying home with my four children. The passion still burned in my heart, but I was unable t o devote myself to the same amount of study of current events. Time passed and I decided to go back to graduate school I was able to volunteer working with WomanStats. I thought that I was prepared for the information I would encounter because I had already been exposed to so much information. Imagine my surprise when felt that I went through a similar process again. T his time as I read the government reports and first hand accounts the reality of the stories of women and young girls pierced my heart because I have four daughters who were almost the same age of the young women in the reports I was coding.
When I saw the same feelings and emotions emerge in the most recent introduction to women stats I began to analyze my feelings and the process. I was attempted to make my own brain comprehend what I was experiencing. I needed in my own way to process the profound sorrow that my soul felt. And even though recent psychological research has serious reservations about the theory of stages of grief, it was the most logical way for me to begin to organize my thoughts. I was interested in the idea that maybe other people who embark on this journey might have a similar experience. I wanted to share some of my personal experiences and how I tried to classify my thoughts.
I think my experience began with an inability to comprehend the information I was reading. It became this almost out- of- body experience where my brain was consuming the word on the page and I could organize it into the correct categories, but my heart had blocked out the information. I felt numb as I read the horrible stories of female genital mutilation also referred to infibulation, and tried to assign a quantitative assessment to the table of countries. This is also a difficult subject to begin with, as the cruelty of the practice is hard to deny. To read about the removing of a girl’s genitals with no pain medicine, with dirty razor or sharp natural object, and with no sanitation was nauseating and so hard to wrap my brain around. The cultural desire of some societies to perpetuate the practice of genital mutilation was unfathomable.
After a few weeks of scaling infibulation and reading the data collected by previous coders my brain began to connect the dots, and I began to feel profound anger. I was furious about the unnecessary pain that cultures inflict on its girls and women. I was angry at so many things. One evening when I was working I felt just so much anger that I had to get up and go to a grocery store and just walk around because it was so hard to sit there and read the stories and not throw up. I was angry at the societies that allowed this to happen, the religious leaders that continued it, and the religions that did not stop it; at God for not striking them all with lightning. I was mad at myself for not having the power to stop it and take the pain away. One night I had a conversation with my husband about how this was so horrible and I was getting really frustrated with him for not fully understanding my anger. We had a conversation that when something as follows:
Tom: “It’s not my fault that these horrible things happen”
Me: not responding
Tom: “Just because I am male does not make it my fault”
Me: “Well I will consider it, because I am not so sure, I will get back to you in a few days.”
I knew that it was not his fault any more than it was my fault that these horrible things happened in the world, but he unfortunately was the closest person to me and also happened to be male, which did not help his case in that moment. T o his everlasting credit he still loves me.
Once the anger began to pass I began to feel depressed. I felt so hopeless about the situation. I also felt very guilty that I lived in a safe community where I had taken so much for granted. I remember driving in my car alone late at night and realizing that I was not afraid that I would be hijacked from my car at the approaching stop sign. That there were no guerilla check points on my way home where a woman would never cross alone at night. I was sad for all pain and the sorrow that so many women all over the world feel and it weighed very heavy on my heart. During this same time I also became hyperaware of news articles and stories that had more heart breaking information I had never considered. The depression and the hyperawareness seemed to feed off each other. With new information came more sadness, but I could not allow myself to walk away from the headlines. I think I had to believe that even in the darkness there was light at the end of the tunnel. I had to believe that this process was valuable for myself and for others who lived half a world away.
Along the way the depression seemed to turn into empathy. I found myself surprised by a profound love for women I had never met, and will probably never even step foot in the nations that they call home. I found the scales of my own prejudice fall from my eyes and I could see them as my sisters and as my friends. I felt an overpowering feeling of profound love for the world at the exact same moment that my heart was breaking into a million pieces because their pain became more than sadness it became real. What hurt them hurt me. I heard a saying, “what breaks God’s heart will begin to break our hearts as well.” I think for me this is very true, but thankfully I only get a small piece at a time, because the weight of the pain in the world would crush me.
At this point I had to ask myself how could I possibly change the world. The earth seemed so vast and the problems so numerous. I found that I needed to place myself in a position to be called to action and to act when any opportunity presented itself. I found the ability act to be therapeutic to my soul. I did not like the feeling of being helpless in a situation. I found that working for W oman S tats gave me an immediate place to be active. I also found the need to educate myself on the issues that continue to plague our world. In found it to be helpful to share stories from women with others in my social circle, and to be more confident in speaking up in social situation. I also found peace in this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice….”
I firmly believe that we have a vital part to play in the process of shaping a brighter future. And even though it is emotionally difficult to read and work with information that contains some of the most vial mistreatment of human beings. I have found that my emotional journey was painful and grief inducing, but that it has changed my life in amazing and profound ways that allow me to be a better citizen of the world. I have also found the process often repeats when I am exposed to new information and personal accounts, but I am able to process my own emotions better and to arrive at a place where I find hope for the future even if it seems the process is far in the distance.