Interrupting Ritual

Maria is a fellow UW law grad and social justice pioneer. When I reached out to her hoping she would consider being a guest writer for femails.org, I was thrilled when it was met with an enthusiastic, ‘Yes!’ I was even more thrilled when I read what she submitted. #mylifeismine #sorrynotsorry #empower

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From: Maria Manza <maria.manza@gmail.com>
Date: Sun, Dec 3, 2017 at 10:20 PM
Subject: Interrupting Ritual
To: Katalina Mayorga <xxx@gmail.com>

Dearest Kata –

Last week, when we talked about Tracee Ellis Ross’s Glamour speech, where she described her commitment to being a fully embodied woman without necessarily “being chosen” or “having kids,” we mostly focused on the internal and external conversations we’ve had recently about having children. What we didn’t delve into as deeply is the consequence of making people feel uncomfortable while staying true to Ross’s mantra “my life is mine.”

This week, I’ve been pondering on how one of the people who will feel uncomfortable at times while living out that mantra is me.

In my 30’s, I’ve become more adept at stepping into my strength and following what feels right for me despite what others may think. Much of that was done in relative silence. But in the months leading up to November 2016 and in the wake of 45’s election, I’ve found myself stepping into discomfort much more readily. Like when someone gets on the elevator and asks for probably the fifth time whether I’m engaged yet, and I say “Why is that the only question you ever ask me?” Or when a man I’ve just met in a room full of men says, “I wasn’t expecting a woman to be here. Now we have to change how we talk,” and I retort, “Maybe changing how you talk all the time is a good thing.” Or when I ask a male colleague to stop interrupting and let me finish, without saying sorry or even please.

In the past, I might have laughed off some of these situations, but I’m no longer willing to collapse my space, even a little, to avoid conflict.

You sent me a postcard earlier in the year that says “Interrupting ritual is the key to inspiring social change.” I put it up on my version of a gallery wall, and I’ve been musing over it ever since, trying to uncover which rituals might be obscuring complicity in systemic disempowerment.

I see now that the rituals needing interrupting don’t stop with the most dominant definition, that of ceremonial, but instead extend to another definition, that of “done in accordance with social custom or normal protocol.” These “normal protocols”, like brushing off a sexist comment or glossing over an interruption while leading a meeting, become normalized because they help us get through daily life as smoothly as possible. But prioritizing smooth days doesn’t enact social change.

I’m now actively dismantling my normalized responses. It’s taking practice, and at times, it makes me uncomfortable. Calling out a man I’ve just met for chauvinistic behavior is much easier than voicing my frustration to my supervisor when I disagree with his handling of a case I’ve been working on. I may not feel strong in the moment, but I always feel more surefooted on the other side. By responding differently, I can help change the arc of how moments like these have passed before.

How are you interrupting ritual in your daily life?

xoxo –

Maria

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