I grew up in a time when my mother was prohibited from having a bank account or charge card in her own name.
I grew up surrounded by the belief that women, like children, should be seen and not heard.
I grew up when women who worked outside the home were expected to defend and justify their choices.
I GREW UP
This week I watched as the first woman was sworn in as Vice President of the United States of America. One hundred years after we won the right to vote, we won the right to hold office based on those votes. Our country sees the significance of this, but not all in the same way. Some may see this as a cautionary tale. Some take this as natural progression. For me – this was a moment that changed my soul.
I remember when Sandra Day O’Connor became a Supreme Court Justice. It was a similar revelation. She stood there with all those men. She did not stand behind them – she stood next to them, among them. I kept the Time Magazine cover long after the issue had been discarded. I remember the first photo I saw of her with the other Justices. She sat in the front row with her ankles crossed, so delicately and politely. She sat proudly, sternly with the rest. She stood out with her bare legs reaching out beneath her skirt, but she never once looked out of place to me. She was confirmed in this position just as I was confirming my womanhood. She changed my view of the world and my place in it.
Since that moment, there have been oceans of women who have risen to positions of prestige and power. Each one felt like mountain summit to my heart. I witnessed the rise of women in our nation. I witnessed the shift and acceptance and struggle and submission and gratitude that came with their ascent. None of them felt like just another news story. I am grateful for the depth of my attention to these matters, but I am sad that in 40 years they still feel momentous to me. They are still newsworthy.
The first time I found the brave in me and stood up for myself – my first taste of feminist behavior (perhaps) – came in a junior-year business class in high school. It was a general business management class that I was very excited to take. The first day of class I was assigned my book (yes, in the days of hardcover books for every class) and opened it right away, excited to begin my business education. Each chapter was split in two sections: one for the women who will become secretaries and one for the men who will lead the businesses. Chapter one began with how to make and serve coffee.
I was stunned. I was 16 or 17 and I was not going to spend a semester learning how to make coffee the right way! I sat politely through the class – after all, that’s what was expected, right? Immediately after, however, I went into my counselor’s office and promptly dropped that class. I had never dropped a class before. Of course I had to listen to all the reasons I shouldn’t drop it and had to have a long discussion with my parents. Everyone said I needed to give it time – it wasn’t fair to judge the class on one day and one chapter. I remember looking at my mother with tears in my eyes, pleading, asking “if it starts by telling me I’m only good for making and serving coffee, it has nothing left to offer me.” I was allowed to drop the class. That chapter has haunted and angered me ever since. That was the day I learned that the world still did not view us as equals and it would be a long uphill climb to get there. I did not expect to still be so far from a summit decades later.
And now we are here, with a woman Vice President. There are many other reasons her appointment is revolutionary, but being a woman is the one with which I can directly relate. I watched her place her hand on her bibles and take the oath and I wept.
I am proud that a woman has earned her way to this position. I wish it weren’t revolutionary.
I am moved that she has broken barriers. I wish there weren’t so many to get through.
I am overjoyed at this moment. I wish it could be just another Wednesday.
To the women who grew up being told we are here for the enjoyment of men, who said “obey” in our wedding vows, who have spent years staying quiet: now is our time to cheer loudly! Be proud of the women who are strong and brave and stand among men without apology.
To the girls who have never known a world without a woman Supreme Court Justice, who see a woman astronaut as unremarkable, who have spent years dreaming of the things they will accomplish: now is your time to grab the momentum from this first slingshot and sail on, rising ever higher and higher.
And understand that when we, as the older generations, weep it is decades of the stifling quiet and pretty finally escaping from our hearts.
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