The Women’s March on Washington was a resounding and united call to action to defend women’s rights, civil rights, human rights. Whether or not you participated in one of the nationwide marches, it was on our minds, part of the day’s conversations, and in the news. It was a monumental event as the largest protests in U.S. history with ~2.9 million men, women and children marching for women’s rights.
As a woman, I’m a strong supporter of women’s rights. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that laws or government will change social behavior, perceptions or misconduct towards women. In fact, I feel fortunate every day to be an American woman and feel that claiming inequality would be a dishonor to the opportunities I’ve been given. I find it challenging to separate being an American from being a woman because certainly, I lived in and visited other countries, and I have seen greater injustice and abuse towards women.
It wasn’t that long ago that women couldn’t vote in America, and it wasn’t that long ago that women were expected to become secretaries, teachers or nurses. Legally, our country has progressed immensely and we have the right to be treated as equals. However, expectations of the past have not even bled their way out of our subconscious DNA.
It’s because of this that sometimes the harm is not even inflicted by others, but by how we treat ourselves that causes the most damage. Feeling less than enough, unworthy, lucky to get an opportunity often afforded only to men…
I find myself in this place now as a female CEO of a tech company. Not just a woman breaking the glass ceiling, but a minority woman, army veteran, born into poverty and once sponsored by the Pearl S. Buck foundation. Yes, like a sad Sally Struthers child from the commercials you may recall from eighties. Talk about rags to riches, living the American dream – I am the cliché that brings immigrants to America in droves. Except that the story is more complex than the one they would tell for the movies.
It would start with a filthy child being bathed in a basin in the yard. A breakfast, lunch and dinner of rice and fish, and on rare occasions the little girl would be delighted with a single spoonful of sweetened condensed milk for dessert. They’d show this child almost die due to lack of medical care. Then, fast forward to the future to find the same woman, grown with a husband and children of her own, a nice large house with indoor plumbing, a car, CEO of a technology company, and the honor of gracing many stages to speak.
What this story doesn’t depict is a happy little girl, adored by her mother. Nor will it show the stressed out grown woman. Maybe this is just the nature of life and why they say ignorance is bliss.
I received privileges simply for being the daughter of an American. When my airman father returned from his tour in Korea, married my mother and brought me to the United States of America at age six, a world of opportunity opened up. It didn’t matter that I was a girl – not the way it would have mattered overseas.
Being a girl was harder at home than it was in school growing up because my father had little respect for girls. I was weak, I was stupid, I was worthless for anything more than housework. This made me fight harder because my mama told me that I could be anything – a doctor was what she hoped.
My teachers taught me the importance of voting and what an honor it was for all citizens to have this right. My grandma was strong, beautiful, and demanded respect. My girl friends were smart and had huge dreams. All this helped shape me and encouraged me.
My determination and tenacity got me through Army basic training, and I think it was only then that my father realized he didn’t need a boy to be proud.
I was powerful. My gender had no bearing on what I could accomplish. Sure, there are distinctive physical differences, but not for all women. Just like women, there are slender and stocky men. I couldn’t understand the gender gap. Until one day, I did… and I do see it so clearly and mockingly like neon lights blinking in the dark.
The Women’s March was only the beginning. The policies in Washington D.C. over the next four years can and will make a difference, but it has to start and end with how we treat each other, and how we as women treat ourselves.