The news told me that today I should protest by walking out of my classes in order to highlight the sexism still experienced by women.
I learned this plan as I was on the commute to school with the usual excitement in my chest of another day learning and working. With so much expansion and leading planned for the day walking out would be a true disappointment!
“A Day Without A Woman” doesn’t make me feel celebrated or integrated into the wonderful warm and prickly human family – rather it makes me feel silenced, pious and victimized. I will save those feelings for another day. And in solidarity with those who choose to walk out I will protest the sexism (that still exists) in another way.
Because today is my “Day With Women” to rejoice in my school and work, and to be grateful that I am able to participate in them as a legal equal (when so many other women aren’t).
I believe that by staying IN my engineering courses today I will be doing more for sexism than by walking out. The more that I can expose myself to others in situations where I would not be expected to be the more I am able to help change perceived women’s roles. Being able to take these courses and chose this career is one of the great victories of previous feminist movements, and I am not willing to miss one moment of the excited learning experience I am privy to.
While it is important to let righteous anger keep our values protected through protesting, it is also important to have softness and feel celebration with “the other”. Change is best swallowed through grace and understanding.
As I continue to work through what feminism looks like to me, I will be choosing today to simply celebrate being a woman. Here are some ways to do that:
1. Take Up Your Full Place At Work
Fill the space around you with passion and voice! It is a position previous generations had to fight for, and it is one which has only been half carved for you. You may be hired but not listened to, you may be accepted but not respected in your school. The second half of the work is up to you!
Joyously expand and participate without fear in the workings of your day. Present ideas proudly, speak and be wrong.
While much of the sexism we experience is out of our control, it is important to focus on what we can actively do to make our own equality and to build our own space. We, the women at work and school set the tone for how women at work and school are to be perceived.
A great podcast about this topic: Taking Up Space
2. Believe Yourself
The Imposter Syndrome that is so common in women can be exhausting and grating. Without needing to find the producer of these feelings, spend some time today letting them go. Find a way to believe that you belong where you are.
So often I catch myself looking around at the incredibly intelligent and driven students in my classroom and think “How dare I sit with these geniuses? Why do I think I could participate on such an elevated level of science and intelligence?” Well today I will pretend to be the female Elon Musk that I’ve always wanted to be. Today I will believe the feedback that I get from others and accept that I belong where I have achieved to be.
3. Find “Girl Power”
What are the qualities of femininity and masculinity in yourself? How do you view feminine qualities and which do you value or repulse?
Spending so much time around men, and trying to identify myself as strong and powerful can sometimes trick me into emulating a man. I catch myself thinking that to be better I must be more manly. Rey was so cool because she was a tom boy and strong female leads in film seem to have not grown up playing with dolls.
So what do I do with the pink baby clothes under my bed? And the roses on my desk? Do they have a spot beside my camping gear and textbooks?
A broken shard of steel from a stress test in one of my labs rests beside my antique candy dish of earrings – how do I rationalize that?
It is important for each of us to understand our own characters and the different flavours of qualities that make us up. It is even more important to avoid identity politics that might demand we develop certain characteristics over others when that strays from our true passions. When I try to be more manly in order to be a better “Woman in STEM”, I feel cracked and pulled. It reinforces the idea that feminine qualities are not good ones to have (which may be the basis of sexism in the first place).
So today, find the feminine qualities in yourself and be soft with them, ask for their purpose, their worth, and see if the way you are identifying yourself is limiting their development.
4. Hug Your Sisters!
All around me there are women who amaze! How incredible it is to watch them strive for what they want and achieve all that they have. The wisdom and maturity I see in my friends and family makes me feel a student among “Buddhas”. With such strength they move through life decisions!
My mother (who is the most inspiring of them all) moved across the country to go back to college and change our whole family’s way of life for the better. What courage it must have taken to leave a long marriage and change everything about life that you had known before – and at 40! Tirelessly she works to learn and create. She empowers and emboldens, demanding that each of her daughters and step daughter are living the life full of love and courage that they deserve. (Hear more about her amazing life in her podcast interview.)
This example of women going out on their own to change their lives and their futures in spite of terrifying unknowns is seen so often! My Aunt Linda, and friend Basak moved countries at young ages to cultivate futures they wanted. My sister and step sister – who have dealt with intense emotional burdens – actively push past them while reaching out to help others with their own!
A beautiful walk with Sydney, Lidija, Cassidy, Elizabeth or my Grandma fills my heart to burst with wisdom and emotional insight. The perspectives of these women are so wide and full – forever shifting my own in new and important ways.
Celebrate the women in your life!
I believe the strength of a woman comes from her understanding of her own weakness – wrestling with ones’ brother will teach us early on that our bodies are not as strong as the rest of the world. We then grow up intimate with vulnerability and danger, which leaves us free to develop ultimate bravery.
This bravery is cultivated in that close walk with mortality – we learn deeply that life is fragile and we overcome fear in this way. This allows for life and birth and pain to be encompassed in our wide arms. Tears and laughter and all that crosses the heart’s horizon are easily accepted. May we also share this strength with the men in our lives.
As we learn from each other let us do it with joy and surprise that each of us is able to carry around the complex selves that we have and fold them into the interconnected world we have built.