After the presidential inauguration, people of all backgrounds have joined together to seek change and justice for gender equality.
Junior Anden Suarez stood alongside her mom in downtown Dallas, fired up by a crowd that matched her frustration. She was not alone; the feeling she experienced was shared all over the world. In over 673 cities and seven continents, 4,956,000 women, children and men flooded the streets in solidarity against gender inequality on Jan. 21.
“It seems like a crowd that understood the things happening in our country and the kind of man we have elected into our office and that is people who care about the attacks on women,” Suarez said.
And as Suarez was in the southwest part of the country, alumna Lainey Giles ‘16 stood shoulder to shoulder in Washington D.C. with thousands of other women. She was unable to march as 590,000 people filled the route along the National Mall towards the White House.
The day after the inauguration of the 45th president, angered by his portrayal of women, protesters united under the feminist mission to voice their concerns about gender inequality.
“One of the biggest effects of President Trump’s inauguration in D.C. is it is sparking more protests,” Giles said. “Almost every weekend there is a march here for something different and so I think it set a standard for speaking out about different issues.”
Women have demanded equality since the beginning of the 20th century, they have held block-lettered signs and taken to the streets during different times in history; however, today, the political climate has empowered more women to stand up and take action. Women stand more united than ever and have joined forces to demand change.
Welcome to Wave Three
The feminist fight is not new. In the first wave in the early 20th century, women mainly targeted suffrage, the right to vote for political candidates who could make legislative decisions affecting their everyday life. The second wave of feminism during the 1960s and 1970s oversaw women demanding equal pay. Now, the third wave, focuses on broadening the category of what it means to be a woman and redefining traditional gender roles.
Upper school history teacher Tracy Walder has come to embody a third wave feminist. When she began her training in 2004 at Quantico, the Federal Bureau of Investigation training academy, Walder entered a class of 45 people, only 6 of which were women. Unlike her time in the CIA, where Walder felt she was treated as an equal, at Quantico she immediately became defined by fabricated rumors about plastic surgery. Making each training target that much further away, Walder’s peers forced her to work twice as hard to complete her training, even though she succeeded in the end.
“I did it all and became an FBI agent, but what I had to endure I don’t think anyone should have to endure,” Walder said. “I was harassed for the way that I looked and the way that I carried myself. I had never been marginalized like that before; maybe that’s why I am such a feminist now.”
Similar to Walder, women of the millennial generation have been taught to challenge traditional gender roles and defy established inequalities. These lesson are not only held the classroom; the media, along with our current political climate, facilitates realizations of the injustices that women face without a woman having to experience these injustices firsthand.
As the label “Feminist” has dropped some of its negative baggage and these realizations have provoked empathy, not only have more women in general been able to identify with the word, but also women of a younger age are identifying with the movement. One of these young women is junior Maye McPhail, who found herself inspired in this political climate to become more vocal in the women’s movement after hearing the voices of her peers at a semester away program in New York, CITYterm at the Masters School, that she is currently enrolled in.
Although McPhail had always believed in the feminist cause, she sometimes shied away from using her voice to challenge the always lingering presence of sexism. However, one of her friends from Boston inspired her as he had spoken out against race issues in his predominantly white school and by doing so lost many friends.
“His message to me was that speaking out for what I believe in would end up fulfilling me more than those friends ever would have,” McPhail said.
The ‘F’ Word
The word ‘Feminism’ has been battered by “radial” stereotypes and false conclusions; however, third wave feminists are working to erase these classifications. Walder has remained frustrated by the assumptions that linger with the word feminism. She disagrees with the belief that feminists are supposed to be self-sufficient and should not want to aspire to have kids and stay at home.
As a feminist, Walder believes it can mean a multitude of things and that women are changing the meaning of it every day. She thinks feminism is now becoming more inclusive and is inherently about choice.
“You can be a feminist and love to sew, want to be at home, love your children and want be a partner with your husband or whoever you are with. I’m a feminist that puts my family first, loves to bake, sew and cook,” Walder said.
We have seen this stigma before. In 1996, for example, while former Texas senator Wendy Davis, known for her filibuster blocking an anti-abortion bill, was running for city council, she was asked by a reporter if she was a feminist. Not wanting to jeopardize her political future, she answered “no.”
“I was afraid of being categorized as having a single-minded agenda, when I wanted a broad agenda,” Davis said.
In the past, Upper School English teacher Summer Hamilton shared Davis’ fear of identifying as your stereotypical feminist. However, after working at an engineering firm and hearing her boss refer to her as “sweetheart,” Hamilton began to look past the label and redefine what feminism meant to her.
“I had a picture in my mind of a feminist being an angry woman yelling at men; however, the more I hear feminism defined, I align,” Hamilton said.
As an English teacher, Hamilton has her students read Chimamanda Adichie’s “We Should all be Feminists,” because she believes feminism should be universal.
“It’s anyone who believes in equal treatment for women. Since I believe in that, I guess I’m a feminist,” Hamilton said.
