Speaking out for women’s rights

credit: Ted Eytan

I wasn’t going to blog this week. What I wrote was more personal, more political than I intend for this space. When I woke up this morning, nine days out from baby’s due date and on day five of fighting a never-ending cough, my first thought was of my dear friends, fellow church members, coworkers and women/men/others participating in the Women’s March on Washington, in my city, across the U.S. and around the world. I was with them, in spirit.

At home, I scrolled through my smartphone and listened intently as Gloria Steinem, America Ferrera, Bob Bland and others spoke in the capital via Facebook live; saw pictures of marchers flood my social feeds; and followed news coverage of this historic day. The outpouring of support for women’s–human–rights brought tears to my eyes.

To everyone marching, thank you. Thank you for standing up, speaking up and exercising your constitutional right to peaceful protest. Thank you for your courage, for your civic engagement, for fighting for what you believe in. This country–our world–is stronger when we recognize the rights of women, of everyone.

There’s been a lot of criticism and confusion about what this march means and what will come after it. There were initial concerns about the organizers, which I’m glad were addressed. Others have criticized marchers as sore losers, but I don’t see it that way. In this time of change and uncertainty, I see citizens banding together to voice their concerns about and to their newly elected representatives. This is about raising strong women, fighting against hateful rhetoric and fighting for reproductive rights, civil rights, immigration and so much more. Others aren’t marching today because they disagree with platforms in this march, particularly abortion. I respect that. Everyone has a different story, a different reason to march (or not), to speak out (or not).

This is mine.

The first time I thought about my body was in second grade on the school bus, sitting next to my friend Emily. Our thighs stuck to the hot plastic seats as we rode to school and I noticed my thighs were bigger than hers. They seemed “too big.” I began to worry.

Growing up I kept a journal. Once I was home and stumbled across an old one from middle school. I remember reading something like this: I am fat. My body is so disgusting. I need to do something about this. I need to start running every morning. I need to eat less. I cannot be fat.

At the time I wrote that, I was the skinniest I’d ever been. I tossed that journal out.

In high school my best friend and I read women’s magazines, Cosmo and Glamour.  I noticed most of the articles were about fashion and beauty and relationships and sex. We poured over these magazines, laughing at the outlandish outfits and sex advice. I always felt a little worse about myself after reading them.

The first and only time I was sexually assaulted was in my late twenties. It was early morning, and I was on my way to the gym.

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times that highlighted the results of a nonpartisan post-election survey of ~1,300 individuals. Of those surveyed, more than half of the Republican men said it was a better time to be a woman than a man; the survey also found that all men, regardless of political affiliation, underestimated the amount of sexism women faced. “It’s easier being a woman today than it is a man. … Everybody else is above the white man,” said one man to the article’s author. I know the feelings and stories of these men should not be dismissed or ignored, but these findings, this idea, that it’s better to be a woman than a man today filled me with rage. 

Sexual assault is a wide-ranging issue that disproportionately affects women. According to RAINN, 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.

What happened to me that Tuesday morning shook me to my core. I was lucky my screams had startled my attacker, lucky that he ran. In the minutes, hours, days, months, years that followed this incident I felt guilty. Dirty. Scared. Angry. Ashamed.

This happened to me because I’m a woman, because a strange man thought my body was his to touch. Because I’m a woman, I grew up receiving messages that my body mattered more than my mind. Because I’m a woman, I’m still afraid this could happen again. So, no, I do not think it is an easier time to be a woman than a man.

To be a woman, even in the U.S., is to live in fear that your body is under scrutiny, is not fully your own. The idea that the government should dictate a woman’s reproductive rights angers me. That a man who bragged about sexual assault is now president angers me. That those words were dismissed by some as “locker room talk” angers me.

For women to achieve true equality, let alone a better quality of life than men, women must grow up learning that we aren’t judged by our bodies, but by our character, and that our bodies belong to us, no one else. We must earn the same amount as men, be represented at all levels equally in the government, military and the board room, we must not walk the streets in fear.

It took me a long time to feel comfortable in my neighborhood, in my body again. It took me a long time to heal. 

I know that I’ve been fortunate. I know there are thousands upon thousands of stories of injustices far worse that women and others have suffered because of their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, level of ability and more. We have to do better. We must not stay silent about what matters. Especially now.

This is why today, since I can’t march, I write.

To the thousands of sisters, brothers and neighbors that marched today, thank you for showing up. Women’s rights–human rights–matter. And equality IS worth fighting for. And I hope that’s something we can all agree on.

Update: I’m following this action plan from the national march organizers. Join me?

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