Making the world around us better is important in my family. We have two kids under 6, so for us to do something in the evening is an effort. My wife Justine Caldwell is running for State Representative, so usually it’s her heading out at night to participate in public life. This time, she told me help was needed — from men — and asked me if I wanted to help. Of course I did!
It was an inspiring moment for me to be asked to help, and I had an inspiring night participating in this effort. Walking into a place like Hera, a monument to the perseverance of literally generations of women, and seeing a group of strong, determined women creating their vision (while dealing with the same practical concerns Justine and I do, like how to keep children happy and quiet when needed), made me feel part of something larger.
I’m not artistic or creative at all, so creating a piece of public art is something I can’t do by myself. But the magic of a team is that each member brings strengths, and our teammates cover for our weaknesses. I played my part, and we ended up with an end product that makes me proud to have helped.
What is your relationship to the feminist movement in Rhode Island?
For my whole life, I’ve been a sympathizer. When my parents met, my dad was a factory worker, and my mom was a telephone operator, but in my family, there was no question that a woman’s place in society was whatever that woman wanted it to be, and my parents lived their lives that way. Feminism is just the way I was raised.
I moved to Rhode Island because my wife Justine grew up here. She’s running for State Representative for many reasons, but one of those is that she’s a Rhode Island feminist woman and recognizes that the perspectives of women aren’t adequately represented at the State House now. I agree! Along with many men in my district, I am rooting for her to be my next State Representative.
The idea of this campaign was to ask men to speak directly with men — the men who disproportionately control the fate of legislation affecting women in Rhode Island. What’s your view about how that might work, specifically in a very Catholic state?
I went to Catholic school. Some Catholics are fervently opposed to us; some are fervently with us. And then for many, the issue is difficult.
I’ve worked on many issues with religious overtones — especially, same-sex marriage. What I learned from that experience is that when people — including people of faith — think about their actual lived experience with an issue, as opposed to their abstract beliefs about it, it can make a huge difference.
This video is a step in that direction — we took those abstract principles stated in the state Democratic party platform, and put many different male faces on them, and attached our feelings to them. Sexism, along with many other -isms, is involved in almost everything we perceive, so having men be the voices will affect how the voices are heard. I was thrilled to lend mine.
As we keep moving from the abstract to the concrete, and keep trying to ground our leaders’ thinking in the experiences of people who need access to reproductive health care, we men will mostly need to fade into the background. Women will be telling their stories, and helping these leaders connect those stories to stories about women those leaders know. We men will continue to amplify women’s voices when we can; should I be asked, I’ll be glad to speak with legislators in person, by phone, by E-mail, by text message, by letter-to-the-editor, with Morse Code — whatever it takes. In a campaign like this, you never know what it takes to win until you win.
But one more thing — although you’re right that men disproportionately control the fate of legislation affecting Rhode Island women, that’s not a law of nature. We have a choice about that. That’s why my wife Justine Caldwell is running for office. If more women run for office, more women work on their campaigns, more women come out to vote for women, then all of a sudden, what women think will matter a lot more, and what these men think about what women should be able to do with their own bodies will matter a lot less. The 2018 election is less than a year away. We all have work to do, and a part to play!