Yep. There it is, folks, I’m going ahead and tossing that right out there. When it comes to men and women, we are not equal.
Now, allow me to say how much that statement troubles me and how much it pains me to say it.
As a young girl growing up in the 1970s and 80s, I truly thought by the time I reached my 40s, that we would live in an equal society, where men and women were truly equals. The sad reality is that we do not.
Have we women made strides towards equality? Absolutely.
Are we there yet? No.
Over the weekend, millions of women gathered in Washington DC and in other cities across the country (and the world) to send a bold message to the new government on their first day in office. The message was simple - that women's rights are human rights.
As to be expected, social media was flooded with pictures and posts from marchers, posts from those who supported the march, and posts from those who felt the need to condemn it. During this social media onslaught, a post started to make its way around on Facebook that caught my attention. In it, the author began by saying, “I am not a ‘disgrace to women’ because I don’t support the women’s march.” You may have seen it; if not, you can read it here.
In the post, the author basically belittled the Women’s March participants, calling them whiners and insinuating that they need to “take responsibility” for their lives and to “quit blaming” others. Although the author never says it, she definitely comes across as if she believes that inequality in the United States does not exist and that if it does exist, it only exists because of the individual’s self-imposed walls that they have allowed to let stand in their way. (To be fair, she does acknowledge that inequality exists in other parts of the world. In fact, she does into some detail about the inequalities that occur in foreign countries such as China, Afghanistan, the Congo, and Saudi Arabia, to name a few.)
All I could do after reading it was shake my head.
Something I've discovered in my lifetime is that the concept of equality and inequality is relative; it is relative to a person’s perception, which is based on the person's individual life experiences. There is a quote by Anais Nin that I love and that is so pertinent to this situation. It says, We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.
I come from a white, middle class upbringing. In comparison to the rest of the country, based on my parents' income at the time, we were on the lower end of middle class. However, in rural West Virginia, we were considered to be solidly middle-middle class, maybe even upper middle.
Thanks to my parents' vision and sacrifice, I was blessed with the opportunity to go to college. I emerged from college with very little student loan debt. The education I received ensures that I can find and maintain gainful employment and that I can take care of myself financially.
I work in a field (public education) that has set pay scales that are non-negotiable, so I’ve never experienced the gap in pay between men and women.
I have never been raped.
I have never been in an abusive relationship.
I have never been enslaved and forced to work in the sex industry.
I have never had birth control fail nor have I been put in the position of dealing with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.
I have never felt or believed that my opportunities were limited just because I have a vagina.
Not all women in the United States can echo those sentiments.
Thinking back to Nin’s quote - We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are - it would be easy for me to say that inequality does not exist, because in my life experience, I’ve not been subjected to the hardest blows of inequality, only to lesser blows, which I will touch on shortly. Essentially, this would be like me saying that measles do not exist because I’ve never contracted them, which, as we all know, is not true. Measles do exist because there are documented cases of the measles every year; I’ve even known an individual who contracted the disease. Measles exist regardless of whether or not you contract them, just as inequality exists regardless of whether or not it directly impacts you.
This is what I meant by the concept of equality often being relative.
Looking at my place in life and all that I've achieved and been blessed with, I truly would love to take credit for it all, but you know what - I can’t. Yes, much of it is the direct result of hard work, sacrifice, and the choices I’ve made along the way, something the author of the "I'm not a disgrace to women" post also claims. But, here's where the author and I differ - I'm not so obtuse to ignore that fact that much of my success and my blessings have been due to luck. Yes, random, dumb luck.
You see, I’ve been in situations where I could've been attacked and/or raped, but I wasn’t.
There have been numerous opportunities for my birth control to fail and I could've faced an unwanted pregnancy, but fortunately, it didn’t.
I could work in a profession where salaries are varied and equal pay does not exist, but I don't.
I have been lucky.
Despite my good fortune, despite how few obstacles I've encountered along my life’s path, even in my little, sheltered life I have still felt unequal to men.
I do not feel safe walking down a darkened street or even in my neighborhood park after a certain time in the afternoon.
I have been the recipient of numerous unwanted catcalls and propositions. Let's not forget countless comments about my breast size by men I don’t know.
Speaking of breasts, they have been publicly groped by men. That’s right… I said men. Plural. That means more than one man believed he was entitled to fondle my breasts without my consent.
And lastly, I have been stalked by two overzealous, behemoth sized members of my alma mater’s football team, both of whom just couldn’t believe or accept that I wasn’t interested in having sex with them. When I lodged a complaint against the first one, I was told by school administrators to “not encourage him,” which basically meant that they thought his stalking me was my fault. I'm sure had he raped me that one particular evening after cornering me in the dark and isolated library stacks, that the rape would've been my fault, too.
My question is simple. If we live in an equal society, then why aren't those same scenarios happening to men? Better yet, why are these scenarios happening at all?
Because we do not live in an equal society.
I didn’t march on Saturday and my reasons for not marching are mine and mine alone, but I commend the millions of women who did. Thank you.
Thank you for exercising your right to assemble peacefully. Thank you for exercising your right to speak freely. Thank you for following in the footsteps of the millions of women who marched before you, who secured many of the liberties we enjoy today.
Thank you for voicing your discontent, your anger, and your fears.
My late grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she was extremely wise. I can recall her saying on more than one occasion - Never judge a person’s path in life until you have walked a mile in that person’s shoes.
The only shoes I have walked in during this life are mine. I acknowledge that my walk has been substantially easier than others. But, despite that, despite how fortunate I’ve been, I still have the ability to see others who are making their way along their paths. I have the ability to see their struggles, to see their reality, to see the inequalities they face. I have the ability to see that we are not all walking the same path. I have the ability to see these things because I choose to. I have the ability to see and acknowledge that we are not equal. Not yet, anyway.
I do not know the path that author of the “I am not a disgrace” post has walked in this life. I will not assume to understand the trials or obstacles she may have faced. I am glad that she does not feel like a second-class citizen, or that her voice is not heard, or that she is not respected because she is a woman.
She needs to realize, though, that not every American woman can echo her sentiments, just as they cannot echo mine.
Remember, we don’t usually see things as they are; we see them as we are.