In Exhaustion and Solidarity on International Women’s Day
A few years ago I was facilitating a discussion about internalized oppression with a group of high school women. When the topic of discrimination in the workplace arose, one of them asked, “Why are we talking about this? It’s not like that any more. I can wear whatever I want and get any job I want. I can be just as successful and get paid just as much as a man.” While it was heartening to hear her confidence, it was heartbreaking to know that this wasn’t true. It was also frustrating to have had (only a decade into my own career) so many experiences which demonstrate that the world is very much still “like that.”
There was the time I was in charge of running a kitchen, and a customer walked in and asked my older, male co-worker (who I was supervising at the time) where he should place a delivery. The intent was not negative, but the implications were clear, and so was the impact on me– I wasn’t expected to be the one in charge, and it hurt. This same scenario has played out multiple times when I’ve been leading outdoor trips and wilderness excursions in a groups of staff of mixed genders. There have been dozens of times I’ve had people assume my work is that of a man. Dozens of times a male colleague didn’t entertain an idea I shared, but did once it was voiced by a man. Dozens of times a male colleague or collaborator has gotten credit for my ideas.
Any woman could easily compile a list like this. And I also hold massive privileges that afford me unearned advantages in the workplace, and in all areas of my life– I am white; I grew up in a financially stable home; I was not the first in my family to go to college; the list goes on. The oppression that impacts women of color, queer women, trans women, immigrant women, disabled women, is compounded.
The stories I’ve shared above (while a far cry from being a complete list) are, in the grand scheme of things, very mild instances of sexism. And they have nevertheless had a profoundly negative impact on my sense of self-worth, my emotional health, and at times, my career advancement. So this International Women’s Day, I feel exhausted. Especially on the heels of watching a very qualified woman drop out of the presidential race, whose campaign run, many acknowledged (whether she was their candidate of choice or not) was undoubtedly impacted by sexism.
Watching this play out adds to the overwhelming sense of exhaustion. The sense that even so many phenomenal people and organizations fighting for justice, there is still such a long way to go. But I also feel buoyed by the amazing women in my communities and beyond. Knowing we’re in this together makes me feel a little less exhausted. So today I say:
Black women, I see you and your lives matter.
Indigenous women, I see you and I will not be silent in the face of violence raised against your community.
Women of color, I see you and I will fight for your liberation.
Immigrant women, I see you and you belong here.
Trans women, you are women. I see you.
Queer women, I see you and your love is beautiful.
Disabled women, I see you and you deserve accessibility.
Chronically ill women, I see you and you are not a burden.
People who identify as nonbinary and are impacted by sexism and expectations around your gender, I see you.
And fellow white women, I see you and ask that you leverage what power you hold, today and every day, to move us all towards justice.