The “F” Word
I’m a woman with strong opinions and two daughters, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have a lot to say about feminism and equality. I know if I use the “f” word (feminism) in a column in Parking Today I might just lose the attention of my readers. But for the Women in Parking Issue, I’ll take that chance.
Women face many challenges in the workplace, in the world and in their homes. Besides obvious inequalities like discrepancies in basic rights, wages and health care, women deal with the undercurrents of negative and entrenched attitudes – attitudes that devalue women in insidious ways. To make matters worse, women must contend with the way they undermine themselves and discriminate against each other.
It’s an uncomfortable truth, but women sometimes sabotage themselves. They can be afraid to show their strength because that might make them unlikable, so they overcompensate by hiding their abilities and power.
Women hide their power by apologizing for every move they make. They are sorry for being right, wrong, early, late, happy, sad, successful, imperfect, female, human.
Some women hide their power by being overly grateful for things that are their due. They express thanks when others defer to their experience and aptitude; they are deeply appreciative when they get credit for doing their jobs; they are profusely thankful for common courtesies.
Other women hide their power by offering qualifiers when they speak. They start sentences with phrases like “I’m not sure, but...” and “Call me crazy, but...” or “I could be wrong, but...” They are trying to be accommodating and not aggressive, when what they need is to be respectful and assertive. They are worried about the other egos in the room, so they end up sounding uncertain, unstable and unreliable.
Another uncomfortable truth is that in and out of the workplace, there are women who sabotage other women through judgment and competition. They use their power to negate the talents and efforts of others.
At the beginning of this year, more than 5 million people participated in the Women’s March of 2017. There were 670 marches worldwide on all seven continents - including one in Antarctica. It was the largest one-day demonstration in United States history.
The social media outlets I follow were full of statements about the march. Some reveled in the occasion and the empowerment they felt; others rejected the premise and significance of the event entirely. Their objections included disagreements about the exact nature of women’s rights, dissatisfaction with the way other groups had joined or been prevented from joining the march, and suspicions that organizers had planned and funded the march for personal and political gain.
In my own circle of friends I heard positive and negative reactions from women I am related to, women I grew up with, women I went to college with, women I have worked with, and women whose friendships I rely on every day during these chaotic years of raising children. The range of opinions was immense.
I saw the Women’s March as a show of solidarity and power and wished that women could be unified in that way more often. Many points of view were represented at the march, including one that addressed the heart of the problem, one that advocates for all women saying: “We deserve respect, and though we are different from men, we have the same rights.”
The voices I heard in opposition said: “I can’t support you unless we agree. I can’t support you unless you live up to all my standards. I can’t support you if we don’t believe the same things.”
Because women are often so busy pecking at each other, competing for approval and invalidating other women who don’t agree with them or who carry out their lives and careers in different ways, the women’s club is about tearing down and not building up.
A lot of people don’t like the word or the designation feminist, but maybe if we can get clear on its definition we will be able to use it as a tool to unearth and discard gender biases – biases that cause all of us to devalue women.
Feminists don’t want to take power away from men and give it to women; they want women to be given the same opportunities and rights as men to exercise their power. Feminists – whether they are male or female - don’t discriminate against women for being women.
We can make discrimination illegal. We can force men’s clubs to accept women. We can require colleges to spend equal amounts of money on women’s sports and scholarships as it does on men’s. We can, and hopefully will, someday, bridge the gap between pay for men and pay for women. What we can’t do is legislate the beliefs and attitudes that create discrimination. That challenge will not disappear. Conscious and unconscious gender bias is a fact of life.
If the “f” word offends you, don’t use it. There’s another word that corrects attitudes toward women, supports women, advocates for women, and promotes women’s rights. That word is: respect.