17 November 2013

Fighting the good fight

My heart sister, Dana, is going through some crap right now. She's up against some infuriating gender discrimination at work, and in the process of standing up for what's right, is facing backlash. (I urge you to go read her story and give her your support--she needs it.)

What she's going through is one of those situations where I knew it was going on and didn't like it, but felt like since it didn't directly affect me and I felt that society as a whole has made good progress, I'd just let it go.

But Dana's story has reminded me that gender discrimination is alive and well in our society. And, not only that, it's gotten damn sneaky.

Gender discrimination is no longer the obvious "You're a woman so you can't vote" variety. Instead it's subversive, taking the form of "jokes" and "opinions" that serve to remind women of who they should be.

In Dana's post about her situation linked above, she quotes Jean Valjean from the sung-through musical Les Miserables: "If I speak, I am condemned. / If I stay silent, I am damned."

That's the crossroads I face now. I've seen this behavior that I know is wrong and damaging, and I've just accepted it as a fact of life. But not only do I now see someone dear to me facing discrimination that should simply not exist in an "enlightened" society, but I have a daughter. And by staying silent, I have become complicit in the society I'm raising her in--a society that still tells women what they should and shouldn't do, and how they should and shouldn't behave. By staying silent, I not only damn myself, but my daughter as well. And my son, for that matter, who would be raised with as many social expectations as my daughter.

So it is time for me to stand up as a true feminist.

When I was young and stupid naïve, I had a specific idea of what it meant to be a feminist. I viewed feminists as women who wanted equality for men and women so that women would have the freedom to choose the life they wanted without being held back by society. Of course, my brand of feminism was stupid limited.

I was one of those, "Feminism is about choice and I choose to follow stereotypical gender roles" kind of women. I believed that women should have a choice and I would choose to be a wife and mother. I thought that's what I wanted.

Yes, feminism is about choice, but it's about so much more than women being able to enter any field they choose. It's about more than women earning equal pay for equal work.

Feminism comes down to marginalization. It's about society (read: patriarchal society) deciding what it means to be a woman, and what's "acceptable" behavior for both men and women.

Remember World War II? Remember when all those ladies on the home front went into the work force to hold their husband's jobs and to build planes and guns and everything else the men needed while they were at war? Then, when the war was over, lots of those women didn't want to give up their jobs. They wanted to keep making a difference in their communities. They realized that they could make a difference, and when they were expected to go back to the kitchen, their response was "Fuck you. Look what I can do." (And then go home and still care for the home and family because Lawd have mercy if a husband was expected to, yanno, do anything.)

Society (again: men) wanted things to go back to the way they were. They didn't want things to change. They didn't want to give up control. When change became inevitable, they retreated, but the mentality still exists.

Unfortunately, this marginalization is such an ingrained part of our society that we often don't see it or realize that's what it really is. It's no longer about keeping women out of the work place entirely, but ensuring that while they're in the work force, they certainly don't ruffle any feathers or upset the delicate manly balance of the way things "should" be. Dana's story is a beautiful (and by beautiful I mean horrific) example of this. And it's not new.

When I was in high school, I struggled with geometry. I loved algebra and did well in it. I can solve for x all day long. But when it came to geometry, I became frustrated. I barely passed that class. And hated every minute of it. It wasn't for lack of trying. Like I said, I enjoyed algebra, and I wanted to "get" geometry the same way.

When I sought help from my (male) math teacher one day after school, he said, "It's okay. Most girls can't do math. Just keep trying so you can at least get a C."

After that class, I shied away from math and science. (I struggled in Chemistry and got similar "help" from my chem teacher, even though I did really well balancing organic chemistry equations.) And if I'd gotten real help from my math and sciences teachers, or if someone had explained that sometimes algebra-minded people struggle with geometry, or been encouraged even the tiniest bit, I'd have been more successful in those classes. Maybe it would've brought my GPA up. Maybe I might have even pursued a more mathematical career!

Instead, I decided I "couldn't" do math because I'm a girl, and it wasn't until very recently that I rediscovered my love of algebra and math.

My children will never be told they are inherently bad at anything. They will be encouraged to try hard and keep pushing themselves so they can become the people they want to be.

There are a ton of strong, independent, good men and women in our world who believe in true equality. Some of them, like Dana, are standing up and making sure that people get called out when it's needed. Others quietly fight the good fight from their homes and communities. Still others are silent.

I have been among the silent women who wants the right things but has been afraid to take action. Well, that's not who I am anymore. We can't count on others to do what needs to be done. We must be responsible for the world we want to create.

Beginning today, right this minute, I will stand and yell and carry signs and advocate and do what must be done so that the only expectations of my children as they grow is that they live authentically.

I urge you to do the same. Stand for what you believe. Make a change. And please never forget that regardless of your choices and your lifestyle, gender discrimination does impact you and the ones you love. Every day.

Fight the good fight.

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