I am a privileged white woman. I own a business, am married, have a 20-month-old daughter, and a husband who took the day away from the office to work from home and took over all home and childcare duties, so that I could strike.
Women's rights issues are different for minority women. Women's rights issues are different for black women. Women’s rights issues are different for trans-women. Even within our country these are differences I need to acknowledge.
I don't know that we can ever overcome the atrocities that humans have done to other humans, but until we reconcile and acknowledge history, the repercussive rippling effect, and the current suppression happening right here in the US of A, feelings of anger, resentment, confusion, and lack of understanding will continue. How can I talk about these things? What is my right? I don't have the right, but rather the obligation to acknowledge these things as a privileged white woman.
I am married to a black man and am raising our daughter into a strong, black woman, and my responsibility as a mother surpasses my privilege. I must reach past my comfort zone and acknowledge the issues that she will face and have the uncomfortable conversations. But doesn't our responsibility as humans surpass any of our societal positions?
Today, on International Women's Day, I am using my position to take a stand, make a statement, and contribute to much larger efforts in the ways that I can. I can't change everything I would like to in one day. Transgender people being killed and oppressed over their gender identification, must be stopped. Child brides forced into oppressive marriages and servitude as property to their husbands, must be stopped. Human trafficking around the globe must be stopped. Genital mutilation, often at the hands of family members, must be stopped. We, humanity, have a long way to go.
I am blessed to not be oppressed in those ways, but that's not good enough. Raised by a single mom, the first of my family to go to college, I have worked up from humble beginnings because my mom made sure I never thought we had any less rights or abilities or expectations for success. I never realized that because I had a vagina, I would ever be treated any differently or any less. So much so, that when it was happening, when I was making less than male counterparts for the same work, when I was talked down to and told to shut up, called bossy and a bitch for being a strong leader, challenged at every turn instead of having professional conversations between two coworkers, I didn't realize what was actually happening.
In my first day at a corporate job I experienced sexual harassment but laughed it off. I was laid off from that same job 5 years later at the hands of a woman for not wearing skirts and heels to work (in other words, not dressing like a woman) like the women in her department, despite my job description requiring differently. Years, experience, and conversations have raised my awareness of inequality between men and women even in 2017 here in the states. Since when does genitalia determine a paycheck, quality of work, or right to fair treatment?
As my husband and I began family planning, I made sure I had coverage through my job as a teacher and thought we were prepared. I had a good job. I had good healthcare. I paid into my retirement and benefits. When it was time to actually plan for "maternity leave" we realized quickly that 2 weeks of “vacation” leave then and short term disability paid at 30% for 6 weeks was not good enough. I also had to speak with no less than 6 different human resource employees and fill out separate applications to prove my leave, apply to be out of work but keep my job, use "family leave", and apply to use short term disability.
When the clear majority of public school teachers are female, this process should not be complicated nor inconvenient. It should also be considered family leave and not use of disability, paid at 100% for both parents whether by natural birth, adoption, or a host of other variations. As the only developed nation that does not take care of pregnant women and new moms in an acceptable manner, my family still had to take planning into our own hands, knowing that this country's standard of care was not enough.
I took the remainder of the school year unpaid "personal leave" so that I could spend more time with our daughter and run our new business full-time to see if it could support us. I remember replying to emails and voicemails from the hospital and even sending my mom to a meeting because I had no way of informing the client that I was in labor. This kind of pressure pushes new moms to return to work too early and to do too much immediately following childbirth. Luckily it worked out for us, but so many women go back to work in as little as days after childbirth, or are working from home during leave because we don't have sufficient support through paid leave, healthcare, child care, paternity leave, and just general societal support. That is especially common for families that don't fit into a heteronormative box.
After a decade working in professional sports, another 4 at the collegiate level, and 7 years as a public-school teacher I finally have the freedom of running a business on my own terms, sort of. I still face inequality just because I am a woman. I have become more outspoken because I believe men and women still don't understand their actions are sexist, oppressive, or ignorant. It's "just the way they talk" or "how they were brought up".
I expressed to a corporate banker that I felt it was inappropriate for him to call me "sweetie" and "honey" especially when saying "don't worry about those details, I will take care of it for you", and he got angry and defensive, shutting the conversation down. When I told a contractor that work was not done per our previous conversations and the outlined plans, he stated that "your way is not necessarily the right way, just trust me." But when my husband makes a similar comment, the contractor says "yes, sir, I will fix that". These are inequalities ingrained in the fiber of our upbringing, across socioeconomic diverse communities. Some are less destructive than other, but the inequality in thinking, speaking, and acting is still unacceptable. Human is human. Equal rights mean equality for all humans. Equal rights should cross all borders and all differences.
Since I own my own business, I chose to close my doors for a day. This is a mild inconvenience and would not affect many people so I needed to extend the reach. I added information about A Day Without A Woman to my emails. I posted a "closed" graphic on our social media pages with a brief explanation. Most of the response has been supportive, but not all, and I welcome the opportunity for constructive conversation. What I am most surprised with are women outwardly condemning women for striking, stating that taking a day off from work will not change anything.
To an extent, they are right. Just taking a day off will not make change. The idea is to impact our communities and show how much women contribute in business, at home, and economically. The women who are striking are connecting with other women about ways to make change and bring awareness to different issues that affect groups of women, if not all women.
Today, at the gathering in Williams Park in St Pete, Florida, I learned about renewable energy sources, listened to the Deputy Mayor talk about strides in equality being made in that city, and heard poetry from women who don't fit into a tidy box.
"We are so quick to check off each other's boxes even though there is no paperwork to be done." -- Unknown speaker.
Tonight, I listened to speakers on migrant workers’ conditions and little changes that are attainable to make huge differences for the lives of those families. Today, women are also donating time and resources to women's rights and support groups on an organized date to show their impact.
One day is not enough but it helps facilitate longer action and lasting change. Together we acknowledge and support women who can't take a day "off" for threat of losing their job, for fear of not being able to provide for their families, or for the fallout of their absence being greater than any positive impact in their lives. I march because she cannot. I see her and I know things need to change for her. We all wear red as a sign of strength, even if we do not always feel strong, because we are stronger together.
In high school I began birth control due to health complications and management, without being sexually active. In college, I went to Planned Parenthood for annual exams because I was a student on a full-ride scholarship, working multiple jobs to pay my living expenses and had student health insurance. It was my most affordable option.
I remember traveling to Europe on multiple occasions during my studies, and being amazed that you could walk into a convenient health care store (like CVS) and purchase birth control OTC without a prescription and for significantly less than my co-pay.
As an adult, I was diagnosed with a chronic condition that excluded me from individual healthcare coverage prior to the ACA. As a result, I was careful to keep a full-time job with benefits. I started my business during ACA although I still receive coverage through my husband's employer. Now, with the repeal of ACA pending, we have serious planning discussions about the implications. If he wants to leave his job to work for our business full-time or take a contract position elsewhere, I won't qualify for healthcare. Have you ever seen the pre-insurance bill for giving birth? Imagine that bill if you spent a week in the hospital due to complications and an emergency cesarean section? Despite our income and despite our best planning, I don't know that we could afford to have another child if I lose healthcare. This is more than illogical, it is suppressive. New measures might include me, a white, married, cisgender woman, but not same sex couples or single mothers, and many others according to current trends.
"I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own." -Audre Lorde
Until every woman in every nation in every class of every race has equal rights to her body, her choices, her healthcare, her family care, her love, her work, her expression, then none of us are free. We have a lot of work to do and a long road ahead, paved thus far by many fierce women before us.
by Hope Donnelly
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