Happy belated #InternationalWomensDay!
Even though that particular day wasn’t any more unique than my average weekdays, it filled my little heart with the fuzzies to see female friends share posts of the most influential women in their lives. On a more global level, it was awesome to see companies from Brawny to Barbie focus their marketing efforts on girl power (see article here).
But as great as it was to see both women and men verbalize their commitment to protecting the women in their life and empathizing with the challenges they face on a regular basis, there is so much work still to be done, here and abroad.
Whether you claim to be a feminist or not (though if you believe that men and women are equally deserving of basic human rights, I don’t understand why so many cringe at the ‘F’ word), you have to acknowledge that. Especially in the age of #MeToo, and the fact that backwards regimes continue to pose death threats to young women like Malala Yousafzai simply for attending school.
There’s a lot I’m grateful for. I’m allowed to drive, get an education, hold a job, vote and own property. My father cannot sell my hand in marriage to whatever man has the best cow to offer, and for the most part, I have full autonomy over myself.
But there’s a lot women can do without.
When all the Harvey Weinstein accounts started coming out of the Hollywood-work, I was filled with anger, knowing that the bodily autonomy each of his victims had, he’d taken away. Sadly, probably more female actors than we realize watched their dreams fizzle out as Weinstein put them on his personal Hollywood blacklist as punishment for rejecting his advances.
When the #MeToo hashtag started trending, I read through the raw, emotional accounts from friends and friends-of-friends who’d been taken advantage of by family members or people they thought were their friends. I read through stories of those who genuinely feared for their lives because they dared defend themselves against an abuser, a rapist, a drunk, or all of the above. Though I don’t have any comparable stories to warrant a #MeToo post of my own, I know very well that those accounts could’ve been mine in different circumstances. It makes me feel sad, unsafe, but mostly bitter.
It’s the same bitterness I felt after hearing that the Stanford swimmer who’d raped an unconscious woman in an alleyway had been sentenced to a measly six months (three of which he actually served). This after his father’s half-assed plea that the “20 minutes of action” his son engaged in not affect his future.
Last week, I watched a viral video of a Parkland, Florida student speaking at a rally, beseeching our government to put in place more effective gun laws, just days after she’d witnessed 17 of her classmates and teachers shot and killed on Valentine’s Day. In the first comment, an older man wrote that this “little girlie” ought to stay in her place and out of politics. Whatever your views on gun control, it is an unbelievably patronizing thing to say to someone who watched her friends fall at the hands of a deranged student.
I also think about the double standard in which a man gets a high-five for engaging in the same activity as a woman who is deemed a “slut” in the same breath.
I cringe when I have to ignore a catcall instead of calling out the idiot, lest I be called a b—h, ugly, or perhaps even have something thrown at me.
While walking to Whole Foods from my work a few weeks ago, a man in his car rolled down his window to call out to me, hoping I’d come closer. Instead, I quickened my pace, looking over my shoulder every few steps. Since then, I’ve taken my car to places I would normally go by foot.
There’s also less obvious instances of sexism that bother me.
I think about how throughout my early school years, the modesty culture that was encouraged–while well-intentioned–probably did more harm than good. The girls were called out for donning three-fingered tank tops, a.k.a. “stumbling blocks” to the boys who couldn’t handle the “distraction.” Though never penalized for this crime myself (I tried to be a good kid), I felt the body shame associated with having to constantly worry about covering our shoulders, necklines, and knees. It was a heavy piece of baggage to shed, one that still trails behind me somewhat even now. While I’m not an advocate for going around topless, I believe each person is entitled to wear what they choose without having to fear unwanted attention.
I think about articles I’ve come across from websites titled “Biblical Gender Roles,” in which a subscriber asks the author for advice on guiding his adolescent daughter back into more womanly ambitions after she’s expressed interest in political and leadership career opportunities. And then sitting open-mouthed when I read the author’s advice: steer his daughter towards roles that don’t put her in direct authority over men. Such as homemaking. Or fulfilling her lifelong, wifely duty of submitting to her future husband’s every whim without question.
I think about how in some workplaces, employers that are legally required to not base their hiring practices on race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. will do so anyway. Those employers are less likely to hire a woman who looks to be in her child-bearing prime, lest she need to be put on maternity leave.
But I’d like to end this pessimistic rant by acknowledging the women in my life who’ve directly or indirectly encouraged me to not let society tell me what I can be, just because I was born with a certain anatomy.
I’m encouraged by well-known women like J.K. Rowling (who, despite having overcome a myriad of personal and professional struggles, wrote the Harry Potter series, which quickly become the second best-selling series, second to the Bible. Fun fact, she used her first two initials rather than her full name as a writer, fearing that boy readers would be turned off by books written by a woman…), Christiane Amanpour (who was constantly and fearlessly on the frontlines while working as an international reporter), and Katherine Johnson (whose contributions to the NASA program pushed against the gender and racial barriers prevalent at the time. Watch “Hidden Figures” if you haven’t already!). I’m also encouraged by the many women in my own life, especially the BA boss ladies who operate their own businesses and make it look easy.
I would be remiss not to mention the men I’m privileged to know who’ve never made me feel as though my gender should be a limitation in anything I do.
We have come a long way since the William Shatner Star Trek days, where the female cadets aboard the USS Enterprise were made to wear non-functional, short-skirted uniforms (probably solely for the viewing pleasure of their male counterparts). And thank GOD I’ve never seen an ad similar to the below: