[This blog is extremely brief in explaining the issues and challenges facing women all over the world. Because this is a blog, I focused on my own thoughts, rather than digging into and citing research. I did, however, touch on information from books and other resources that I have accumulated over the years. I have listed the books that have profoundly impacted me at the end of this post.]
I am a feminist. I think I decided that sometime in my early to mid 20s. That was probably around the time I also read the definition of what it means to be a feminist. Simply, it means someone who wants equal rights for men, women, non-binary, etc. It means someone who wants equal rights for all people, no matter race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. Period. It doesn’t mean I want an Amazonian society. It doesn’t mean I want women to take over all leadership rolls, or that I think women should stop cooking dinner…if that’s what she wants to do. But if she has a partner, that’s the decision they make together.
It means choice. It means not being held down by the “shoulds” of what someone else decided a woman should do or be.
It means that men and women have equal opportunities lead organizations, to be sponsored athletes, to together decide how they want to run households and communities.
Maybe you could call me an “equalist”. That way I wouldn’t offend anyone. But that definition is missing a key piece. It ignores the fact that women do not have equal rights. It ignores the fact that we as a society, can do better.
A lot of people think we already have equality. Those people miss the subtleties of how women are barred from certain things, held down by the expectations of others. That comes from a place of privilege, which gives a person the ability to give a blind eye to any discrepancies. I’m not going to say coming from privilege is bad thing. I just want to highlight how important it is to realize and begin to learn our blindspots. In most ways, I am privileged, and I’ve made a lot of ugly mistakes brushing aside the problems of my friends who are homosexual, have darker skin than me, or aren’t as able bodied. The key, I’ve found, is humility. Being able to make mistakes and learn, even if it hurts a bit, because that is nothing compared to what my less privileged friends have been through.
One of my first lessons on privilege came from a friend of mine who is gay. It was during the time where people had signs up that said “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter.” I didn’t understand the difference…until my friend told me how the latter turns a blind eye to the challenges the black community still faces. I was stunned, ashamed I had missed the difference and highly aware of my ignorance on racism. My friend had the courage to tell me, so I needed the courage to accept my lack of awareness and to learn more.
Back to the blind spots. I won’t say too much in a blog, as many amazing books have been written about the challenges and struggles of women both in the United States and in other countries, and I’ll list those resources below. To be brief, a few discrepancies we see in the US involves the gender pay gap, the lack of opportunities for women in the tech and sport (as specific examples) industry, and how women are treated in the workplace and at home. In sports, this was highlighted as the US Women’s Soccer Team went on to win the FIFA World Cup. Despite their win, actually, their WINS that include several World Cups and Olympic gold medals, they make appallingly less than the men’s team. O, and did I mention the US Women’s Soccer Team jerseys became the highest selling jersey at Nike? As for sexism in our society, that was highlighted in the 2017 “me too” movement. Sexism, sexual abuse, and rape are signs that show women are still disrespected by many in society. They are attempts to hold women down, to attempt to keep women from equality, to instill fear. One of the most heartbreaking things I have ever had a client tell me when I asked about her sexual relationship with her boyfriend was “there is a fine line between consent and giving in.” THAT is oppression. But more and more women and coming together and saying “No. That is not okay.” (If you asked all your female friends how many of them had been raped, abused, or sexually assaulted, you would be aghast.).
In other countries, women are still banned from leaving home to make money so they can stay at home take care of the family, the family that has grown out of control because she is not allowed access to birth control. Which means there’s a good chance she will eventually die in childbirth or suffer from other medical complications. Girls are prevented from going to school and getting an education. The right to vote is laughable. Girls have their clitoris cut with rusty knives so they can be acceptable for marriage, often sold off before puberty.
Can you FEEL that oppression, the pain? When I let myself feel it, it hurts like hell.
