It is 2022. I am 60 years old. I cannot for the life of me fathom how the battle for women’s rights, women’s autonomy, women’s control over their own bodies, women’s equality in society, is an ongoing, never-ending fight.
I have always been strongly independent – to a fault, some might say. And, for the most part, I have been surrounded by men and women with similar beliefs, enough so to be able to ignore those with different beliefs, to willfully be able to see the world the way I wanted to see it, not the way it is (a nod to worldviews and Worldview Intelligence), particularly related to women’s equality.
Just in the last couple of weeks, there was the leak about the US Supreme Court’s upcoming decision to upend Roe v. Wade, denying women’s control over their reproductive rights. This will undoubtedly put some women’s lives in mortal jeopardy – once again – or still. It is galvanizing a public outcry which is good, but… it is 2022. I recently read the book, Looking for Jane, by Heather Marshall. It is a revealing look into the devastating consequences of not having choice; deadly back-alley abortions or being forced to give birth with babies taken away from their mothers and sold for adoption. Young mothers shamed for pregnancy. The role of the impregnators noticeably absent in these choices once pregnancy was confirmed.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban, after already banning girls from education, has now declared that women will have to wear the burqa and can only be out in public for “legitimate” reasons. Legitimate, according to who? And they will deliver harsh consequences, not just to the women, but to husbands and fathers if their wives or daughters are not attired “properly”.
I can barely believe this level of oppression and some small part of my spirit is dying, just knowing that this is going on in the world and there is nothing I personally can do about it.
Over the last couple of years, it is women who have borne the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic. More likely to be front line workers in all sectors including health care. More likely to have more responsibility for children who were supposed to learn from home, for others who require care. More likely to have lost their job.
In my young adulthood I was naively unaware of how alive the oppression of women still was and is. I thought feminism was a done deal, that women’s liberation was just the way it was. That women were active and equal participants in society, at work, at home. That the glass ceiling no longer existed. Just because I didn’t see it as a young CEO working for an Atlantic based health charity back in the 90’s didn’t mean it wasn’t there. I was too starry eyed and full of false bravado to see it, to understand how much feminism and women’s equality still needed to be championed. At the time, I was married to a man who believed in and practiced equality in our marriage.
Now, in 2022, I find myself filled with a disquieting rage at how dangerous the world is for women – whether it is violence directed at women, messaging that sends conflicting messages to men and women about everything from how they dress to sexual expression, less pay for the same work as men, double standards and pointing blame at women for violence inflicted upon them. Attempts through the centuries to keep women at home, subjugated to men. Naming women as witches, creating impossible scenarios to “prove” themselves, to do them harm – to drown them, burn them at the stake or other acts of violence to kill them and intimidate everyone else. I am reminded of this meme that goes around social media from time to time: why were we taught to fear the witches and not the oppressors? Because of the violence and intimidation. It was easier and safer to cower in the shadows than stand up for and with each other. We would be next.
It is hard for me to comprehend and experience, as a middle-class white woman living in a pretty safe city, province, and country, in a decade-long relationship with a partner who also stands for equal rights, how challenging it is to change these social norms, these circumstances of oppression. I know it is even harder for women of colour, for women in poverty or with less social standing, although domestic violence and oppression do not discriminate. It is harder for women who live in parts of the world where they have even less control over their own sovereignty.
I fail to understand how women, in my view, vote against their own best interests, voting against reproductive and other rights, like voting rights, that could grant them more equal status in society. Or how in some societies, mothers and grandmothers will actively participate in the female genital mutilation (FGM) of their daughters, actually and actively doing them harm. Although I do understand it is a worldview perpetuated in patriarchal systems where girls are supposed to be “protected” by their fathers until they are handed off into the protection of their husbands. Despite so many examples of how they are not always kept safe. These women are often protecting their own status and privilege – usually white – or perhaps safety in some societies, rather than advocating for rights and health of all girls and women.
I tell myself it has not always been so. That there have been matriarchal and equalitarian societies and there are some even today but they are few. That women have been warriors and hunters as much as mothers and gatherers. But then I wonder how far back we have to go to see this, to know this. Too far.
What can I do? What can we do? Continue to stand up for equality for women. I am the mother of three boys who are grown men now, two of whom are married. I know they are equal partners in marriage and child-rearing. They are advocates for their wives and families. They live and embody the kind of equality I have just assumed existed for most of us; and they make me proud.
I have not given birth to daughters but I am my daughters-in-law biggest fan and am grateful they are in my life. It is part of my life goals to always lift them up and support them in all the ways I can. Their families are my families and I am privileged to have an active role in their lives and the lives of my grandchildren.
I have a granddaughter. I am and will be her greatest champion. She already has a strong sense of self. She is one of the cuddliest children I have encountered, she loves connection – except when she doesn’t. And then she is fierce in making her desires known. And her family is fierce in protecting the boundaries she defines for herself, even as a toddler.
It is important to me to celebrate and support my female friends and colleagues. And the men who stand with us. We need each other. We need to hold each other up. We need to raise our voices and tell our stories. And we do need to fight for the fundamental freedoms that hold women equal to men, stand up against oppression in all its forms, to do what we can from where we are. It is for this reason I write. It is the least I can do.