How Sharing Your Stories Will Create a More Equal Future
On International Women’s Day, we find ourselves 48 days into a new administration whose victory broke a lot of women’s hearts by showing us just how far we have not come, baby. It’s particularly disheartening, given Trump’s overtly hostile-to-women campaign, that so many women looked at the two candidates and found more disdain for an ambitious woman than they did for someone whose hostility toward women is openly displayed even as he made claims that no one cares more about women.
The campaign Trump ran amounts to a gender crisis in this country because it showed us in no uncertain terms that how we treat women doesn’t matter. Being misogynistic and attacking women for their looks and their biology is fair game, and doesn’t cost you any popularity points. As a mother of a son, I’m horrified. As a woman, I’m disgusted. But as the co-founder and publisher of a female press, I’m energized.
In years past, International Women’s Day has come and gone. I’ve given it a nod, done a little cheerleading, and moved on. This year, there’s something at stake. There’s a question we face, which is, What now? How do we embrace Clinton’s post-election message that the “future is female”? Especially in the aftermath of such a massive backlash, and with someone in the White House who sets such a problematic moral example for our children? And if we feel galvanized, where do we start?
I grew up in the ’80s to socially progressive parents who bought so fully into the idea that I could be anything I wanted to be that they failed to teach me about gender inequality. My younger brother and I were raised the same, with all the same access, and I made it all the way through college without realizing, without seeing, the massive gender inequities that exist in America. This is the very definition of privilege. When you are privileged, you believe that others aren’t suffering. You believe that you’ve earned your way and that the roads that have been wide open to you are equally accessible to everyone. It took my own version of a feminist awakening to understand the truth — the truth that allowed someone like Trump to become president — that there’s a power base desperate to keep the status quo, invested in keeping others down, and who do not believe that all men (and certainly not women) are created equal.
My feminist awakening happened in the mid-2000s when I was already well into my twenties, the result of working for a women-only publishing company that exposed me to stories — of women’s struggles, sacrifices, and pain, and also, importantly, of their courage and capacity for endurance and transformation. There’s nothing like reading exclusively female authors to open your eyes to how deep gender inequality runs. I’ve been championing women authors ever since, for well over a decade now. I’ve worked with countless writers who fought for the many rights I took for granted in my younger years, which I now understand paved the way for the freedoms, choice, and opportunities I have today.
The wake-up call from this election is that things are pretty bad. Ask any minority in this country and they’ll tell you it’s been this bad. It’s been this bad for a while. It’s been this bad forever. Women know this too. We ignore passes, inappropriate compliments, unsolicited comments about our physical appearance. We bite our tongues when we’re told we’d be prettier if we smiled. We watch our male counterparts get opportunities we’re every bit as worthy of receiving but don’t. We continue to accept being paid 80 cents to our male counterparts’ dollar. But too often instead of confronting these issues as real social problems, we vent to our friends and move on.
My well-meaning parents wanted to set me up for success, but pretending a problem doesn’t exist does not make it go away. In fact, it’s more likely to make it fester. Which is why we must combat our current crisis by sharing our truths. We have infinitely more platforms by which to do so today than in generations past. We can tell our stories on social media, on blogs, or even just verbally to friends and family.
Stories connect us to one another because they elicit compassion. They invite people to step into our shoes. They’re different from rants and manifestos. Our stories come from the heart, and they’re invitations — to anyone, even to those we may disagree with — to listen. Recently, I really listened to someone who voted for Trump, and when she was done talking, she listened to me. The healing that came from that exchange was that I was no longer angry with her. I still didn’t like our president, but she is not his representative, and we were able to move forward without rupturing our connection.
In the days following the Women’s March, Clinton made an appeal to “set an example for every women and girl out there who’s is worried about what the future holds and wonders whether our rights, our opportunities, and values will endure.” I’m with her on this. We need to keep these conversations open and constant. And we need to do this as much for boys and men as we do for girls and women. The hope for our future may well be female, but if we want it to hold, we have to dare to open up better and deeper conversations with boys and men. When we trust our boys with feminist conversations and make sure the men in our lives really understand what it’s like for women — without qualification or apology or sugar-coating — change happens. It’s not just that the future is female, but that our hope for the future hinges on women being heard and acknowledged, and our entire society seeing the extent to which gender equality benefits all of us. So open up an honest dialogue this International Women’s Day, and keep it going.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on March 8, 2017.