The first book that really opened my eyes to to women’s issues around the world was Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (I can’t recommend this book enough!). I remember reading it in the car one day and bursting out crying. I can’t remember if I was reading about rape or child marriage, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my sisters. Thank God we were born in a first world country, where oppression is both visceral and identifiable, but not nearly as horrifically tangible.
Here’s the argument I often get from men: “But men don’t have it fair either” which somehow means that women’s rights movements are unjustifiable.
[Story side note: I currently volunteer and used to work for the organization Girls on the Run, a “physical activity-based positive youth development (PA-PYD) program designed to develop and enhance girls’ social, psychological, and physical competencies to successfully navigate life experiences.” Men will get mad and say “well why isn’t there a boys on the run!?” First of all, they’re missing the statistics, such as: by the age of 14, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation. Second, Boy Scouts started in the year 1910. Girl Scouts started in the year 1912. My guess it wasn’t because Juliette Gordon Low complained “why is there no Girl Scouts” but instead took the initiative to do it herself. AND, while the program is smaller, there is a program called Let Me Run, which I think is awesome…the program was started my a female mom, who had first coached for Girls on the Run.]
Look, I get that men have their own set of imaginary societal laws that tells them how they should act, mainly that men need to always be tough and not show emotion. I read documentaries on the topic and listened to podcasts. I’ve worked with men at an addiction treatment center and have seen how much pain that myth causes.
Truly though, its just the opposite side of the same coin.
This part may be a stretch for some, but I’m not going to call it “woo-woo” because I’m starting to hate that word and how much truth it allows us to ignore. What I hear men telling me about is the inability to express their feminine side. The same thing we are trying to suppress when we keep women from being equals in society. Showing emotion is not weak. It does not mean the absence of the ability to look at things intellectually. Emotion means strength, it means empathy, the ability to connect with other beings. It means activism. In a bit, I’ll touch on why both intellect and emotion, both the masculine and feminine*, are needed for a truly successful society. But first, a short personal reflection.
*I am not trying to define the masculine and feminine in this blog. I have felt the definitions, but can not yet put them into words. What I will say here is that being feminine does not mean wearing high heals and putting on make-up anymore than being masculine mean putting on you flannel and going to chop wood.
I’ve written on this blog before a bit about my eating disorder in my adolescent years. My therapist at that time always was pushing for a “why”. Why did I starve my body? I couldn’t give an answer at that time. She wrote it up having to do with my parent’s divorce, which may have been partially true in an indirect way.
It wasn’t until my graduate studies that I looked up more theories on the root causes of eating disorders. One theory dealt with the oppression of women. A spark went off for me. During these years, I was in a Catholic school, where women couldn’t be priest, God was considered a man, and most of the fathers of my friends were financially more successful than their wives. I was also told something along the lines of that once I hit puberty, I would lose athleticism and the boys would gain in. While this is essentially true to a point, to me it was more of highlight of the other gender discrepancies. I taped my breast. I made sure I didn’t get a period. Depression and anxiety followed.
Depression and anxiety are what happens when we shut out any part of ourselves.
Which leads me to say a little bit about the benefits of equality, especially for an men reading this who’d prefer to hold on to their power. When women gain equality, everyone gains. In 3rd world countries, it’s been shown that when women are allowed to start earning an income, the children get educated, the family has enough to eat, and even the marriage strengthens. Poverty is reduced. After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the country rose back from the ashes by putting women in leadership. The GDP rose, as well as life expectancy. In general, there’s less fighting, more talking. Every gender holds both the masculine and feminine inside of them, in a mostly balanced way. There’s the empathy and the intellect, the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes and to rationally think through a problem. One we suppress one, balance and harmony are lost. With my therapeutic mindset, I would say this most often leads to self-destruction on the individual side. And when a society does it…well, I don’t need to describe that to you. So we need to bring women up, to bring everyone up.
As Hillary Clinton famously said “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women – Nichola Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead -Sheryl Sandberg
I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban -Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World- Melinda Gates