Wednesday marks International Women’s Day, March 8th. For me, it is a day to recognize what has been done and accomplished by women, girls, grandmothers and nieces from around the world and in many different languages.
My definition of being a woman has changed over the years. Starting out from my childhood, my past view of a “woman’s role” is what I now view sexism.
I grew up in a traditional Christian family as the middle of seven children. My mom stayed at home while my father worked. The “role” training began with my older sister, who then effectively passed the “correct” traits down to me. With two older brothers, she felt pressure to be included in their games, and therefore she shunned anything that was considered “girly” and made fun of me if those were my preferences. Being a woman became associated with the color pink, playing with dolls, and enjoying cooking. And if you enjoyed those things, you couldn’t simultaneously enjoy climbing trees and building things. Even worse, with the boys being the oldest, our younger “girly” games began to be viewed as “lesser”.
Peace Corps Changed it All
It wasn’t until I went to Ukraine as a Peace Corps volunteer that those roles began to be challenged for me. It was at my site in Eastern Ukraine where I met my current husband, the first male feminist I’ve ever met. At this time in my life, I didn’t even know men could be feminists. Really though, he just believes men and women are equal and treated me as such.
At this same time, I was challenging most of my childhood views of a god, racism, political preferences, and now women’s rights. I exploded from the new sense of freedom to create my own opinions. Honestly, as a woman in a slightly female-hostile society, I dangerously embraced my freedom and tested the boundaries of what “being a woman” meant.
Several years later now, it occurred to me that my meaning of “being a woman” has change and, throughout time, has been completely dependent on where I am in life. In Ukraine, feminism meant being able to challenge anything and everything, whereas now, feminism means the choice to start my own business.
This change in my views has become the meaning of feminism for me. Feminism doesn’t mean fitting into a specific role. It means having the choice to fit into any role, no matter what you may choose or be in at each point in your life.
Feminism doesn’t mean fitting into a specific role. It means having the choice to fit into any role, no matter what you may choose or where you may be in your life.
Discrimination is Worse for LEP Women
My personal experience is that women do not completely have equal rights in the U.S or freedom of choice in this sense. However, I am aware that any discriminatory experience I have as an educated white woman born in the United States is minor compared to the severity of oppressed gender equality in developing countries and for limited English proficiency (LEP) individuals in the United States.
For example, a study by National Center for Biotechnology Information found that non-English speaking women are less likely than their English-speaking counterparts to get their results from a mammogram.
Just last week, an Indian actress felt the need to speak up about about her privilege in a sexist industry after a fellow actress was kidnapped and raped.
A Challenge to Women
So, this women’s day, my challenge to women (and especially white women) is to become internally aware of our privilege and reflect on how our experiences may be better than the experiences of other women.
The battle for gender equality will probably probably not end in my lifetime. But when I compare my freedoms to my students in Ukraine or the wonderful women I met in Thailand, I am grateful that I met a man who was a feminist and respects me. I am grateful that I was able to study for my Master degree in one of the most prestigious international schools in the United States. I am grateful that birth control is readily available in the United States and can allow me to choose if and when I am ready to start a family.
With this new perspective in mind, I feel better equipped to include women who don’t speak English and who have it much worse off in the fight for gender equality.