What's in your handbag?
Criticisms of Handbags 4 Peace ignore the heart of Philly's grassroots movement to protect women from violence.
Criticisms of Handbags 4 Peace ignore the heart of Philly's grassroots movement to protect women from violence
Something horrible is happening in Philadelphia — women are being killed for their handbags. On Jan. 19, 26-year-old Amber Long was killed for her handbag, and on Feb. 2, so was 29-year-old Melissa Thomas. Thomas was fatally shot after she had already handed it over.
Two weeks before Long was killed, a 49-year-old woman was shot during a purse-snatching, and a knife-wielding serial robber has targeted eight women in the Overbrook Park area, most recently on Feb. 21. While these last incidents did not result in fatalities, they are the hum behind the sharp reports Thomas' and Long's deaths have sounded in our city.
At the same time something wonderful is happening in Philadelphia — women are standing together and building community in an effort to both call out and call attention to the recent violence against women. The organizations Handbags 4 Peace and Pink Soldiers, both created by an African-American resident of Northern Liberties — Tyema Sanchez — have rallied, educated, and supported the survivors of the assaults (in Long's case, her mother and in Thomas' case, a friend) with the aim of making Philadelphia a safer place for all women.
"Where are our men? Why are they not protecting us?" said Sanchez in a Feb. 5 Philadelphia Inquirer story about Handbags 4 Peace's efforts. "Men are failing us. I feel as though we are not being protected."
The comments have garnered a surprising amount of criticism. On Feb. 5, a blog titled What About Our Daughters: Unapologetic, Uncompromising, and Unbowed in Defense of Black Women and Girls wrote: "And now a local activist wants to hold a rally called 'Handbags 4 Peace.' No, this is not a joke."
The next day, Philadelphia Magazine published an opinion piece by Erica Palan that characterized Handbags 4 Peace as well intentioned but wrong. "Hosting an event — even a well-intentioned one — under the premise of empowering the male community to shield the female community from violence misses the mark entirely," wrote Palan. "The idea that women need men to protect them from violence is, at best, imprudent. But it's not just simple logistics that make (these) assertions troubling. It's the premise that women need male protection at all."
Then, on Feb. 21, one of the writers of the blog collective, Just Four Guys, wrote: "I simply must ask you, Ms. Sanchez: WHY, must I 'protect' YOU? What responsibility do I have, to you? Or for that matter, any other woman in Philly, with whom I do not have any meaningful connection?"
The criticism is unfortunate. After all, Sanchez along with a few other key members of Handbags 4 Peace, have managed to keep attention on this issue for weeks after the normal news cycle would have buried it, and have in fact, created community actions that included a good number of women of color and an equally good number of white women demanding not only an end to these acts of casual but fulminating violence against women, but also informing each other — and the rest of us — about the resources available to do just that.
Sanchez's dynamism, and her insistence that we are all stakeholders in our community and the violence that besets women should be a prompt for something bigger and more open-hearted than the internet criticism she has received.
Yes, we have a responsibility to each other, no matter whether we have a meaningful individual connection or not. That responsibility forms the basis for community, the basis for a city, and for a nation.
Yes, women need protection. And so do men. And so our children and our elders and even our pets. To lambaste Sanchez by mischaracterizing her as a woman acting weak, or to see it through some shallow filter that tints her as anti-feminist, is to obscure that it is a fundamentally human demand she is making.
Yes, a handbag is a goofy symbol for an anti-violence campaign. Or ... maybe not. Because inside it we carry what we think essential, what we know we'll need and what we think we might require, to get us through our day. Peace. Community. Solidarity. Responsibility. These are what Sanchez and her two advocacy organizations suggest belongs in every Philadelphia handbag, and we couldn't agree more.