I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard...we cannot succeed when half of us are held back. ― Malala Yousafzai
I debated writing this because as a woman I have never considered myself a feminist. At least not in the not-shaving-my-armpits, burning-my-bra type way. That's not to say I haven't rebelled against the stereotypical "woman's role" my entire life, in fact I think I purposely avoided the kitchen, convinced myself I would never get married and focused all my energy on building my career so I could be the bread winner for the SOLE purpose of creating a reputation and image for myself that no one could ever consider subordinate. But I have to admit, the more I travel, the more I read, the more educated I become, the more jobs I have, the more people I interact with and the more life that I live, the more aware I become of women's (LGBT & Transgender included) somewhat unconscious impasse towards equal rights since progress was made in America almost 100 years ago.
On my way into work, I often listen to the news, or a podcast or a book on tape. That hour and a half in the morning and afternoon is almost the only time during the day that I have to myself when I don't feel the obligation to be doing anything else. And I like to take advantage of that time to educate myself. Most recently, I decided to listen to I Am Malala written by the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate ever who was nominated after being targeted and shot in the head at point blank range by the Taliban. Her only crime? Openly speaking about her opposition to the Taliban and her support for women’s rights to education among other things. Miraculously, she survived the attack and instead of silencing her, the Taliban only made her campaign global.
In her book, she talks about women's role in Pakistani communities, how they were supposed to be escorted almost everywhere they went, how the birth of a child was either celebrated or mourned depending on it's gender and how girl's education was taboo. I was shocked. I obviously know that in America we have it good, but the extent to which she described some of the conditions opened my eyes to the very real issues that plague women of other countries every. single. day.
And granted, there are many ways in which these communities were/are behind America not just with women's rights, but to me, with all the recent talk of equality, it seems that sometimes we as American’s are settling. Settling for what women's rights are right now, accepting that they have improved and will continue to do so. But this is not a guarantee. Perhaps in America, we tend to take things for granted, to think that because things have been a certain way for so long, they will continue to be that way. But with the current administration and the people we have put in power it seems all too likely that much of the progress we have made may even end up regressing. And by the way, I’m not just referring to what you might envision as the typical woman, the one who was born female and has always felt female and dressed female and been viewed by others as female. I am referring to all categories of female. And I also truly believe that this fight, is not just a female fight. But everyone’s fight. There is a famous quote that I love and think is so symbolic for this fight and every other that people continue to fight in the 21st century, by Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor and outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler who spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
I have traveled across the nation, and across the world and sometimes I have done it totally alone with no fear. I have never thought twice about whether or not I would be able to go to school if I wanted to, or walk/drive to the grocery store myself or not be given a job because I am a female and my responsibilities belong at home. I have never worried about my future because I know that as long as I am in charge of it, I can do or be anything I want. I can travel anywhere, wear whatever I want and do whatever I want. But not everyone is so lucky.
Just to put things into perspective, in 2017... yes, 2017, the middle eastern country Saudi Arabia agreed to end a longstanding policy banning women from getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. And it doesn't even take effect until June 2018.
Then there is the news that's been making headlines for the last few weeks, about how Harvey Weinstein a well known American film producer was fired for alleged sexual harassment and assault after over 20 years. Articles I've read state "mistreatment towards women" as a serial problem that plagued the company, actresses and other females who haven't come forward until now out of fear for their careers and their livelihoods, descriptions of predatory behavior over a consistent period of time... 20 YEARS. And yet, even in today's day and age it continued for so long. Shouldn't that tell us something about our country? Our society? Our culture? Our rights as women, as citizens, as human beings?
This news reminded me of a conversation I had last weekend with some friends at a birthday party, over pumpkin painting and beer. I'm not even sure how we got on the subject, but several of these women, who are strong, independent and powerful attorneys described instances in which they had witnessed or been subject to inappropriate comments or behavior themselves from the men in their workplace. One woman described how a male counterpart told her "what a nice outfit" she had on and said "turn around for me". Another described how she had had to tell a client off the week before for openly flirting with her secretary and giving her secretary his number without her having asked for it or even wanting it.
I couldn't help but think back to the very first job I ever had out of college in which my boss would frequently ask both my female counterpart and I to leave work in the middle of the day to babysit his children, something I doubt he had/would ever ask a male of my age. Or how the younger women in the office weren't allowed to wear jeans or dress down while the older, more tenured female employees would get away with jeans AND hoodies. Or of how one of my male counterparts once told me he "really liked when I wore heels" OR how somehow it was expected that me and my female coworkers should be cleaning the lunch rooms and conference rooms because "that's what people do when they are first starting out in the field to pave their way" ORRR when I finally left that job after having literally been fired for interviewing and searching for other jobs and was told "it's kind of like when you break up with your boyfriend, and then get back together with him and you two decide you're going to be exclusive but instead, you start seeing other people behind his back." UM, no actually, it's not like that at ALL.
You see, it’s there. But we, even as women, do not always see it or acknowledge it and often we even accept it, take it in stride as something that comes with the territory. And I'm not saying that's wrong. In fact, I think that most of the time we do it unconsciously, thinking this is the way it has always been and thus, the way it will always be. And of course, things could always be worse. But I do get a little frustrated with people who believe that this fight is ours and ours alone. It’s not always up to just us to recognize it, it should not always be our job to speak out. In any other circumstance when we see someone being victimized and we think it is wrong, it becomes the job of the community, of those in power, of those stronger to stand up and say “we will not tolerate it anymore.” Sometimes, not all the time (because we are strong women afterall) we need someone else to stand up for us and say “this is wrong.”
If we all become complacent in this fight, if none of us will stand up, then none of us can move forward. And so I say… Me too. Him too. Us too. Because the fight for women's rights, human rights, equal rights, it is all of ours. And if we do not speak out even when it does not affect us, then when our time comes there will be no one left for us.