All my life I’ve been drawn to stories of women like Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dorothy Day, Clara Barton, and Queen Esther. These women didn’t ask for permission to do what they needed to; instead, they broke rules and made history. They didn’t conform to social norms. They did what they thought was right. I like that, and I always have.
Not long ago, I realized that for every women who rose above the status quo, millions lived and died in horrific circumstances that destroyed their bodies and spirits for thousands of years before me. They lived through hell.
Women were once considered second-class citizens and the property of their fathers and husbands. Yes, that was here in the U.S. In fact, it was legal for a husband to beat his wife and children, and many suffered such extreme abuse that they never recovered. Women were beaten until they could not or would not stand up for themselves. Watch The Color Purple or The Stoning of Soraya M and let yourself feel the pain of these characters, which reflect so many other true stories that will never be told.
Until 200 years ago, women weren’t permitted to attend any institutions of higher education. They were welcome to attend grammar school, but “were at a significant disadvantage in access to most forms of higher education.” Academies for women were not much more than high schools, and were “restrictive and inferior when compared to the educational opportunities available to young men.” In 1836, women were able to pursue their higher degrees at only two universities in the whole United States. Men had no such restrictions, and flourished.
In the early 1900s, suffragettes fought to vote, a right that had been bestowed upon men in the U.S. Constitution, but had not been extended to women. In 1920, women won the battle, but not without being imprisoned, tortured, and some even killed for their activism. I still get chills thinking about the bravery of these women, and I’ll always vote because of their sacrifices on my behalf. Watch Suffragette to better understand their struggles.
The Women’s Liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s — which I am so, so pissed that I missed — focused on the fact that women outnumbered men (51% of the American population) and still had nowhere near as many rights and opportunities. They focused on a variety of causes, including better pay, more higher education admissions, reproductive freedom, better employment opportunities, and among other things, dissolving the traditional gender roles so women weren’t limited to domestic roles. The term “feminist” was used to describe these revolutionary women who spoke out for equality and absorbed every punch they were dealt. They are both revered and vilified by all manner of historians.
Even now, women are undervalued in the American workplace, and underrepresented in leadership roles, on boards, and in Congress. Women have to work twice as hard to gain the same success as their male counterparts even with superior education and experience. Look at the leadership of any Fortune 500 company and you’ll see that most are overwhelmingly comprised of men, unless they are women-owned organizations. And the gender pay gap is another can of worms entirely; women still earn about 80% of what men earn to do the same jobs. And men are selected for promotions more often than women.
Women have continued to push for equality because for hundreds of years our country has taken advantage of our strengths and all but ignored our contributions to its success.
With the #NoMore movement, the feminism wave is rising again. Women are tired of being beat up, underrepresented, treated like doormats, and most of all, sick of being expected to continue to put up with it. And guess what? We really hate that we continue to be victims of sexual assault and abuse in this civilized day and age. Men should be able to control themselves and keep their hands to themselves, end of story.
Right now, many women who have chosen to speak out against sexual assault and abuse are being absolutely destroyed by the press and social media. They stay strong despite the onslaught of criticism, and I salute them for their bravery. Their voices will be the catalyst for positive change in our society, and I hope that even more will decide to come forward. Perhaps their voices will be the reason one abused woman will have the courage she needs to finally walk away.
Women: Assault and abuse and harassment leave deep wounds that never heal. A woman speaking out is reliving the most shameful moment of her life. She’s ashamed because she was too scared or shocked to stop her assailant. She’s ashamed because she’s lived with this secret for her entire life and by keeping it a secret, she’s protected the person who hurt her. Speaking out is the hardest thing she’s ever done, and she’s doing it for all of us — even those of you that choose not to believe her. One in five American women suffer assault, abuse, or harassment, so you could end up in her shoes. Wouldn’t you want people to believe you if you had the guts to speak out?
Men: Don’t complain about the storm of allegations against news icons, movie stars, elected officials, and film directors. Women have been putting up with a lot of shit for a lot of years, and these guys have had it coming. If you’re shocked, it only shows how ignorant you are of the horrors women have had to endure since the beginning of time. Don’t act like this is something new. These guys represent the tip of the iceberg. Just support us as we get through it. The process is just like pulling weeds out of a flower bed. These stories need to be told so that we can get through this as a nation and be better as individuals. We’ve been ignoring these problems for a long time, and now is not the time to strike these stories from the record and sweep them under the rug. Now is the time to listen.