My province is in an official state of emergency. There are so many forest fires and so many evacuees that the entire province is in crisis. A full fire ban is in effect. If
You are caught around an open flame, not just the person who started the fire, but all those around the fire will be ticketed. If you are caught throwing a cigarette out your car window, you may have it impounded. Companies and individuals are working around the clock to gather money, supplies, and resources. People are opening their homes to the evacuees, preparing cots and air mattresses for those fleeing the disaster. British Columbians are coming out in force to help our neighbours. This makes me proud. I believe, sometimes to my own detriment, and often to the consternation of my husband, that as long as I have something, I have something to give. I have been known to stick a $20 bill into a fireman’s boot, even though that is the last $20 I have at my disposal. I have “adopted” children in Third World countries; I have added money to my grocery bill for kids to get books in schools; at a previous job, I faced my insane fear of heights to sit on the roof of the grocery store I worked in, to raise money for BC Children’s Hospital. This is not to make me sound like Mother Theresa. I’m not. I am just as self-centred and mean as the next person, but it is simply to demonstrate that giving is not something I avoid doing. I read a passage in Trevor Noah’s book Born A Crime where he says that instead of giving a man a fish, or teaching him to fish, we need to also give him a fishing pole to be able to fish. That strikes me as apt: what good is knowing how to fish, if you can’t afford to buy the tools to catch the fish? I do not believe that giving charity is wrong; I do not believe in everyone for themselves. I believe in giving.
Tonight, a well known charitable organization (globally, not just in BC) came to my door in the form of a charming young Irish man. If you know me, you know that I am a sucker for an accent, so I was content to let him explain why he was there. He asked me if I would be able to sign up to give $30 a month to help those affected by the fires. He made a joke that $30 a month won’t have me living in a tent on the street. I told him that unfortunately that it was more than I could afford at the moment, and was there another option for donating. He said that the website is always available, but rolled quickly into a shpiel about how that wasted valuable dollars by paying an administration fee that would otherwise go to relief. And then told me it was better to just sign up with him. I began to feel guilty and uncomfortable because my desire would be to simply say yes, and sign up for it, but due to financial issues of my own, I simply don’t have that much extra money, while caring for my kids. I told him I am sorry, but I really couldn’t commit to that, and thanked him for what he was doing for the victims. He then said “c’mon! What’s 4 quarters a day? The rest of your neighbours have given, you’ve got a generous neighbourhood. It’s true what they say about Canadians being nice! You need to continue the trend and be just as generous as your neighbours!” He continued to needle me in a cheerful way, and I continued to feel guilty, but simply could not say yes to this. I know that there are other ways to help, ways that I can afford, while still making a contribution. I reiterated that no, I’m sorry, but I would not be able to. He then asked me why I resisted, and feeling the flush of humiliation, while standing in the doorway of my own home, I clumsily explained that due to financial matters, I could not spare that much a month. Then he asked for a void cheque, saying it would give me time to save up before the cheque was processed, and that it would be easy to cancel if need be. I could not believe this: I had finally mustered up the ability to say no, and I was being not only
ignored, but pressured and made to feel like I was making a bad decision . I felt so ashamed at not being able to help, and also frustrated that he continued to push, while unable, due to some ingrained sense of politeness to close the door on him. The kicker for me, was that when my husband stepped in and said “I believe my wife already said no”, the young man stepped back, put his hands up and said “of course, yes, I do not mean to pressure”, and left quickly.
We all want to help. Ok, well, almost all of us want to help. It is natural to want to help our fellow humans. I believe this strongly and shake my head when I hear Randian me, myself and I arguments. I appreciate that I am an easy mark because of this. My own sense of guilt at not helping, my people pleasing tendencies and my difficulty with saying “No” are all blindingly obvious to those looking for someone to subscribe to a fund. What I do not appreciate is that in order to be taken seriously, my husband needed to step in. My no is the same as his no. My money and his money coexist quite happily in their mutual bank account. My budget and his budget are the same. We are both looking to feed and cloth our shared children. Yet his no is respected instantly, and mine is poked and prodded and harangued.
At this point, some of you can see where I am going with this, and are thinking “seriously? How did she make a post about the state of emergency in British Columbia into a feminist issue??” Well, folks, I’m glad you asked. I did not make it a feminist issue. The young man representing a global charity and relief fund made it a feminist issue when he demonstrated that to him what a woman says is not as valuable or as true as what a man says. I am home sick from work with bronchitis and a sinus infection, I can barely speak, and yet, I could not end the conversation with this fellow. My husband walks in the room, and he is gone within 15 seconds. This, my friends, is exactly why we still need feminism. This is why I will repeat myself like a broken record. This is why I will stand on my virtual soapbox. When my croaky sick voice is taken with the same seriousness as that of my husband, then I will step down, but not a moment sooner.
*seriously, though, if there is anything you can do to help those affected by the fires in BC, please donate. Whatever you can do, even spare some of your time, can make a difference.