Trigger Warning: Mentions of Sexual Assault and Perpetrators of Sexual Assault
Almost 3 years ago (March 2010) I read a post by the infamous Mormon Mommy blogger, cJane Kendrick, about why she is not a feminist. It inspired to me write my own post about why I do identify as a feminist, but it took me 15 months to write. On Monday cJane published a post about why she now realizes that she is a feminist and why she claims that title. She cites growing up believing boys were better than girls, her abusive first marriage, and working out an egalitarian marriage with her current spouse that has helped her evolve her views in her life.
How I came to feminism was much, much different than cJane’s. I didn’t grow up believing boys were better than girls. In fact, both my parents strove hard to teach me that boys are not better than girls, girls are not better than boys, and that girls were every bit as capable and smart as boys are. My mom worked for the federal government in Washington D.C. for 10 years and was the first woman to go against dress code and wear a pantsuit to work. My dad was raised by a strong, hard-working woman and has three very smart and capable sisters and has always shown that he believes in equality of the sexes (and by equality I mean of equal worth). Because of my parents, I was raised to believe that I could be and do anything I wanted. The truly shocking thing for me was going out into the world (you know, the cold harsh world of elementary school) and having people treat me like I wasn’t as smart, capable, and strong as the boys because I was a girl. And this has pretty much continued whenever I have left the safety of home and family my entire life. Like the boy who laughed at me at church because I said my dad was at home doing laundry, (“boys don’t do laundry, you idiot! That’s a girl’s job”), or my Geometry teacher who on the first day of my sophomore year explained to the class that us girls should expect a lower grade than the boys because girls’ brains just can’t compute Math the way that boys’ do, or when I was expected to do the dishes in my cooking class because I was the resident keeper of that magical vagina that makes dish washing possible, or when I got into the adult world and found out people’s expectations of me were based on my gender and not on my capabilities or interests.
Feminism to me has always been about choice. In cJane’s article she talks about the growing pains she and her husband went through when figuring out parenting responsibilities and that ultimately they have a system now that works for both of them and respects and honors each other’s life paths. That is great for her and shouldn’t we all be allowed to decide what is best for us and our families without some 3rd party trying to enforce gender roles or what they think the “ideal” is on us? Shouldn’t my husband and I get to decide together that both of our educations and careers are important to us and work together to support each other in pursuing those things? While co-parenting, while sharing household responsibilities, while being partners to each other? Why should my life fit into some box because someone else said so? And if someone wants to pursue a more traditional path, shouldn’t they be allowed to do that without judgment?
In my last post about why I’m a feminist, I listed some reasons why (and I apologize because switching to WordPress from Blogger made it so it did not format the same and it’s not as pleasing to the eye as before). Here are more reasons I have accrued in the last year and a half.
- Because a 14 year old in Pakistan named Malala Yousfzai was shot by the Taliban on October 9, 2012 for demanding to be a girl and receive an education.
- Because I read Half the Sky this year and it changed my life.
- Because I care that women are being sold into sexual slavery all over the world, including my own country, like they are chattel and not real human beings with real lives, emotions, and pain. They are treated like objects of someone else’s base pleasure and discarded and used like trash.
- Because this past election season men like Todd Akin (R-MO), Richard Mourdock (R-IN), Roger Rivard (R – WI), Joe Walsh (R-IL), Tom Smith (R-PA), John Koster (R-WA), and Paul Ryan (R-WI), made some horrifically awful statements about rape, pregnancy, and women. But what restores my faith in humanity are the voters who turned out in droves to tell these men to stop talking about rape and women’s bodies like we’re too stupid to understand science, fact, research, and duh, our own life experiences.
- Because a 20 year old newly married girl with no life experience told my sister-in-law she wasn’t doing the right thing for her child by working full-time and going to school. Because 20 year old newly married people with no children and no life experience should be considered the experts on what’s best for individual children and their families.
- Because I’m tired of man splainers trying to tell me what I really mean, what my experiences really are, and what I should think and feel and believe and say and do. Stop it, man splainers…it’s really old.
- Because it really bothers me that at McDonalds my kids can’t just have “the toy” they have to say whether they want the “boy toy” or “girl toy” as if toys had genders and it is only acceptable for boys to play with one type of toy and girls another.
- Because I should be able to leave my house and not worry about being sexually assaulted, but that’s just not a reality for women.
- Because 11 year old girls (little girls) are being blamed for being gang raped.
- Because I am a human being with autonomy over my own body, thoughts, feelings, experiences, knowledge and I allow all other human beings domain over their own lives as well.
- Because I’m a child of Heavenly parents who love me and my sisters just as much as they love their sons.
So, I have to say brava to cJane. Not because she came out as a feminist and all, because I read her blog regardless of how she self-identifies, but because she is a famous Mormon woman who has been speaking her truth a lot recently (her political leanings, her abusive first marriage) and it takes a lot of courage to speak your truth and let people say what they will about it. It’s not easy to have a big platform that reaches an audience of hundreds of thousands and invite them all to judge you.
