People Advocating for Women in Society – PAWS

I have been asked to sponsor a new club at school, PAWS. PAWS is an acronym for People Advocating for Women in Society. When the president of the club came and asked me to be the faculty sponsor, I jumped at it. I made a deal with myself that this year I would scale back on my extra responsibilities at school because of my new baby and my own time/research dedicated to molding my current curriculum(s) into a PBL focus. However, I could not say no to this one.

Feminism is most definitely a buzz word right now, in the media, in the entertainment industry, in education, in business…I feel like everywhere I go I am confronted with topics pertaining to it, from men and women. I am very passionate about the ideals of feminism for women all over the world. I think 20 years ago, women who considered themselves to be feminists were more aptly “men haters” and angry. I think this ideal has morphed throughout the last 2 decades to be inclusive of not only women but their male counterparts and the focus is more on equality of social, political, economic, intellectual equality between the sexes.

When I think about my journey through feminism I can look back on the various stages of my life and see how my own ideals have morphed over time. When I was in high school, to me, feminism meant equal in terms of strength and my focus was on my immediate self. I prided myself in being just as strong, if not stronger, than the men I surrounded myself with. I never asked for help from a man for anything. If I couldn’t do it myself, it wouldn’t get done, period.

Then, I went to college and through travel and relationships, my life took a more global focus and I began to see how the world treats women. This major transition helped to redefine my understanding of feminism to include equality for all women. For women and girls to be able to choose who they want to marry and when. For them to be able to use their body as they choose, have sex when they want, have as many children as they want. For these women to be able to go to school and get an education equal to that of their brothers. To be able to start their own businesses and work outside of the home. In short, my view of the world enforced my belief that the experience for men and women around the world is unjust and unequal. I have focused on this version of feminism for the past 15 years….and then I had my own baby girl.

I can tell you that the moment I held my daughter in my arms, I knew at that moment I would focus my definition on feminism in terms of what it means for my daughter to grow up in a patriarchal world. I started questioning things I had never thought of before. Things that people said in passing, things that I would have never give thought to before and now really offended me. I am coming at this now from the perspective of a mother who wants nothing but equality for her daughter in a world where she just might be able to get it. She is set up in a world that is more progressive in terms of this than it has ever been. The sluggish nature of progress can most certainly be frustrating sometimes but there are definitely seeds of hope planted along the way.

Here is something I wrote about Sage when she was 4 months old…

Whispers Of Change

I have been a mother for 4.5 years now. These have been, quite honestly, the most exciting and wonderful 4.5 years of my life. People say that they can’t imagine life without their children, and I have to concur whole-heartedly. Being the mother to my son, Cyrus, has been amazing. I have learned so much about myself in the process of becoming this “wonder” woman to him. It has been amazing, watching him grow into this boy, this child, filled with the wonder of life every day. He amazes me with his kindness and his empathy for all things. Maybe that comes from me, those are human characteristics that I value the most, but maybe he’s just a spirit that emanates love for everything that he sees. Either way, it’s a beautiful thing.

4 months ago, I had my daughter, Sage. And in the past 4 months I have become a different mother. I have noticed a shift in my focus. I have noticed a change within myself. Here is what was unclear to me the moment Sage came into the world, but has become abundantly clear to me since that wonderful day. She is part of the movement, the revolution, the fight. This beautiful, bright eyed child of mine has joined the ranks with me, her mother, against the injustice and the fear that all women, everywhere must endure. I don’t want that for her, I want her life to be as carefree as that of her brother’s, but that will never be the case. I don’t worry about her brother. Cyrus is a beautiful spirit. But, he is also a white male in an upper-middle class family. Part of his path is already laid down before him because of that fact alone. Sage however, does not have that luxury. At best, she will have to prove herself time and again simply because she is female. That she is smart, that she is driven, that she can perform as well, if not better, than her male classmates. At the worst, she will have to survive sexism from people of influence in her life, misogyny in one form or another, she will always have to be aware of her surroundings and the people that she is with, for fear that someone somewhere will feel it’s their right to take advantage of her. She will have to be careful to be pretty, but not too pretty, to be opinionated but not too outspoken, too be popular but not too popular. And, if all those pressures are not enough, she will have to learn to endure and maneuver the intricacies of the teenage female psyche. The jealousy and the loathing. The way that these women, at an age when they believe that in order to shine, to be noticed, they must stand on the heads of each other and attack one another to appear strong. What they don’t know yet is that if they hold each other up and stand together, and celebrate one another for their own individual successes, nothing and no one can tear them down. They are not part of the movement yet. They still believe it’s a “me against them” mentality when what they need to learn is that we are in this together. I don’t want Sage to ever hear me say negative things about another woman, about her appearance, her choices, her demeanor. She will hear me talk about the beauty of other women, their intelligence, their successes because she has to learn to lift her sisters up and I will model that for her. Life is different for girls, even the white upper middle class ones. Sage will learn to worry about things that Cyrus will never have to think about. Will she be able to walk to the store on the corner to grab some food at night as she gets older without getting raped? I hope to God that she will, but she’ll have to think about it every step of the way. Will she have to endure a sexist boss who thinks it’s ok to spew sexual innuendos at her because he thinks she won’t say a thing. Will she think that she needs to bare her cleavage to secure a position rather than rely on her intelligence and her wit? Will she be pressured into having sex with her partner because she feels bad for telling him “no” or because he paid for dinner? 1:5 women in college is sexually assaulted, will she be one of them?
Whether she, or I, like it or not, she is now part of the revolution. Things are different for girls today, in the US for sure, but also if you listen closely, you can hear the whispers of change all over the world. India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Rwanda – the distances we need to go in these places are vast but it is happening. Women are rising up all over the world and screaming, Enough! These ladies today have confidence and strength that we only hoped for. That gives me hope for change, for equality in life, in careers, in pay, in partnerships. I will hold her up, I will raise her to know that she is part of this movement and it is her responsibility to keep pushing it forward.  But I will also raise her to be smart, to be aware, and yes, to be scared of the what-ifs because with this strength and this courage, she also has to live the reality and unfortunately fear will be part of her reality. “Here’s to Strong Women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them” – Unknown

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