“You Are Not Equal” had a “tone” the commentators said. It was “offensive” and “hysterical” and “bitchy” and “condescending,” they yelled. I was throwing a “temper tantrum,” they cried.
They are right.
Vocal women always have a tone. Assigned by others. A tone assigned by others no matter the intent. An outspoken woman always has a tone. A powerful tone. A passionate tone. A tone many dislike and criticize. A tone many ostracize. A tone infuriating enough for debate.
Have you noticed the rhetoric surrounding powerful women? Those women who speak whenever they please. Without permission. Those women whose passion for justice erupts and bolts within them with a wicked force. Those same women who must restrain themselves and speak eloquently and respectfully so they are not seen as aggressive or abrasive. Because only men are granted those emotional rights sans criticism.
Have you noticed the female politicians? Standing proud amidst blatant sexism clouding their presence? Standing tall amidst the disgusting words and spewed sexist sentiments overshadowing their force? Have you noticed?
Remember all of those women, those distinguished women, who were labeled shrill and emotional and temperamental and ugly?
Let’s ask ourselves why. Let’s ask why sexism is so tolerated, so mainstream. Why we discuss women, influential women, the way we don’t discuss men of similar status? Why we talk about women’s age and their temperament? Their bodies and their sexuality? They are politicians, after all. They are qualified. They are experienced. They are smart and unwavering and zealous. And yet we discuss them, superficially. We boil them down to their features, to their attitudes, to their clothes. We discuss their “smart pantsuits” and their “neat hair” and their smiles. And when they don’t smile enough for us they are unpleasant shrews? How many times have you heard and uttered“he should smile more”?
How dare we spend our lives telling women that showing emotion makes them appear weak and then berate them for being too stoical on the campaign trail? Didn’t we tell them to “suck it up” and “act like a man” and “this is a man’s world”?
How dare we spend our lives telling women to play by the rules, rules created by men, and penalize them for wanting to revise those rules? Didn’t we tell them we needed diversity of ideas and intellect?
How dare we tell women their compassion and sensitivity make them irrational? Especially when some of the most important female-dominated careers — nursing and teaching and social work and psychology — thrive on those traits and are the foundations of our society.
How dare we strip women of their confidence and diminish their laborious climb by eluding they are part of something just because they are women? Didn’t we create these barriers? Didn’t we create these standards? Do we have no shame?
How dare we tell each other sexism does not exist when it’s so revoltingly intertwined in all we see and do? Do we not hear each other? Are we not listening?
We cannot diminish a woman’s success by branding her a bitch, or a slut, or a bored housewife. Instead, we should call her a warrior, a hero, and a renegade.
Imagine a world where we don’t have to grapple with how to raise strong girls and instead just focus on how to raise good human beings. A place where girls practice martial arts not to learn confidence and self-defense but for fun and for sport. Imagine a world where girls aren’t encouraged and persuaded to apply to STEM programs and are instead enrolling because that’s what kids do. Imagine a world where a girl watches other women come to power and be celebrated. A world when a woman in power isn’t a spectacle but a norm. Isn’t that a world we all want?