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“As we light a path for others, we naturally light our own way.” -Mary Anne Radmacher
Last Friday (March 8th) was International Women’s Day. It is interesting to point out that International Men’s Day is celebrated as well, on November 19th. Both sexes designating a day to celebrate, gather and find strength in improving their living conditions, their economic opportunities, their relationships, their health and well-being. You see, while the genders may be different biologically, we are both deserving of equal protection, education, respect and opportunities.
Last week I read an intriguing post and subsequent comments on Keep It Chic (click here to read). The term feminist was brought up and discussed regarding its modern definition inspired by the author having had the opportunity to recently hear Gloria Steinem speak at a recent panel discussion. Followed by reading recent op-eds reviewing Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book and a profile in The New Yorker of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I couldn’t help but ponder the concept of how women have and continue to help each other attain greater heights when it comes to equality and success.
It has been my experience to have received help from female mentors and fellow women on my path of education, career and life. However, I have also received unwarranted ignoramus exclusions and manipulative attacks from women as well. With that being said, men have also exhibited both of these behaviors toward me. While there are certainly many cases of women refusing to hold out their hand and assist other women reach the pinnacles they themselves have reached, to categorically state that women are less likely to help fellow women on their rise to equal economic success and top leadership roles than men is to ignore the many women who are and have been trying to inspire, awaken and educate women on how to do what they achieved. The problem, as Sheryl Sandberg suggests, is that often women don’t recognize or ignore the opportunity presented.
With so many misinterpretations and propaganda fueled attacks to scare potential supporters of feminism away, let’s look at the core of its doctrine – advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
Being a feminist doesn’t mean one believes women are better than men or that women should have special rights. But it does mean that regardless of sex, the same opportunities should be available and whomever meets the criteria should be able to land the job, buy the house, fight in combat, serve their constituents, etc. Be it a man or a woman.
Being a feminist doesn’t mean that you have to want to burn your bra or toss your razor. Adore fashion and the self-expression it allows? Fantastic! Wish to go braless and go native? That’s fantastic as well. Being an individual, being yourself, is part of supporting what feminism is all about rather than being expected to play certain roles even if it squashes your potential.
Being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to be a democrat or a republican. Ardently believe in being fiscally conservative? Perfectly fine. Fiercely believe in helping those less fortunate? That’s great too. Being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with other feminists, but it does provide you the voice to exercise your constitutional rights, rather than eliminating your right to serenade should you choose to sing.
Knowing one’s history, women’s history and history in general is vitally important in order to live a life of progress, growth and attainment of the life we want to live. As women, to recognize the rights we never had, but now are inked into our federal and state laws due to determined and strong women who came before is to not take for granted the opportunities that the world now offers and realize that the journey is not complete.
I often understand the act of women who are hesitant or unwilling to help other women succeed to their levels and perhaps beyond as one of insecurity. An insecurity that is understandable based on the past, but not necessary or productive if the desire is indeed to prompt permanent change. In essence, the fear that there may not be room for more women at the top prompts some to first look out for themselves, not having faith and confidence that simply because it hasn’t happened yet, doesn’t mean it won’t.
I believe that as more women “lean in”, as Sheryl Sandberg suggests, but at the same time also begin to think creatively about how a successful company or business can function and begin to take the risk of speaking up, refusing to go along with structures that are traditional, but limiting, then more women will be more comfortable, more willing and more eager to extend a hand and open a door to those who wish to discover their same levels of opportunity. Once we learn that in helping others, we can’t help but cast that same wonderful gift of assistance upon yourself as well, then progress can occur. And with each additional extension of the hand, more permanent positive progress occurs as well.
Whether a woman chooses to chase her career, build a family, go back to work, remain childless or never marry at all, the gift that allows all of these options to be a choice a woman can make rather than be forced into is supporting equality for women – equality for all. For when a woman stands against equality for any one entity, she is ironically standing against herself as well. And that leads us bound to repeat the atrocities that should only be read in outdated history books, not in the current headlines of the day.
Today, begin to discover ways to open doors for others. In doing so, you will be helping yourself out in ways you may never know were possible.