“Women hold up half the sky.” –Chinese Proverb
No other book I have ever read has affected me the way this book has. This is a non-fiction book written by two journalists who are married who describe what it is like to grow up as a girl in much of the world. Kristof and WuDunn were journalists covering world events and human rights violations when they discovered that 200 million women are missing from the world. That’s 500 times more people killed than in the Holocaust. They were covering events like Tiananmen Square and being outraged that something that horrific could happen to ordinary citizens in China, when they learned that because of gender discrimination as many infant girls die unnecessarily every week in China as protesters who died in Tiananmen. Every year, another 2 million girls disappear because of gender discrimination. Gaining that knowledge led them to a crusade of telling the world these lost girl’s stories.
Kristof and DuWunn split up the book into different sections, the first dealing with twenty-first century slavery. There are more slaves in the world in 2012 than there were back during what we commonly think of as the time of slavery during the African slave trades. In these chapters, Kristof and WuDunn recount how common it is for peasant girls in parts of Asia and the Middle East to be kidnapped and sold into brothels. There they are slaves to the brothel owners and are often raped and beaten into submission. They are given drugs to make them compliant, but also far less tempted to run away when they become addicted. Little girls as young as 8 years old are sex slaves in brothels. This happens in 2012, people! How is this acceptable?!
The next few chapters, Kristof and WuDunn talk about mass rape as often a weapon of war against women in places like Africa and the Middle East. There is no faster way to break a civilization than to rape women to show how weak a culture is. Many times these women are gang raped and tortured to bring dishonor to a family. The worst place to be a woman in the world right now is the Congo where it is estimated that 90% of the female population has been raped. Kristof and WuDunn feature the stories of a few women who have spoken out against being raped (often victims of rape are raped again if they go to the police by the police, are shamed into killing themselves to save the family honor, etc.) and have done things to fight back and change their culture and how their culture views rape and women. Rape is more effective in killing a woman than actual poison.
Next Kristof and WuDunn talk about maternal mortality and how common it is for women to die in childbirth around the world. Any American reader should be shocked that our own maternal mortality is much higher than it should be. These chapters were my favorite because the authors discuss different heroes in the world doing something to help women give birth and survive. I’ve been a huge fan of Dr. Catherine Hamblin and the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital since she appeared on the Oprah Show for the first time over a decade ago. We Western women probably have never heard of a fistula, let alone live with something so easily fixable but so debilitating to African women. A fistula is a small hole that is formed in the vagina during obstructed labor that either creates a hole to the bladder wall or rectum, causing the victim to leak urine or feces constantly and uncontrollably. Dr. Hamblin treats fistula patients in Africa giving them back their dignity, their families, and their self-worth. Kristof and WuDunn talk about how easy it is to give women access to good maternal medicine and how it is just not a priority in some countries.
The next section of the book deal with ways to help poverty-stricken countries and women. Micro-lending through organizations like Kiva has done much to improve the quality of life for the women and men mentioned in the book. Kristof and DuWunn do a good job of describing what kind of aid actually helps, and what hurts. This was probably the most inspiring section as the authors chronicle ways that these countries have been helped through charitable entities. It has been proven that when you empower women, give them equal voice and say, that countries and culture profit for the better. You cannot discriminate against half your population and expect your country to succeed.
This book does a fine job of interspersing statistics and facts in with stories of real girls and real women. I found these stories so readable and fascinating that I couldn’t help but feel sucked in to their worlds. And I have found a new shero, Dr. Tererai Trent, a one-time victim of domestic violence, poverty, and illiteracy who went from being a cattle-herder in rural Africa to a woman with a doctorate degree. As a reader, I wept with these women, rooted for them, and was immensely humbled by their stories.
I felt my American priviledge just dripping off me with every page I read. Why did I deserve to be born in American? Why aren’t I living on the Saharan desert struggling to survive in my mud hut, raising more children than I can handle, being beaten by my husband because that is his right, possibly being infected with AIDs, and not even having the ability to write my own name? This is a reality for millions of women and here I sit on my laptop doing nothing. Until I read this book. Kristof and WuDunn have inspired me to give of my money, time and voice to help change the lives of these women for the better.
In the Appendix of the book, Kristof and WuDunn list organizations that the readers can get involved with to start helping these women change their lives for the better. I love that the book is named after the Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky,” because you cannot discriminate, eliminate, silence, rape, and kill, half the population of the world and not have devastating consequences.
I beg, implore, plead with you to read this book. It will change your life. I promise.
The book ends with one of my most favorite quotes:
“You must be THE CHANGE you wish to see in the world.” -Mahatma Ghandi
Do you know these names? They are a few of the integral women of the American Civil Rights Movements.
When I was a sophomore in college, in one of my English classes the major project for the quarter was to write a research paper on any subject of our choosing. We had to submit three topics to our professor, defend our top subject, and then she decided what we should write about.
I only had one subject: The women of the Civil Rights movement.
My argument: We frequently hear about the men of the Civil Rights Movement, like Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, etc. But so often the only female name you hear from the Civil Rights movement is Rosa Parks. And yes, she was an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement, especially being the catalyst for a lot of change in Birmingham, Alabama, but who are these other women? I want to know the women.