A United Movement
But feminism has not always been a fight for all women. Before the civil rights movement, the feminist fight was a fight led by white women for white women only. However, with the recent surge, women of all backgrounds have united, realizing that having a different skin color, home country or beliefs does not make you any less of a women or any less deserving of equal rights.
Kim Morris, President of Liberal Ladies Who Lunch in Dallas, has watched the movement grow more inclusive as she experienced the second wave on a college campus and now is experiencing the third wave as a retired political activist.
“The inclusivity of the women’s movement has always been a problem,” Morris said. “In the 1950s and 1960s it was a white woman’s struggle and it wasn’t until after civil rights that there was an opportunity for white women to turn around and say our black sister’s, our Hispanic sisters and our [Asian] sisters are not moving up like they should.”
Additionally, Walder sees the lack of focus within the movement, as a direct cause of its recent growth and inclusivity. Instead of establishing exclusive stances on specific issues or aligning with a particular political party, the movement has expanded to include a greater variety of women.
“I do think that women who voted for Trump can be a part of this movement. I think there is a tendency among extreme liberals not to talk to ‘Trumpies’; however, we cannot just marginalize a group like that. You need to do something to make them understand you,” Walder said.
Many women have realized that it no longer comes down to your political party. Feminism has grown to represent a movement for total equality of the sexes and has risen beyond many of the issues of partisan politics.
“I guarantee you there were people at the women’s march that were pro-life but they still felt represented by that march which I felt was really powerful because at the end of the day feminist is about women coming together,” McPhail said.
However, there is still progress to be made.
Hamilton has felt division within the movement as she realized that some of the issues and discrimination that she has faced her whole life, have just recently reached and been addressed by white women. Watching tensions explode on Twitter between women of color and white feminists for instance, she sees this clash as a minor setback in the overall progress that has been made.
“You have to go through the little bumps and tensions. The fact that there is a conversation about it shows progress,” Hamilton said.
With this progress comes hope. Hamilton believes that when all women learn to come together and forget their differences, true progress will be made.
“I am very hopeful about the world. I think that all movements that concern the rights of people should be linked. How can you be so concerned about one group and not about another? Everyone should care,” Hamilton said.
Suarez agrees with Hamilton in that feminism should be a movement connected to all other movements fighting for human rights.
“We need to unify feminism. We are already divided enough as a country. The people supporting feminism do not also need to be divided,” Suarez said. “We need to leave that 20th century and 19th century white feminism behind and get a broader sense of what equality should look like.”
What Happens Next
Being at a semester away program has allowed McPhail to realize that there is no perfect feminist.
“I thought that I was a super feminist, but there were things that I didn’t know. There is always something else you can do. Just calling yourself a feminist isn’t enough,” McPhail said.
McPhail learned that to embrace a feminist title you have to speak up and support this label with your actions. Whether this be in their home, school or the world, any little action counts.
Hamilton also holds herself accountable to speak up when she hears a sexist comment or something degrading women. She sees it as her responsibility to educate her child to look past traditional gender roles.
“The things that you hear that can seem innocuous, but yet they are placing women in certain categories or classifications,” Hamilton said. “So whether I am at work or at home, I want to speak up when I hear something that’s problematic.”
And Suarez reinforces that a woman must hold herself accountable to stand up for herself even when it may not be convenient.
“I think activism is a constant state. I don’t think you go to your march and then are done,” Suarez said.
Encouraged by the political climate of the 2016 presidential elections, Davis founded Deeds Not Words, a non-profit organization that inspires women to follow the path to activism, because she believes that women’s voices belong in the political world. Through Deeds not words, Davis provides women of all backgrounds and political beliefs with the tools they need to get involved in this fight. She believes women should stand together to make a change.
“We work to demystify the legislative process and help women find a way into rooms where their voices can be heard,” Davis said.
In the Deeds not Words website, Davis provides women with sample letters from legislators, toolkits and a network of veterans to consult for advice.
“It [the lack of women in office] stresses the importance of women coming forward and speaking their truth and pushing for issues that they care about,” Davis said.
Walder takes it to the next step, she believes that a female president is the best way to generate change. In addition to female representatives, regardless of their political party, Walder sees the election of a female president as a necessary step in changing the overall perception of women and destroying traditional gender roles.
“I think if we want to see change in this country, our leader at the top needs to be a female so that everybody can become comfortable with that,” Walder said.
However, change is coming. After the inauguration, a record number of women of all parties have risen to the challenge and began campaigning for office. Even though Hillary Clinton’s campaign ended in a loss, Hamilton sees this influx of women involved in politics as progress.
“It’s important to note when progress is being made even when it’s not exactly what you want yet or fully accomplished, even that [women in recent election] is a sign of progress and to keep pushing,” Hamilton said.
McPhail also has faith that this progress will continue. She has watched more women, including her mother, realize that they can’t stay silent in our changing political climate.
“I hope that will continue to happen and more women will realize they need to speak up,” McPhail said. “I think there needs to be acceptance that feminism is a bipartisan issue,” McPhail said.
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