It is Time to Stop Thinking about Our Dreams and Act on Them

“I thought about running for president… I would love to have had the right timing.  But, timing is everything in life,” Senator Kay Bailey of Texas said this on Wednesday.  How many other women have felt this way?  Have you felt this way?

When I was younger I had dreams myself of running for President one day, but today I’ve come to find myself questioning those dreams.  As Senator Bailey said the timing just doesn’t seem to ever be right.  As children we don’t understand all of our other responsibilities, but one has to wonder if we acted on our “childish dreams,” what would this country look like?

Women hold only 17% of the seats in Congress, only 22% of all statewide elective executive office positions are currently held by women, state legislatures are only 24% women, and only 6 out of 50 states have a female governor.  In a nation where 51% of its citizens are women these statistics make one wonder where are all the women?

But not everybody is wondering this.  With Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin consistently in the news many people see them and think there are women in politics.  As a woman thinking about running for political office one day this notion makes me seriously concerned for the rest of this country.  Two women who have been beaten and bashed by the media over and over again are our best representation for women in politics, seriously?  Two women do not represent 51% of this country properly.

So many times people have said we need more women in Congress, more women need to take on leadership positions, where are the women?  These statements are all very true, but they are just statements.  To truly see more women taking on leadership positions we must tap individuals, and we must support and help them run for office.  Campaigning and winning an election is the first step in seeing more women in positions of higher office, but that first step is a pretty big one to take alone.

Many women believe that, that is a step they must take alone.  This belief and the notions that there are plenty of women in politics are perpetuated from a patriarchical system that is unwilling to change or adapt.  Because of this, this year we will see several key female Senators and Congresswomen step down. Senator Olympia Snowe, Senator Kay Bailey, Congresswoman Sue Myrick, and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords are just a few of the many.  With only 17% of congress represented by women today, what will that percentage after this year look like-14, 10, 7 percent?  Whatever it is, it doesn’t sound or look good for Congress and women.

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers said last week that, ““It’s still relatively new to see women serving in all these positions and taking on more leadership.”  While this is true, should we let this newness scare us from trying?  I think not. This is just one example of how the political system and the society that we live in are unwilling to see women in leadership positions.  To help women and to see more women in leadership positions we should be focusing on changing society and the way we define leadership roles.

I understand that I am a junior in College and that the change I’m asking for is not going to happen over night.  But I think if we do not look to the future and beyond we will remain stuck in time, and nothing will ever change.  To be sure this isn’t everybody’s dream, but for those who have thought about this it is time to act.

The system starts with us; we are the system.  To see change and more women in politics, we-the women of this nation- must run.  So we may lose our first time, and the media is going to ridicule and pry into our personal lives, and the timing may not be exactly right.  If we wait for these things to adjust, more and more women will leave Congress and there will be nobody there to inspire a new generation to step up.  Two women are not enough to represent truly what the women of this nation believe.  We represent 51% of this nation, and it is time we represent 51% of this nation in Congress.  It is time to act on our “childish dreams.”

Taking Back My Power in My Own Land of Oz

This past weekend I went and volunteered at Choices and found at the end of the day angry but also helpless.  Before arriving Sunny and Sarah had both warned me about the pictures, but it doesn’t sink in until you see them.  Turning the corner my stomach dropped with the sight of a stillborn baby, little limbs, and blood everywhere.  Part of me wanted to turn around right then and there, but a bigger part of me was enraged.  At that time there were only a few protestors and it was still early so many people weren’t on the streets.  But slowly as time ticked on more people arrived and more people were present on the streets.  As the protestors arrived saying good morning happily to everyone around them, even us, they spread themselves around the block and the posters doubled in number.

 One of the men protesting took his post right in front of me.  As we stood in silence- me watching for patients, him looking for people to spread the good word to- he started to ask me questions.  “What do you think about the pictures? Pretty gruesome, right? You know they don’t show these in schools.  I wonder what would happen if they did?”  Part of me really wanted to just yell at the guy, but I knew there was no arguing with them and it would just make me angrier.  But I found his questions lingering in my mind, especially as three African American boys showed up with their dad to protest.  Watching them for a little bit it became clear they were just there because their father had made them.  But then I began to think about our discussion the previous day about education.  What are we teaching our kids?  Who is teaching our kids?

This I think really resonated with me, especially after my last post where I was so inspired by our youth.  As a child we have very little power over ourselves.  We are taught to respect our elders and to listen to our parents.  As we get older, we slowly build our power and take it back.  Power is an interesting thing really.  It is possibly the most valued thing in society- power over ourselves and others.  But as quickly as we gain power we can lose it.