My subject was immediately approved by my teacher. She asked me why I was so interested in the Civil Rights Movement. I guess all she saw of me was a 19 year old little white Mormon girl from Utah. Why should I care about the Civil Rights movement, right? Ahem. I explained that my mother lived in Washington, D.C from 1960 to 1973. She lived the Civil Rights Movement. She would often tell us stories about driving home to Silver Spring, MD from her job at the USDA in D.C. and both sides of the beltway would be burning. She hated the 60s because it was so scary. That’s why I’m interested. This is my history, and my heritage, and it doesn’t matter where you’re from in America or your race or ethnicity, we ALL should be interested in the civil rights of our fellow human beings.
(I was pretty assertive as a 19 year old, for those of you who are wondering if I was always like this…)
So who are the women I listed above? I was delighted to find out so much about these names I had never heard of before. This paper began to mean so much more to me than just a research project I had to do for an English class. I can’t find my paper now. It was written in 1997. But I remember their names.
Ella began working for the NAACP in 1938 and her work with the Civil Rights movement spanned 5 decades. She worked with the prominent leaders of the movement, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thurgood Marshall. She was involved in Montgomery Bus Boycott, was a staffer for the Crusade for Citizenship (a voter registration camp), worked for student de-segregation with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. She died in 1986, but was honored with a US Postage Stamp in 2009. One of Ms. Baker’s most famous quotes: “Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit, a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind.”
Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie’s activism started in the 50s organizing the Mississippi Freedom Summer and became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party. Fannie was deeply religious and soft-spoken and often used Bible verses in her speeches. She ran for Congress in 1964 and 1965. She worked at a grassroots level as well, and helped start Head Start, the Freedom Farm Cooperative, and worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Poor People’s Campaign. Fannie died of breast cancer in 1977. Ms. Hamer’s most famous quote is: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Septima Poinsette Clark
Septima was born in 1898 and was an educator as well as a civil rights activist. Her father was born a slave and after the Civil War he worked as a caterer. Her mother refused to let Septima become a domestic for a white family. Instead, Septima graduated from high school and became an educator without a college education at that time. In 1919, Septima taught at Avery Normal Institute, in Charleston, S.C., a private academy in for black children. It was here Septima started her work with the NAACP. She then went on to earn her Bachelors and Masters degrees and worked with noted Civil Rights Activist, W.E.B. Du Bois. Septima is most known for starting Citizenship Schools which taught black adults in the Deep South how to read. Septima worked with many health organizations. In 1979, President Carter award Septima with a Living Legacy Award. Septima died in 1987. Her most famous quote: “I have a great belief in the fact that whenever there is chaos, it creates wonderful thinking. I consider chaos a gift.”
Coretta Scott King
Coretta was the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr. and helped lead the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Coretta was part of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped pass the Voting Rights Act in 1964. Her most prominent role in the movement was after her husband was murdered as she continued his work and his legacy as the new leader of the movement. As a new leader of the movement she founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and broadened her focus to include women’s issues, LGBT rights, economic issues, world peace, racism, poverty, and war. Coretta was a published author and educator. In the 1980s Coretta worked to end apartheid in South Africa. Ms. King died in 2006 and was eulogized by former President Jimmy Carter. My most favorite Coretta Scott King quote: “Freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.”
Ruby was born in 1954 in New Orleans. In 1960, Ruby’s parents answered the call from the NAACP and volunteered to have Ruby integrated in the New Orleans school system. She is known as the first African American child at an all-white elementary school in the South. Ruby walked to school every day despite protests from parents, citizens, and backlash the landed her father jobless and her share-cropper grandparents turned off their land. Can you imagine how brave Ruby must have been? Can you imagine that courage of that 6 year old girl? I can’t think of Ms. Bridges without tears coming to my eyes. Ruby currently lives in New Orleans and there have been many books written about her and movies created about her life. My favorite Ruby Bridges quote: “I now know that experience comes to us for a purpose, and if we follow the guidance of the spirit within us, we will probably find that the purpose is a good one.”
(edited to add…)
Diane was born in Chicago and attended Howard University. She was a part of the most successful act of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement – The Freedom Rides. As a college student, Diane was successful in desegregating lunch counters in Nashville, TN. Her activism did not stop there. When the Freedom Riders decided to cut their rides short (because of outrageous violence and deaths), Diane, and other Nashville college students, promptly decided they would finish the trip. Her courageous act caught national attention. Robert F. Kennedy, himself, begged her to stop (fearing more violence and deaths). Her response was to say everyone who was going on the Freedom Rides had signed their last Will and Testament the night before. Diane was also integral in the Selma Campaign (a non-violent Army to combat church bombings), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and has been the subject of two books and numerous documentaries. Diane continues to advocate for the civil rights, the rights of the poor and impoverished, and for the rights of children. My most favorite quote of Ms. Nash’s is: “Every time I participated in segregation, like going into a ‘colored’s only’ bathroom, I felt like I was agreeing that I was inferior. And I’m not inferior.”
To find out more about these remarkable women, click the links on their names above, or check out this article.