I almost didn’t join #ADayWithoutAWoman — Here’s why I did.
Since I first read about plans for the A Day Without A Woman, I felt compelled to join. I’ve been a feminist since before I knew what the word meant. There’s something about unfairness that simply raises my ire. Every authority figure from my growing up can likely recall a couple of (or a dozen) incidents when I exclaimed, “But it’s not fair!” And nearly just as many when I tried to balance the scales somehow.
I was head of the Feminist Student Union at Reed College. I interned on the national women’s outreach team on John Kerry’s presidential campaign. I co-founded Portland’s Women in Tech organization. I helped fundraise for Girls Inc of the Pacific Northwest. I mention these things not to impress, but to explain that I care deeply about girls, women, and the issues that impact us every day. And also to remind myself that this is part of who I am, at my very core, a fact that sometimes gets lost in the controlled chaos of life.
Even though I knew I wanted to be a part of this movement, this simple action, this symbolic day, I felt somewhat paralyzed about taking the steps I felt were necessary to make it happen. I kept waiting to say something at work, reluctant for some reason. I worried over exactly how to explain it. Do I ask permission or simply announce my decision? Do I tell everyone on Slack or send my boss an e-mail or schedule a meeting to discuss it?
I didn’t know, so I did what I often do when something is important, but tricky to navigate: I did nothing. Well, not absolutely nothing. After all, I did worry about it a whole bunch. I did get anxious and concerned as I overthought the entire thing.
And while i did mostly nothing, my calendar filled up. Suddenly the day was filled with meetings, and I felt wracked with guilt about the idea of disappointing people, just so I could stand up for myself and something I believe in. I went to bed Tuesday night, anxious and disappointed that I would be declining to participate the following day because I just couldn’t bear to inconvenience people (read: men) at work. And I felt frivolous and selfish and silly for wanting to, even though it meant so much to me personally.
In the morning, I thought maybe I should send a slack message to my team to let them know that this had been an incredibly difficult decision for me. But I felt foolish. Why would anyone care about my emotional experience around this? I felt sure that this would be another instance when I share something personal and it’s met with awkwardness and silence.
Suddenly it dawned on me. This response I was having, this hemming and hawing, this uncertainty and worry over the idea of asking others to ever so slightly adjust their day to accommodate me and my needs was so…female.
Here was something that meant so much to me, but was a very simple action. One that would require a few rescheduled meetings, but little else. And despite its personal importance, I was going to put it aside, so that I wouldn’t inconvenience the men on my team. UGGGGGGGGH!
Suddenly this day, this simple action of women opting out of the obligations and expectations placed on us by society became a symbol for my whole damn life.
Here’s the thing about me. I’m outspoken. I’m loud. I curse a lot. I have tattoos and a facial piercing. I’m 6’ tall and broad shouldered and deep voiced. People assume that I am tough and independent. That I am this fierce self-advocate. That I easily speak up for myself and blaze my own path. And there might be shades of truth to this, but only shades. In reality, I struggle most in life with doing what I want when it conflicts with the wants of someone else. I am a pleaser. And I can, indeed, be a doormat.
I won’t claim that this is a uniquely female experience or a universally female experience, but it is a common female experience. It’s one that I share with most of the women in my life to one degree or another. We are raised to put others first, to be sweet, generous, pleasant and accommodating above all else. Sure, I might shake things up with a provocative comment or a visible tattoo, but it takes a lot of pent up anger, frustration, and unhappiness for me to genuinely rock the boat.
I look back at my life, the choices I’ve made, the jobs I’ve had, the men I’ve dated, the man I married (and divorced), and the common thread is my difficulty in listening to my own heart, to speaking up when I feel wronged, and saying no when someone is pushing me to say yes. I stay quiet when the envelope is pushed, or a line is ever-so-slightly crossed. I stay quiet hoping that it won’t happen again, giving them the benefit of the doubt that it won’t happen again. But instead, the other person views my silence as permission and the boundary moves. Eventually, I wake up so far from where I hoped to be that I feel like my only choice is to run, which I do, until the cycle starts over again.
It’s this cycle that ended my marriage and began a year of intense soul-searching, weekly therapy, and a deep commitment to learning to put myself first. My struggle with this day of standing up, speaking out, and striking has underscored how challenging it is for me to take even the simplest of personal actions when someone else might be affected negatively by them. And this struggle has also underscored how critical it is for me continue to practice taking a stand — subtle or overt, small or significant. The mere act of doing something, anything, that is important to me feels like liberation and courage and progress all at once.
In my personal life, the smallest act can feel tremendous.
I’m not sure A Day Without A Woman had any large scale, lasting, political outcomes. I doubt that it led lawmakers to take notice in a way they hadn’t before or impacted #45, his cabinet, his advisors, or his supporters at all. But it awoke something in me and I suspect I’m not alone in this sentiment. It reminds me of a favorite Bobby Kennedy quote that has, for me, always explained why every voice and every act of speaking out matters:
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Robert F. Kennedy, University of Cape Town, South Africa, June 6th, 1966
As I think about A Day Without A Woman and the many opportunities I will have in my lifetime to stand up for myself and my beliefs, I am reminded that my actions matter, no matter how small, irrelevant, or frivolous they may seem in the moment. They matter. And I cannot go back to a time when I pretended they didn’t.