A car pulls up to the curb and inside is a young African American boy and girl, probably high school age.  Right outside the car door was that man standing with his huge picture of a stillborn baby.  The girl begins to shake and holds her head down; she is visibly distraught and begins to cry.  She doesn’t want to get out of the car but then Marcus (an older man who was also a volunteer escort) comes over to help and between the two of us we help the girl in- as she shakes she is crying out for help.  Her body is limp and weakens as more protestors surround us yelling at her to save her baby, to worry about her soul, and to think about what she is really doing.  Marcus and I just keep telling her to turn off her ears, we are almost there, and the door is right in front of you, keep going.  This young girl has very little power in her life just in being a young girl.  But that morning she made the decision to take some control of her life and take on some power.  This new sense of power is alien to her though and upon exiting that car surrounded by elders telling her she is wrong and a terrible person cut her to the core.  She started questioning herself and became unsure in her decision- “Help me, just please help me.”

I felt for this girl on so many levels.  In college I have worked to use my power, but always find myself questioning that sudden strength.  You would think that being in such a big city there would be so much to do that your mind would never find the time to wander or get lost in the past.  Somehow for the last couple of weeks that seems to be all my mind can do. Cars honking, sirens going off in the distance, and yet silence and helplessness fill my mind.  We spent a lot of time this week discussing identity and our role in the system.  I’ve realized a person’s identity has many layers that are shaped and molded over time very much in the same way a sculptor works with clay. As the clay gets older, cracks begin to form and older layers begin to show.  Our past experiences are essential in our present and future, but that doesn’t mean we have to let those past experiences control our future.

My anger towards the protestors stems from this place.  Here is a young girl, making one of the hardest decisions in her life– a decision both very personal and very powerful.  There was something so animal like in the way that they chose to exert their power over her and others.  Watching them at the corner searching for people that they could talk to and spread the “good word,” was like watching a lion stalk prey, and when that girl got out of the car they pounced as a lion would on a young sheep.  It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t rational, and it wasn’t right.

This week came to a conclusion most fittingly Monday night as I watched the Wizard of Oz in Bryant Park.  Sitting there I found the messages related to the emotions I had felt and the events that had happened this week.  Usually I  feel for Dorothy, but this time the Lion and his desire for courage most resonated with me.  On the outside I look as if I have it all together– and give me someone who needs protecting and I’ll do it to the -inth degree.  But, when it comes to having courage and confidence in myself, I find it hard to have that same courage I show for others.  But, I have a brain and I have a heart, and I am working on taking back my power and getting courage so that I can click my ruby slippers and go home.  I now see that New York City is my own Land of Oz- a magical place where I can learn and grow.  In a month I’ll be headed home, returning to reality, and I want to be able to believe truly that, “There’s no place like home.”

Move over Anita Hill, I Want to Hear What Our Leaders of Tomorrow have to Say!

Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, Anita Hill—these are just a few of the amazing women I have met while working in New York City this summer.  These women have truly spent their lives fighting for women’s rights.  They are inspiring and prominent figures of today.   But for me what has been the most inspirational thing while I have been here is seeing and listening to the youth in the movement.  For while these women are amazing and have done great work, they will not be here forever and with or without them the movement continues on.

This past week I was privileged to go to the Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) 10th year Anniversary Gala in Brooklyn.  I went in to the evening not really sure what to expect.  For me a Gala was just another fundraising event, a way to get big wigs together and have them spend money on your organization.  While there was some of this, the focus of the evening was really about the organization itself and the girls they have been working with.  There were some big wigs, but the majority of participants were individuals who worked for organizations that supported GGE and the work they do.  This really set the atmosphere and made it clear to me that this wasn’t just your normal Gala.

What made this even clearer was when Anita Hill stepped onto the stage and sat down with three girls who had been participants in GGE’s programs.  They wanted Anita Hill not to just give a speech, but to sit down and have a conversation with these girls and the audience.  I was really excited to see Anita Hill; I knew that she had done a lot of work for women’s rights in the work place and that she was a big deal.  But as the conversation went on, I found myself listening to the girls more than Anita Hill.  Don’t get me wrong Anita Hill was fantastic and said some very inspiring things, but a week later I find myself still thinking about those three girls and the points they raised.  They talked about intersectionality, the need for systemic change, and the displacement of their community.  While I understand what those topics mean today, as a 15 or 16 year old girl I had no idea what those were.  And at the end of the evening I walked away so happy and filled with hope for the future because of those three girls.

