March provided an opportunity for critical reflection on gender inequality and issues affecting women. It was a true study in contradiction. March, as Women’s History Month, was a chance to celebrate the many fierce, female personas who refused to accept the hand they were dealt, refused to stay silent, when their voices needed to ring out for themselves and for others.
My 10-year old daughter did a school report on Mae Jemison , the first female, African-American astronaut. As a result, we had many conversations about how it is important to reach for your dreams, even when no one who looks like you has ever done what you want to do. I was particularly struck by Ms. Jemison’s quote: “Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations. If you adopt to their attitudes, then the possibility won’t exist because you’ll already have shut it out … You can hear other people’s wisdom, but you’ve got to re-evaluate the world for yourself.”
However, I can remember no time in my own life when I felt like my rights as a woman were so under attack. I came of age in the late-1980s. The Equal Rights Amendment had failed in 1982, when I was too young to have taken an active part in that struggle. Roe v. Wade had been a victory of nearly a decade prior. Birth control options and reproductive counseling were something that was easily accessible and free on my college campus. I’ve lived my adult life in the progressive, urban confines of either the east or west coasts, so it has been easy to be lulled into a sense of complacency.
At the end of March, I attended a screening of Miss Representation, the documentary film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. The media images and statistics presented in the film were both graphic and staggering. Like Ms. Newsom, if I want to see a world where women’s and reproductive rights are a certainty for my daughters and young women (and men) are taught to value what they have to say, rather than what their bodies look like, then it is time to step out and actively change the dialogue in our communities, board rooms and places where government policy is being made. I have taken the first step on the road by joining the Emerge Class of 2012.
As March drew to a close, a source of inspiration in the face of incredible hardship emerged in watching Aung San Suu Kyi campaign to become a member of parliament in Burma. Ms. Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was held as a political prisoner under house arrest in Burma for more than two decades. During that time, her message of non-violent resistance and personal sacrifice, being separated from her children and dying spouse, motivated millions to demand more of the military dictators ruling their country. On April 1st, she was elected to the lower house of the Burmese parliament. While the National League for Democracy, her opposition party, is still far outnumbered in the parliament, their presence will no doubt bring about changes in policy and heightened attention from the world community. Had Ms. Suu Kyi not made the choice to leave behind a more comfortable life as a mother and academic living away from Burma, and return to her country, assuming a role she knew would be filled with personal sacrifice, a nation would not now be poised to emerge from repression to democracy.
The choice between complacency and action is never easy. Given the near constant stream of negative media images coming from an ever-increasing number of media and social media outlets and pervasive rhetoric that permits a young woman to be called a “slut” because she dared to speak out on behalf of reproductive rights, it’s clear that complacency is no longer an option.
Class of 2012