The week has had jolting moments of disappointment, heavy-hearted thoughts about what the future holds, peppered with the need to check my words before I spewed them. In the midst of hate, vitriol, and downright shady stuff going on in the world, I must hold onto my belief we each have a value equal to another life regardless of the color of our skin, the genitals between our legs, nor the religion we choose to follow.
“I am a feminist.”
It was impossible to mutter those words for so many years growing up. I mean, I didn’t even really know I was becoming one. I certainly wasn’t taught this growing up or shown any examples of what a feminist looked like or acted like. It only started as a ‘feeling’.
My father ruled our home with a uniquely conservative view (some of the stuff he still says today doesn’t add up in my head, but whatevs…) and a strong hand of discipline. I chalked it up to doing the best he could with what he knew. For this, I’m forever grateful. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that he raised me so right, I couldn’t have grown up to appreciate all my left choices later on. Yet, I went into the world uncertain what you called a girl who felt worthy of so much more than what she was actually experiencing.
…but there I was. A young woman in a very real, fast-moving, loud, smelly, insulting, inappropriate adult world. I went into this overwhelming, overstimulated, overtestosteroned system hearing derogatory messages about who I was as a female. Some descriptors I can recall quickly:
- gold digger
All I wanted was to be treated equally.
There is no way I can recollect all the inappropriate behaviors I’ve experienced throughout my years in personal and professional settings. I also admit, I was ill-equipped to handle any of them. I was taught to be quiet growing up (although my report cards should have been the first clue I would later become a feminist one day, “Sheryl is a fantastic student, but she needs to control her talking.“) Being silent was an expectation of girls everywhere.
Many times I’ve wondered what my father would have thought, though, had he known what his years of silencing would later mean for his once little girl. She would have experiences which included:
- men who squeezed my knees in meetings or reached over and touched my legs to “get my attention”
- men who put their arms around me even when I bristled from their touch (and to this very day I still struggle with people putting their arms around my shoulders)
- dirty jokes being shared among male colleagues while I was left to uncomfortably laugh them off
- being called a bitch (honestly, I lost track of how many times) because I was aggressive in some way (for shame!)
- fetching coffee for men who were supposed to be my equals in meetings (…and I might have spit in one or two cups…)
- pretending to be fragile, cutesy, while wearing plunging necklines to get a meager 25-cent raise here and there
- being considered secondary most of my adult professional life
I mean, seriously, the list goes on-and-on. During my twenties, my husband became my biggest champion. I would even venture to say was my first feminist friend!
I vowed my daughters would not endure menial, trivial, unsuitable experiences like I. Their lives would certainly be a richer set of opportunities. After all, they had more rights coming down the line, even though we are still only at 78 cents to every man’s dollar. (It will be 2058 before we catch up to men at the rate we are going.)
Our son would be raised to respect his wife and ultimately his little daughter so they could have the best chance at having an equal shot. Progress is coming!
…then 2016 happened.
- A woman is not worth negotiable assets. (Vanity Fair, 1990)
- As long as you have a young, beautiful piece of ass, the rest doesn’t matter. (Esquire, 1991)
- Women hate prenups because they are gold diggers. (Trump: The Art of the Comeback, 1997)
- Women need to use their sex appeal to get ahead. (How To Get Rich, 2004)
- “Bitch, be cool” is a great line. (TrumpNation: The Art of the Donald, 2005)
- Women should expect to be sexually assaulted in the service. (@RealDonaldTrump, May 2013)
I’m left to immediately feel pity for the women who think this is ok, or is some painful form of “locker room talk” men share while women merely endure, and then ultimately expose how much they depreciate themselves because they were born with a pussy instead of a penis. Why aren’t more women embracing a radical revolution of value? When did being a feminist become so dirty again? It’s because we all got quiet, too quiet in fact.
“Speak up even if your voice shakes.”
Maggie Kuhn spoke these words. She took up activism in her early years, but it wasn’t until her golden ones when she was actually heard by others.
Today, I’m only a few years shy of a decade from this golden period of time in my life. Some would say, “Ease up, Sheryl, let the young ones take this challenge. Go into your fifties to enjoy them.” However, that’s not only a disservice to those young women following me who are depending on my strength, but selfishly, it’s an injustice to me. Why should I be forced to take the world’s cruelest sucker punch of my adult life?
I didn’t have my ass pinched or breasts ogled at in my younger years just so I could take more shit in my older age; I’m definitely sure of that! I also accept responsibility for what has happened. I slipped back into the familiar grounds of silence. I let worrying what others thought about me being too loud or overbearing and what that would look like for me personally and professionally. What the fuck was I thinking? I will no longer be silent, though. You can take that to the bank!
Some should be scared of me. [Even more, should join me!] Do not sit idly by, letting others tell you how the world will be. You show them next time!