We are the critical mass.
My Webster’s New World Dictionary defines critical mass as “the minimum amount of fissionable material that can sustain a nuclear chain reaction under a given set of conditions.” In other words, the number needed to go boom when pushed up against the wall.
A woman by herself can get pushed around an awful lot. But a lot of women together who’ve been pushed around a lot will suddenly push back when they join forces. That’s critical mass.
A woman will experience a lot of separate injustices throughout her life. But the day she puts all those injustices together is the day she reaches critical mass. And goes boom.
Critical mass is important because that’s how things get changed. Without it, we go on suffering the violence, suffering the racism, the misogyny, the day-to-day assaults on our minds, our bodies and our souls.
So how do we achieve critical mass?
For me, it happened when Anita Hill was publicly assaulted and William Kennedy Smith was acquitted and white men in the media who kept refusing to publish my articles kept telling me what we women felt and how feminism was a dirty word and, anyway, it was dying and women were glad. So I decided to publish a magazine that actually allowed women to speak. I reached a critical mass.
It is difficult for women to reach critical mass. We are taught that everything else in the world is more important than women. Our jobs, our families, our unions, our religious activities, our political activities, even our struggles for social justice are more important than our sisters and our own selves.
We look the other way when a “leader” harasses, dismisses, insults, demeans, beats, rapes or otherwise dehumanizes a woman. We say, “We can’t afford to lose him—or her”; “They’re too important to the movement” or “We can’t afford to be divisive.” But no one is above moral accountability and, in fact, those people are destructive to the movement, to our principles, our values, and to each woman harmed. And don’t forget: if you allow one woman to be harmed, you not only lose that woman, you lose the trust and support of all other women who have been similarly harmed. An injury to one of us is an injury to all of us.
We don’t, as a matter of course, shop at women-owned businesses. We don’t, most of us, make it a point to spend our money at stores that support women. And most women-owned businesses don’t, as a matter of course, support women’s arts, media, social services, etc.
We are fractured, and therefore weakened, in our politics, our principles and our lives. And so we find it hard to reach critical mass.
But we are the critical mass. Each one of us sitting silently in our rooms, our houses, our offices, our cars. Each one of us raging silently against the injustices done to us every day. While in the next room, the next house, the next office, the next car, is another woman raging silently against the same injustices suffered daily. Another woman powerless as you because she doesn’t know you are sisters.
Two hands stretched to each other. Two women sharing their experiences. Switching stores to support allies. Switching your dollars to women’s projects. Putting women first.
A simple act of sisterhood, multiplied by the masses that we are, is all it takes to reach critical mass.
Originally published as the editorial for The Feminist Broadcast Quarterly of Oregon, Volume I, Issue 4, Spring 1993.
Sisters, don’t just vote like our lives depended on it, vote because your life depends on it.