A Speech on the Subway
On the subway the other day on my way back from work, a man came through the door with the usual beginning of a panhandler’s speech: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to interrupt your ride home, but…” Except he wasn’t begging for money, or trying to get you to listen to him sing a song he wrote.
To the contrary, and to my surprise, he continued, “…We must stop violence against women!”
Wait, what? After preparing to ignore the man by continuing to read my Harper’s magazine, I felt like I was in a dream world. Could this be true? An older gentleman, on his way somewhere, but with such passion for an end to violence against women that he stands up and addresses a subway car full of people.
“Now, many men, especially of my generation, laugh off violence against women, like they have nothing to do with it,” he continued. “But they are wrong, and they are contributing to the problem.”
I had stopped looking at my reading by this point. “Violence against women needs to end now,” he said. “We must contact our legislators and tell them to get to work and commit to stopping violence against women.”
"Violence against women." He kept saying it over and over again, that even I didn’t want to hear it anymore, even though I was so glad he was bringing it up to the rest of the passengers on the train. It was like he had his talking points and knew that if he just repeated it, it would be imbedded on our brains that we wouldn’t be able to ignore it.
What if we all thought like this man? I thought. Why didn’t I, or any woman on this train, for that matter, stand up and ask the passengers to stop violence against women? Does it take a man who says it to really be effective?
Regardless of who says it, I sat there proud that it was being said. I also sit proud knowing developments like this are not just happening on the individual level: the macrocosm of this situation is happening on a global scale with the new establishment of a unified agency at the United Nations to promote the rights of women and gender equality worldwide.
As of mid-September, “four United Nations agencies and offices will be amalgamated to create a new single entity to promote the rights and well-being of women.” It will ensure that not just particular U.N. entities, but all parts of the U.N. will build strong foundations for women’s empowerment and equality.
We know—as those who work with and among women around the world through church doors to unit meetings, through the doors of national mission institutions, and through doors of security helped by our mission dollars to jumpstart microfinancing projects—that women’s lives are touched every day by what we give and what we do.
However, it is just the beginning. The creation of an entity for women’s rights and equality is worth celebrating, but we cannot be content there. We need to watch, be mindful, and be resolute about pushing for results. It was perhaps a beginning for those who witnessed the man on the subway.
United Methodist Women are working toward this goal: The board of directors passed a resolution to work with United Methodist Men to stop domestic violence.
That man, after saying what in his mind needed to be said—maybe he witnessed violence: as a child, as a neighbor, as an observer in a crowded city—thanked the people for their time and ear, sat down, and remained until I got off at 59th street.
Would I have that courage to stand up in a full subway car? Regardless, I am grateful for any soul who can say what he said and who feels passionately enough about it that he can say it to strangers. Like the man on the subway, the U.N.’s new agency for women will stand up for me, too.
*Leigh Rogers is a public relations executive with the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.