Dose #13: Woman Power: Use With Care
"A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his (her) freedom."
~ Bob Dylan
The Equal Rights Amendment was introduced for the first time in 1921. Impossible to believe, almost 100 years later, the country is shy one state required for this hoped for amendment to the U.S. Constitution to finally meet its intention - "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." We're not there yet. State by state, versions of fair practices have been adopted, but protections are often deficient, easily challenged or fail completely in local courts.
'Rights' are complicated business. Some relatively clear - a dollar is a dollar and salaries can be made equal for man or woman. But, every right can't be measured, often subject to interpretation more than legislation. Remember, "unalienable rights", the ones considered, "self-evident"? They're conditional, impacted by human decency, generosity, empathy - the clear-headed. Shaky ground for sure.
Of course, with or without amendments - life goes on. In order to get along, in some cases survive, women have had to learn how not to get fired or be dispossessed, bypassing the unreliable 'unalienable', agreeing to what we may not agree with, doing what we may not want to do. We've worried about our opinions being viewed as aggression. We've laughed at things that weren't funny, pretended to be less bright than we are, complimented more than we should, secured positions by means having nothing to do with intelligence and performance.
We've had to blunt assertion with empathy, wait in meetings to take our turn, prevent eagerness from being mistaken for control, kindness for weakness. We've over-explained, apologized, yielded, hoping not to be seen as threat. Dismissed or insulted, we've learned to hold back tears, avoiding the label that would surely take us down one more notch - "emotional". With so much to navigate for so long, the sharper and more abundant the strategies. We've learned to play the game.
What we want to be is forthright. To no longer pretend. We may have a chance. We're listened to more than at any time in the past. Will we be heard as the smart, informed, articulate people we are? It's up to us.
What women don't need to do - compete for the right to be dismissive or coarse or crude - the very language and behaviours we've had to stand up to, resist, tolerate - and bear. If it's true that with rights comes power - it's also true that with power comes responsibility.
In the past two years we've been witness to language in public forum some see as a sign of command, others see as distasteful, unnecessary, and outright disgusting. The word 'right' comes around again.
Will we use opportunity wisely or will we mimic what we've suffered for centuries? Should we ask why we saw crude behaviour as demoralizing? Why we rejected and found painful the words we now feel we have the right to use?
Words have power to create beauty, stability, health, love, clarity and hope. But they also have the power to destroy, not only one woman desperate to keep her job, but whole nations once the balancing effect of dignity is lost.
Please, fellow females, there may be few powers greater than language - as you now speak for more than yourself, don't merely follow. Discriminate. We need your words, we want to hear your ideas, will they be distorted or lost in profanity, or will precision and conviction, boldness and self-possession glow as beacons - calling for all to listen. Do we rise with words that bring the other down? Just because we can, doesn't mean we should. This is the meaning of choice.
As rights are realized - how will we proceed?