Older generations are constantly pointing out what is wrong with my generation.  We have no goals, we are all trust fund babies, we are too sexually free, we are too radical, and the list goes on.  For some people in my generation these things are true, but I don’t think it is fair to clump us all together.  And I think what older generations really have a problem with is change.  For centuries our nation has slowly evolved and things that were radical years ago are not radical at all anymore.  Remember when women started wearing pants or when schools were no longer segregated?  Those were radical changes at the time.  Now, walk down the street and you see a hundred women wearing pants or walk into any school around the nation and you meet people from all different backgrounds.  While the changes we have seen in our nation in the past century haven’t been that radical, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be questioning and trying to push for change.  For me those three girls on that stage with Anita Hill gave me hope that my generation and those after me are going to do amazing things for our nation.  While society has made great strides, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

Change it’s inevitable and is necessary in our world where prejudice and inequality still exist.  I walked into the Brooklyn Historical Society expecting to be overcome with inspiration from Anita Hill.  I walked out of the Brooklyn Historical Society overcome with inspiration and hope for mine and future generations because of three teenage girls who I know will do amazing things in the years to come.  The youth of today really are our leaders of tomorrow.


The Power in Choices

           Everyday we make choices whether we want to or not.  Sometimes we have really great options to choose from and other times we aren’t so lucky.  But everyone has options and everyone gets to choose for themselves.  In America today there is one choice women have that is very controversial–abortion.

            In the South when someone begins to discuss abortion the conversation always turns into a religious argument.  Having been raised in this environment it was really difficult for me to completely understand what was good or bad about abortion.  But on Friday our cohort spent an afternoon with Merle Hoffman at the Choices Clinic, and for the first time I walked away from a conversation about abortion feeling like I really understood what the fight was over.  You see, people try to make  a religious argument that is wrapped up solely in the fact that you are ending the potential life, but what they don’t discuss is why a woman shouldn’t have the right to make that choice for herself.  At the end of the day, this fight is over power.

            Who has the ability to make life and death decisions?  Capital punishment and sending troops to war are two times in which the government is making a life and death decision for  individuals.  Who makes up a majority of the government? Men.  Now don’t get me wrong I appreciate the government and the work they do and I’m not a man hater, BUT it does seem a little hypocritical to allow themselves to make life or death decisions and not the rest of the world, especially on such personal matters like a woman’s pregnancy.  And also who are they, men, to make such strong choices when a woman’s life, body, and state of being are at risk.  Do they know what it is like to be pregnant?  I don’t think so. While I don’t know what it is like yet, I do know that I’m not ready to be a mother and I feel like there are many girls who feel the same way.  So why can’t we choose what is right or wrong for us?

            While this is a fight over power and giving women the right to have a choice, there is also a greater struggle–the stigma surrounding having or not having an abortion.  In today’s society a young girl can’t win, if she gets pregnant and decides to have an abortion people will judge her or if she decides to go through with the pregnancy she is also judged.  Was it not just a decade or two ago that women and men were getting married in their teens?  Having a child at 20 was not uncommon, so why now is it?  Who are we to judge another for something that may not have been in their control.  Today we are fortunate to have multiple contraceptive techniques, but sometimes mistakes or accidents happen.  I believe it is time to focus on prevention.  Okay, pro-life people, so you don’t want to give women the choice of having an abortion, so then focus on preventative measures because the fact of the matter is my generation is sexually active and I don’t see that changing for future generations.  If abortions can’t be an option, give young women some chance to prevent ever needing to go there, help make contraceptive measures more openly available.

            I believe we have spent too many years fighting this battle from a religious lens; it is time to move beyond this and look at the reality of the situation.  Young people are sexually active, and if we don’t allow women to have choices there are going to be a lot of children in this world being raised in environments no child should ever have to experience.  Stop the religious bickering and look at the facts, this world is a scary place even when growing up in a happy household- imagine having to grow up in a household where it is clear you were never wanted and you are just a burden to your parent(s).  In many ways I think the availability of abortion and contraceptive options can decrease the amount of violence in this world, whether it is domestic or not.

            A choice–that is all I’m asking for.  Give me and the rest of women the ability to make choices for ourselves.  Give us power to deem what is right and wrong for our bodies and state of being.  I understand that in having an abortion we end the potential for a life, but allow me to make that decision for myself because nobody understands where I am mentally and physically better than I do.  All I’m asking is for power over my own body.  In choices, we have power.