Progress is hard. It feels like throughout history we are always taking two steps forward and one step back. Women’s rights and equality have come a long way in the last century, and yet there is still so much farther for us to go. And large changes don’t happen over night. They happen slowly, one person at at time standing up for what is right. But the large changes can feel overwhelming and it can be hard to know where to start. Here are some life skills that I think we should focus on, and progress will naturally follow:
- If you are a woman, know your worth.
Women must see themselves as worthy in order for everyone else to believe it too. This will require homework and action that go against your entire upbringing. Demand the pay you deserve, know what your male counter would be making and demand equality. Stop doing chores for boys because it’s easier. Report crimes committed, because you deserve justice. If someone tries to silence you, speak louder. Feminism is about equality, and we must demand that equality so that our children’s children will finally experience it.
- If you are a man, know your privilege.
Men, know that you benefit from a system that oppresses others. And you are key in helping break that down. Use your male privilege to help the women around you achieve equality. There are lots of ways to be an ally to women, to equality, and to progress. And the first step is acknowledging that the current system benefits you most of all.
- Call out Sexism.
Say something when you see harassment. Speak up when you see inappropriate behavior. “Boys will be boys” is no longer acceptable. Never use “girl” as an insult. Be vigilant in redirecting conduct which is remaining, intolerant, disrespectful, and offensive. Call it out in the moment. Call out your coworker, you sibling, your partner. We need to stop being worried about offending or embarrassing someone because we called out their behavior, and start behaving better so we don’t get called out.
- Be an example.
Wear whatever the hell you want. Do more things alone. Be good to other women. Speak out when opportunity arises. Help each other out. Be different, be progressive, by living differently and more progressively. Be a role model. Be the change you want to see.
- Fight your socialization.
The values our society has taught about women for decades is a hard cycle to break. Girls are taught to be submissive from day one, to defer to boys, to be wary of hurting their feelings. We are taught how to view and value women from the very beginning, right down to the toys we are given. Rather than encouraging children to explore their interests, we assign a gender to everything, and only let the right children play with the right gender toys. When women are raped, we find ways to blame the woman and defend the rapist (What was she wearing, how much had she had to drink, etc). Pay attention and find moments to fight against the social conditioning that silences and devalues women.
These aren’t small fries. On paper these sound like easy, no brainer tasks. But there is a reason these are still huge hurdles we still face: we’ve been conditioned to believe the way things are is normal and good. A lot of the people you will encounter that you must confront are probably closer to you than you realize. Coworkers, family, friends. Changing that requires changing the hearts and minds one at a time. And it takes each one of us to commit to the future of equality. To change the way things have always been, we have to stand up against those who taught us how it has always been. We have to educate the educators.