I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar



There are stereotypes and discrimination that have plagued women for over a millennia.

An understatement.

There are varying levels of pain that often pass unseen, whether that be from misconceptions of “rightful place”, pressures to perform imbalanced responsibilities, or ruthless acts of violence. Women are certainly not the only demographic group to experience injustice, and like all of the others, the weight of inequality is something debilitating, sinister, abhorrent.

But, not permanent.

There have been milestones around the world of women reaching to greater heights, breaking the barriers that have formed within patriarchal societies, that trickle down to younger generations who boldly say,

I am so capable and I can conquer the limits I see before me.

I have written a couple pieces about strong women who I admire, Mae Jemison and Audre Lorde, so far. There are so many more. 

So, I want to do two things, I want to share a little about the Women’s International Day, marked yesterday, March 8th. I continue to celebrate the day with thanks, but I want to express appreciation through writing, which feels significant that I have the autonomy to create such a space.

And two! I want to highlight two calls to action that ignite a deep desire for change. From provoking thought to intentional action, March 8th can be both a commemoration and a rallying cry for transformation that carries into March 9th and well beyond.

A huge undertaking, but it has too deep a history to stop now.


The Beginning

I wonder if March 8th was ever surreal for women.

Suffragists parade down Fifth Avenue, 1917. Advocates march on October 1917, displaying placards containing the signatures of more than one million New York women demanding the vote. The New York Times Photo Archives.

Suffragists parade down Fifth Avenue, 1917. Advocates march on October 1917, displaying placards containing the signatures of more than one million New York women demanding the vote. The New York Times Photo Archives.

In the U.S. the first observed Women’s International Day was on February 28, 1909 in New York, established after years of fighting for equality. At the time, the U.S. suffragette movement was slowly gaining momentum, momentous because of their tireless day to day efforts. Most of those efforts were through engaging and educating the community via lectures and letter campaigns, marches, and trips to state capitals to make their case.

At the 1910 International Women’s conference, March 8 was suggested to be observed as the “International Woman’s Day” and it was on this day too, in 1917, that Soviet Russia created a national holiday after women gained their suffrage. In light of the carnage of WWI, women chose to protest and strike for “Bread and Peace” — an action that many historians believe had a direct effect on the abdication of the Czar and the provisional Government’s grant of the right to vote to women.

The United Nations signed a charter in 1945 that was the first international agreement to affirm the principle of equality between women and men. And not just affirm the principle, but invest in tangible efforts to support and improve their lives. 30 years later the day itself was adopted.

Fast forward to 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals was created to address 17 goals for the betterment of our world. №5 is Gender Equality. This includes many initiatives and policies that have been implemented to eradicate the barriers against women. It is the exposure to wake us up from apathy and advocate for change on the institutional and governmental level — like HeforShe:

An invitation for men and people of all genders to stand in solidarity with women to create a bold, visible and united force for gender equality. The men of HeForShe aren’t on the sidelines. They’re working with women and with each other to build businesses, raise families, and give back to their communities.

#HeforShe

This global goal to honor and recognize women’s achievements without regard to separations in all spheres, is powerful. This global goal to “[make] sure that women’s and girls’ needs and experiences are integrated at the very inception of technology and innovations”, is powerful (source). This goal must never stop.

The history is too large to encompass in one post, I’ve barely skimmed the surface, but wherever history can be known and shared, I want to note it.

Women of the world, unite!

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

X

Can you achieve solidarity using different names? If I name myself a woman and another, who defines themselves as one, believes the title womxn suits best, are we creating a divide?

I start with those questions because the X, in the movement of increasingly inclusive language, has not been unanimously perceived as effectively inclusive. There are groups who see the X as a signifier of recognition for all facets of people; gender fluid, non-normative gender, trans, non-binary.

But the opposing argument speaks against that very thing; those facets of people are not meant to be collected together as a special class, they are the same as everyone else, and the term woman doesn’t take away from that. Or, pointedly, if womxn is to be accepted as the new term then mxn should be too…women should not be the only ones to change for society’s acceptance, men should as well.

Photo by  Mana Amir  on  Unsplash  — Power & Equality by Shephard Fairey

Photo by Mana Amir on Unsplash — Power & Equality by Shephard Fairey

Womxn, Womyn, Woman

The change of language is a powerful construct. The Boston Globe wrote an interesting piece about the fluidity of language and the history and significance of these re-spellings. Womxn is only one example of many that have emerged over decades of time.

In 1975, the term “womyn” was adopted as an act of removing the patriarchal foundation by the publication Lesbian Connection, in the 1970s there was also “herstory”, and “riot grrrl” in the 1990s. The push against societal norms often comes from taking ownership of language.

Sadly, these spellings carry their own divisiveness too. There is an example of the same empowering “womyn” displaying roots in transphobia. It has appeared several times at the Michigan's Womyn Festival celebrating cisgender (identifying as the same assigned sex at birth) women’s accomplishments in art and music, but that celebration is not extended to transgender women, who are not allowed to attend.

