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Please Stop Saying Women Are Equal

Photograph by Twenty20

If you pay attention to your Facebook feed's political rants, then you’ve definitely noticed the sharp divide between supporters of women’s rights and those who think women fighting against discrimination are “femi-nazis” whose only goal is to tear down men. Both sexes fall on either side of the coin, with equally matched fervor in their assertions that women either need to fight for the same rights and respect as men in our country—or they already have them and are “whining” for nothing.

While few people in my circle of friends and acquaintances would go so far as to say women don’t actually deserve equality (I’d totally unfriend those assholes), there are many who seem mystified as to why millions of women felt moved to march across the world and why the discussion of female autonomy and equality is even still a thing.

Shortly after the historic Women’s March in D.C., a woman who identified herself as “Christy” wrote a stinging critique on Facebook about why she was against the march and why she believed that any perceived inequality was, in reality, a failure on each individual woman’s part. Christy stated that she had control over her body, made her own decisions and that she didn’t blame others for her life choices. She followed with a reminder of how bad women’s lives are in India, China and Afghanistan, and closed her diatribe with “#NotMyMarch.”

What astonished me the most wasn’t this woman’s rant, but the volume of women, mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters who shared her sentiments—women I knew and considered friends, or at least, good enough acquaintances to be connected over social media.

From all corners of the globe, women praised Christy’s words while declaring the anti-march movement as one they could proudly stand behind and, in all honesty, it made me want to puke.

The common theme in these re-shares was that women were already equal to men, and had been for a long time, and anyone suggesting otherwise was stirring an empty pot. They denounced any claim that women in the U.S. had fewer opportunities or rights than their male counterparts, and, well, if they did, it was their own fault.

It’s hard to express just how angry the suggestion of personal responsibility for the injustices committed against women makes me. As a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, as someone who has experienced all forms of sexism from lower wages to indifferent teachers and hostile figures of authority, as someone who has had to pick herself up and continue moving forward in her life without anyone to save me but me; I know that part of my healing comes from recognizing I am not at fault for the things that were done to me—only for how I chose to respond to each situation that came my way.

I know that as a 9-year-old girl who was molested and then told by my mother that “it happens to every girl,” I was not at fault for being sexualized by a grown man.

I know that when I was a child living in a home with two physically, mentally and emotionally abusive legal guardians, I was not in control of my body or what was done to me.

I know that when I was called "bitch” or “c*nt” as a child by my guardians, I was not responsible for their words.

I know that as a student in the classroom, when teachers—both male and female—scolded me for raising my hand too much or refused to engage with me while showing preference to male students, I had no choice in their reactions.

I know that as a 9-year-old girl who was molested and then told by my mother that “it happens to every girl,” I was not at fault for being sexualized by a grown man.

I know that as a 10-year-old girl walking down the street to her friend’s house, or to the store, and catcalled by strange men, I was (again) not at fault for being sexualized.

I know that as a cashier at a fast-food restaurant, I didn’t invite or allow my manager to discuss, in detail, the size of my breasts and whether or not I would “put-out” on a first date, but it didn't stop him from doing so anyway.

I know that even though I got drunk as a teenager at a party with my coworkers, it didn’t give a man I worked with the right to rape me when I said “no.”

I know that when my boyfriend got angry at me and aimed to punch my face, but missed and punched a hole in the wall, I had no control over his actions.

I know that as a food-service worker I deserved to make as much as the inexperienced male employee who was hired after me but was paid a dollar more per hour than I was.

I know that as a young, unwed, teen mom expecting her first child, when the ultrasound technician refused to tell me the sex of my baby because “I could wait until I gave birth,” I had no control over his exertion of power over me.

I know that when I went to the doctor to describe the excruciating pain I felt in my lower belly and my doctor told me I was “too emotional” and “needing attention,” it was solely based on my gender, not my symptoms (and subsequently the reason my diagnosis of endometriosis, an incredibly painful reproductive disorder, was delayed by three long years).

I know that as a young, unwed, teen mom expecting her first child, when the ultrasound technician refused to tell me the sex of my baby because “I could wait until I gave birth,” I had no control over his exertion of power over me.

Even when I pull the microscope away from myself and focus on other women, there is ample evidence of discrimination and inherent bias against women.

Unlike “Christy” suggested, women don’t have to grow up in an oppressive, foreign country to experience the stinging injustice of life as a female. In my near-37 years as an American woman, I’ve personally experienced enough gender discrimination and inequality to show that activism, marches and laws that protect our rights are desperately needed. And I won't stop talking about it just because it makes some people uncomfortable.

Maybe those friends and acquaintances of mine who stood behind Christy can now stand behind me, and women like me, to help create a world where we are all safe from violence, discrimination and hyper-sexualization, without diminishing the rights of men.

Until then, please don’t tell me women are equal, because I’ve lived through enough to prove that just isn’t true. Not yet.

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