"You wear your politics on your sleeve," a college boyfriend once told me, critically. The comment infuriated me but perhaps it was true. We were students at Dartmouth College in the late 1980s. The college had been co-ed for less than two decades and it was not easy to be a woman there. During our first year, my roommates and I headed together to our "Hinman boxes," or "hbs," our small mailboxes locked by combination codes that I never thought I'd forget after four years of turning. In those days, the trips to our "hbs" were our main means of communication with the world outside of Hanover, New Hampshire. What we discovered inside of those boxes often depended on the photos we had innocently submitted to the college when we were accepted as high school students. Those photos were included in the "freshman FFacebook" -- a book of incoming first-year students. Decades before the Facebook, this annual publication of tiny black-and-white photos held frightening power. Upper-classmen would peruse the photos and send out invitations to their fraternity parties only to the new girls they deemed attractive. Our daily mail-collecting ritual could quickly shatter any sense of self-esteem if one roommate received multiple party invitations and another received none. You had to toughen your skin quickly. What happened to the lessons I had learned from Free To Be... You and Me as a child?
"Well, I don't care if I'm pretty at all
And I don't care if you never get tall
I like what I look like and you're nice small
We don't have to change at all."
So, yes, by my senior year, when this boyfriend was put off by my politics, I had identified myself as a feminist. It didn't help that the college's song remained "Men of Dartmouth." The rumor that one fraternity lured unsuspecting women to drink excessively and then follow a frat brother to a bedroom with a hidden video camera was not unfounded. Women were judged, criticized, belittled and hurt. We fought to hear our voices and to change a misogynistic tradition that underpinned an otherwise stellar academic environment in a bucolic setting. Among the many things I learned at Dartmouth, one was the lesson of wearing my politics in my body and on my sleeve.
I learned the importance of attending protests and marches, of incorporating ethics and convictions into my academic pursuits, and of standing up for issues that matter. In a way, my early encounters with sexism taught me how to find my voice.
That was 1988. It's now 2013 and, coincidentally, the 40-year anniversary of the album and book Free To Be... You and Me by Marlo Thomas and friends. I played those Ms.-inspired songs and stories for my own children three decades after their publication. They are still relevant. Several years ago, I had the good fortune to attend a panel that reunited many of the women who created Free To Be... You and Me, including Gloria Steinem, Marlo Thomas and Letty Cottin Porgrebin. I'll never forget when some woman in the audience of that event had the audacity to gloat that she was apolitical. While she enjoyed the album, she declared, she never felt that she needed to take a political position. Gloria Steinem gracefully and eloquently responded by explaining why politics matter.
It's another moment for me of realizing the urgency of political action. Guns have long been a problem in this country. But the recent spate of horrific shootings and the magnitude of the tragedy of the slaughter at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown CT have awaked the nation and President Obama to the need to rise up. He and we are both infuriated and feeling guilty for allowing the NRA to have held us in their grasp for far too long. I ache for those children and teachers and their families. I don't want to fear for my children as they go off to school or to a movie theater. "It's all right to cry," the Free To Be... You and Me song wisely observes, but sometimes it's also necessary to act.
This year, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the day of Presidential Inauguration ceremonies. Fittingly, that morning, the organization One Million Moms 4 Gun Control held a march and rally for gun control. The organization urges moms, and dads, aunts, uncles, godparents, grandparents, friends, and all people to call for an end to the insanity. Guns do kill and human fingers pull the triggers.
It's time to get political. One Million Moms 4 Gun Control is proposing a new campaign called "How Do You Wear Your Heart?" They propose that moms express their love for their children and demand gun control by decorating hearts with their kids' names or initials on them and by wearing those hearts proudly. Come join. There are local chapters forming all over the country. I say we all put our hearts -- and our politics -- on our sleeves.