2018 was called the Year of the Woman. The first election cycle to take place fully ensconced within the #MeToo era came to a close with a historic number of women running for office and winning. Many of these newly minted legislators were women of color, and the doors they flung open simply by their mere presence at the table reverberated through the nation’s marginalized communities. As a black woman, I felt the power of it. Representation matters, and I saw more faces that looked like mine in a crowd of lawmakers than I’d ever seen in my life.
More of us are at the table. That means we made it, right?
Well, not quite.
We still have a long way to go before we reach the fabled promised land of racial and gender equality. Last year was yet another baby step in a seemingly endless line of baby steps. Slow and steady wins the race. We step forward twice, get pushed back once, maybe even twice, ad infinitum. Meanwhile, the road ahead of us goes on past the horizon, the goal completely out of sight. No one quite knows the distance between where we stand and where we want to be, but moving forward is the only option, because we know exactly what dangerous territory lies behind us.
Thanks to the many hundreds of thousands of women who came before me, being a woman in 2019 is better, but it’s still not easy.
I may no longer pass from the dominion of my father to that of my spouse, but I’m not paid the same as a white man for identical work.
Birth control and access to safe, legal abortion may give me the kind of control over my reproductive system that women living decades ago could only dream of, but the war on women waged by old white men rages on and, if successful, would leave me with few options that didn’t include being either celibate or perpetually barefoot and pregnant.
I may be able to go wherever I want, whenever I want, without asking any man’s permission, but I’m not safe walking alone after dark, being too friendly to a male stranger, being too dismissive of a male stranger, or leaving my drink unattended at a party for fear of what might happen.
I may be able to set my sights on any job that strikes my fancy, but I can’t be taken seriously in most professional spaces, and I often have to push back extremely hard on men who believe, simply by the grace of their gender, that they are more learned than I am, no matter the subject or situation. When confronted on their mansplaining, most men seem taken aback, because they don’t even notice themselves doing it. Yet it happens ALL. THE. TIME.
And those are just a small sampling of the many complications of being a woman in this country.
When you add being black on top of that, all of the aforementioned difficulties magnify, and the discrimination becomes labyrinthine in its complexity.
After an incident, I often find myself wondering: was this because I’m black? Or because I’m a woman? Or both?
But there are no clear answers, only the dark, ugly feeling of being targeted, humiliated, overlooked, or attacked.
Discrimination exists as a claustrophobic maze for those of us that call more than one marginalized group home, and the uncertainty inherent in its twists and turns often makes it impossible to find our footing. You flounder, you double back, you forge ahead, hoping for something better around the next corner. An exit, though you don’t ever expect to find one.
I live in a country that once owned people who looked like me, and also a country in which people of my gender we never expected to contribute to society in any meaningful way. Women were to bear children and look pretty. Black women were to bear children and toil until they died. And though we’re no longer seen as property or lesser than men in the eyes of the law, we’re still nurtured by a society that views us as fundamentally weaker than men, both mentally and physically. Our bodies are still the subject of a dogged legislative agenda that won’t stop until it completely strips away control over our own reproductive destiny. Our bodies are still seen as existing almost exclusively for male enjoyment.
It would never occur to me to tell a man minding his own business in a public space that he should smile, that he’s good looking, or that I’d be interested in dating and/or sleeping with him. These are all things I’ve heard from complete strangers, and not just once. Not even just a dozen times.
It would also never occur to me to interrupt a man who was a subject matter expert because I assumed I knew more than he did, though I was not a subject matter expert, nor was I invited to speak on the topic. Yet this is also something that happens to women with annoying regularity. Even when we are speaking about our unique experiences as women in the world, men will often dive headfirst into the fray to talk over us, muscling their way into a conversation that shouldn’t even feature them.
Again, these are just small things, but if you add enough of them together, they become weights heavy enough to hamper our upward mobility and obliterate our spirits.
So, yes, let’s celebrate 2018 as the Year of the Woman. But let’s not forget that there have been thousands of years celebrating men, their achievements, and their exclusive centuries’ old dominion over the world and all the women in it.
We women can’t be content with a single year that only sees our total representation in Congress reach 25% while we make up more than 50% of the population. We have to keep pushing until the many layers of glass ceilings shatter, and we can breathe the fresh air and feel the full strength of the sun on our faces.
The thought of a world in which the full range of possibility and promise isn’t limited on the basis of sex, race, disability, who you love, or how you self identify is what keeps me going every day, despite the constant backsliding, the defeats, the frustrations, and the heartache.
As always, women of color, disabled women, women identifying as LGBTQ have a harder path, one we’ve often had to walk alone as our more privileged sisters moved quickly along the path ahead of us, leaving us behind. But none of us will truly be free until we all are, meaning we’ll have to wait for that last woman to make her way across the finish line before we can consider the battle won.