Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and surprise, surprise, it got me thinking again.
Margaret Brown ran for public office – including the Senate – three times before women even had the right to vote. Yet what is “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” known for? Not dying on April 15, 1912.
When a male friend asked me about my opinions on the objectification of women through exotic dancing, the conversation quickly delved into rape. When I asked him what he did to protect himself from sexual assault as a man, he was flabbergasted. “Well, nothing! I don’t think about it!” Therein lay my point: as a woman, even a fearless one, it’s a part of my daily life. Women are coached how to not be raped. Men have no such commentary woven throughout their teen and young adult years. Another male friend genuinely suggested that I wear a fake wedding ring so that my desire to remain single and lack of desire to sleep around would be respected.
I don’t really remember when the transition happened, when feminism stopped being a dirty word. But I do know that it’s permeated through my life much more in the last couple of years. Funny, right? That a straight, white, hipster, cis, middle class female would care? After all, I haven’t faced much sexism. I haven’t faced much discrimination. But that’s half the problem. My life has been relatively easy and I’ve still had to intentionally walk the wrong way because I was being followed and harassed at the grocery store a block away from my home.
So how must it be for my friends – and complete strangers! – who don’t fall in such a generic category? For women who wear the hijab in Texas. For a transgendered person in small town Iowa. For gamer and programmer girls. For a Mexican traveling the globe on his motorcycle. For the homeless family that slips through the cracks.
These are people. Racism, sexism, homophobia, ethnocentrism, and peniaphobia hurts real people whose lives and stories are just as important as yours.
That’s what feminism means to me. That there are people out there who matter simply because they exist, not because they have anything to offer me. That equality should spread beyond history. It kills me to read news stories of onlookers cheering as a migrant dorm burns, of cutting the funding to Planned Parenthood when for many women it’s the only access to healthcare they have, of protesters deciding that ‘all lives matter’ so the BLM movement needs to be shut down.
Feminists of 2016, if they only thing you are willing to speak up for is the closing of the white wage gap, you’re missing the point. Especially as a white woman, I’m in a position of power to say something, to do something.
And you know what? That’s pretty freaking awesome. I love being able to hop online and shoot a message to a friend who politically sits across the aisle and ask questions of each other. I love being able to have the right to vote, the right to use my social circle and wallet to make a statement, the right to stand up and say what I believe in.
I’m a woman who will be able to celebrate one hundred years of suffrage in America. I can wear my hair short and dress as I please, I wasn’t forced to marry young, nor am I bound by an expectation to have children. Feminism in 2016 looks very different because the women of the past have already fought hard battles. But the war isn’t over. Recent studies show that at current rates it will be 2133 before we have worldwide gender equality. Messy, no?
Hey women, hey men. It’s your call. It’s your world. It’s your turn. We’re of an age where we can take up the mantle and fight for equality. I was born into a position of privilege – while I have worked hard, I did not get where I am because of sheer determination. I was dealt a good hand. Now it’s my turn to fight for others to have access to those same things I took for granted: a roof over my head, food on the table, transportation, an education, not being afraid that someone will attack me for the color of my skin.
That’s why I’m a feminist. Are you?