So, there can be a divide when the title you identify with directly cuts off connection with those marginalized. And more importantly, cuts off connection to those deserving of equal recognition and support.

I personally appreciate the X because I do see it as a visual statement of intersectionality, but I also believe it is not the only form by which to communicate its definition. Nor do I believe there is power lost in the title woman. Woman does not have to mean subjection to man, though it’s linguistic history shows it has been derived from the word. You make the name what you want it to be. But, I hope, you make whatever name you choose a direct reflection of inclusive action.

What if we chose to uphold our actions as the guiding voice of our identity rather than a name? I, a womxn, they, a woman, he, a womyn. And that the focus is on our collaborative, challenging, uplifting actions?

I value both arguments and I choose to regard the a as just a letter, placing the power of my identity in my actions. I want to embody my principles regardless of the suffix this noun holds. The engagement with all people, contribution of my skills where I can give them, hearing and sharing the stories of women around the world...that is my hope. 

It is a continual desire for connection and application of awareness that enlightens us to what it should mean to be holistically, imperfectly, alive.

The Calls To Action of 2019

Every Woman Treaty

EveryWomanTreaty_Icon.png

I stand for a life free from all forms of violence for every woman and girl, everywhere.

I hereby join the call for a Global Treaty to Eradicate Violence Against Women and Girls.

Lisa Shannon is a boss, working alongside more than 1,700 other boss women and men, all advocates for the end of violence toward women. 

I heard her speak at an event called Be Bold Seattle, their 4th annual International Women’s Day Celebration. She described her experience serving communities in Congo and Somalia, war ravaged areas where the most sickening acts of violence are occurring against women, with little, if any, repercussions.

She described amazing women in these areas fighting for justice. Front line advocates facing these challenges every day, and who are making considerable progress. But the fact remains that at this time, their power can be cut in an instant.

One woman had been raped by a government soldier. She decided to reveal her experience with a journalist, and as result was imprisoned for speaking ill of the government. Shannon described that this was the foundational problem, systemic wrongdoing and ignorance that trickles from the powers that be to the citizens living within those laws (or lack there of).

The solution is to bring awareness to nations, to urge governments to consider the humanity of these women and girls, to uphold the standards of men, by enacting laws that create accountability and healing. It has to exist on that level because this is a worldwide epidemic.

Sign the treaty

Girl Rising


brave girl rising.jpg

Girl Rising is an amazing nonprofit organization dedicated to enriching girls lives through education to become full members of society and fully known within themselves and seen by others. The organization is a massive story teller, enlightening the harmful views that keep girls from achieving their rightful potential. 

Their partnership with other organizations and their aim to connect with all members of local communities helps build a fervor for change, locally led that will build across nations. They’ve made several films, including a documentary, Girl Rising, in 2017, highlighting the lives of 9 girls. Like a universal story, each chapter is a collaboration between the girl and a female artist of that nation. There is Sokha, Wadley, Suma, Yasmin, Azmera, Ruksana, Senna, and Mariama. 9 girls with unique stories, filled with shared hardship, resilience, and relentless creativity.

This year, they premiered a short documentary called Brave Girl Rising, which tells the story of Nasro, a powerful 17 year old Nigerian girl, living in Dadaab, one of the largest refugee camps in the world. She is simultaneously denied access to education and subject to the threat of violence, and yet remains determined to access the education that she knows will change her future.

She knows, despite so much evidence saying the opposite. She is relentless, despite the adversity. I am in awe of her. I left the theater last night with this weight of heartache and eagerness that was almost numbing. What a life is this, one she has no choice, but to live in? And she is one of roughly 235,269 people.

The G.R. writers said it so well,

“The statistics are staggering, but also strangely anesthetizing.

When numbers get this big, it’s hard to attach faces, names, families, and feelings.

With the relentless onslaught of news reports about global crises and the innocents displaced, it’s understandable to become numb to it all.”

So, it makes sense why I can’t wrap my head around it. It is as if my mind shuts off for self-preservation, to make sure I can still function after considering the hardship. But as I write this post from the safety of my home, I know my self-preservation is a meager thing compared to the state of so many women’s lives, including Nasro’s.

Change feels more real when stories are shared, when you hear the singular voice carrying the same echos of thousands. Nasro’s singular voice and presence is brought to life as a result of a mighty collaboration and connection. 

One such connection is the International Rescue Committee who was a direct partner in the film. They provide services for recovery from violence, skill-sets and mentorship, so that girls like Nasro can not only envision a life past Dadaab, but truly live one. Though the filming has ended, they are still helping Nasro continue her fight.

This partnership, this story telling, is tremendous.

See the film

. . .

I am so proud to be a womxn, a womyn, a woman. I am proud to stand among women who value, express, and honor their own pursuits as well as those of others. I am proud to stand among men who support women; not as unwieldy beings, reserved of our progress, but strong men who see women’s work as equally tantamount as their own. I am proud to carry the inspiration of those before me, around me, and see it carried forward by the generations to come.

Thank you, all.

To your fulfilled life,

Kels