On International Women's Day, 7 Washingtonian Women Discuss How Misogyny Has Affected Them
Through surveys and interviews, we can better understand the effect of sexism on local Western Washington women. During Women's History Month, it is only appropriate to hear what they have to say.
March was proclaimed Women's History Month in America by Barack Obama in 2011, coinciding with International Women's Day on March 8th. The original aim of the day was to empower women to celebrate their achievements and reach full gender equality by drawing attention to the current inequalities. The day is thought to have begun in 1908 when thousands of women marched on New York to demand suffrage and labor rights. A year later, the Socialist Party of America celebrated the day on February 28th. Slowly, International Women's Day spread worldwide and was finally recognized by the United Nations in 1975 as taking place on March 8. The theme of this year's campaign is represented in the hashtag '#BalanceforBetter,' which calls attention to the need for gender balance (i.e. equality) across the globe.
There are events scheduled worldwide to celebrate women and the important role they play. Every year in the United States, many women decide to take March 8th off of work or choose not to attend school to prove how integral women are to society. In Malawi, an awards event is planned for women who have made significant contributions to community development, while in Zimbabwe, a dinner party with motivational female speakers is scheduled. Ireland is will be hosting discussions with prominent female City Councilors and election officials, and Vietnam is planning holistic art therapy workshops for women, and finally, Barbados will allow people to hear stories of women relating to females in power positions. In many other countries around the globe, events are taking place to work towards equality.
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International Women's Day might be world-wide, but it is often the local levels where change is first sparked. To better understand the experiences of women locally, I conducted a survey to gain input from women in Western Washington. Since the survey was posted on Facebook, it is possible that a few people from other places in the country responded also, however it was largely participated in by those from the Bellingham and Seattle, Washington areas. The goal of this survey was to better comprehend the thoughts of those in the area in regard to women and feminism. The following responses do not reflect the opinions of the entire country but give us a good glimpse of the more localized views of the Western Washington region in relation to women's topics.
Details and potential biases:
-84 total responses
-90.9% of responders are women
10.7% of responders are men
1.2% of responders are nonbinary
1.2% of responders did not disclose their gender
-There is no exact record of demographics, however, since this survey was advertised on Facebook and on Western Washington University's student page, it is likely that the majority of respondents are young adults from Washington State.
97.6% of respondents identify as a feminist.
Nearly all respondents are feminists. Many were focused on equality, saying "it's a matter of right and equal. we are all created to be treated equally," or "women are people. They deserve equal rights. That is the only reason needed." Others were passionate about discrimination and abuse. "I'm a woman and I want to be treated equally in the workforce and not be harassed," said one respondent. "The idea that feminine traits are seen as a weakness can lead to abuse," another stated. 2.4% who are not feminists had varying reasons also. One person listed that they aren't a feminist because "the movement is deeply associated with leftwing ideologies and identity politics."
72.6% of respondents say they fully support the women's rights movement.
13.1% say they mostly support the women's rights movement.
10.7% moderately support the movement or have no opinion on it.
2.4% do not support the movement.
1.2% are against the movement.
A large majority of respondents are very supportive of feminism. One respondent stated that they support the movement because, "even if women in America don't need it, many women all over the world are still oppressed." Others feel the movement helps to end discrimination. "I've experienced workplace discrimination," one female respondent mentioned, "violence in a relationship and rape culture, and no girl should have to go through that." Others don't support it but are still feminists. One woman, who is a feminist, was part of the 2.4% that do not support the women's rights movement. She states she doesn't agree with "how the movement seems to hate men." A man, who considers himself a feminist, only moderately supports the current feminist movement because "it is hypocritical and picks and chooses who to support." He explains that he thinks there are "tribes" of people, and feminists often choose to ignore sexual assault, rape, and sexism when it comes from a liberal person. "Where were the feminists?" he asks, in regard to Obama, Clinton, Gore, and other liberal politicians having fundraisers hosted by known sexual predator Harvey Weinstein.
85.7% of respondents say they have been, or they personally know someone who has been sexually assaulted/raped.
8.3% say they might have been, or they might personally know someone who has been sexually assaulted/raped, but they are unsure of the exact circumstances of the event.
6% say they have not been, and do not personally know someone who has been sexually assaulted/raped.
96.4% of respondents say they have been, or they personally know someone who has been catcalled/sexually harassed.
1.2% of respondents say they might have been, or they might personally know someone who has been catcalled/sexually harassed but are unsure of the exact circumstances of the event.
2.4% say they have not been, and do not personally know someone who has been catcalled/sexually harassed.
Clearly, a huge majority of respondents are familiar with these experiences, either themselves or through somebody that they know. Those respondents who were/know someone who was raped/sexually assaulted/catcalled/sexually harassed was asked to check off which gender(s) were targeted in the event, and it was overwhelmingly female. In fact, 95.2% of respondents say that they know a cisgender woman who has been raped/sexually assaulted. Additionally, 15.7% say a transgender woman was the victim. Transgender men and non-binary people both held 13.3% of responses, whereas cisgender man was selected at a rate of 12.2%. These percentages add up to over one-hundred, as many respondents knew of more than one instance of assault/rape.
87.8% of respondents say they have a female role model.
9.8% of respondents say they have a male role model.
2.4% of respondents say they have a non-binary role model.
Among those who have a female role model, a family member was one of the most frequent responses, usually a mother, sister, or grandmother. There were also a large number of politicians mentioned, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Michelle Obama. Additionally, many of the female role models noted were celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres, Ariana Grande, and Jameela Jamil. One respondent looked up to their mother because "she's a breast cancer survivor and did everything in her power to care for my brother and me." Another respondent's role model is Beyoncé, because "she gives back to her communities without making noise or asking for attention."
What should men know about women?
When asked this question, there was a multitude of responses. "We have bigger dreams than having children," one female respondent answered. Another touched on the daily fear women face. "You're constantly thinking about what the worst case scenario," she stated. "Even just walking down the street…" Some women were concerned about educational discrimination. "I feel like I have to work twice as hard as any man in my major so I can succeed and even get noticed," she noted. Whatever the response, it is clear that women want many things to change in how they are perceived and treated.
How should we empower women?
This question produced a multitude of varied responses. "Be intersectional about your feminism- uplift ALL women," one respondent stated. A female respondent said that men need to "stop ignoring what we have to say, start taking us seriously, support women in power and stop limiting women to traditionally feminine roles." Others were focused on largely representation. "Offer them a voice and leadership in the public eye," one answer noted. "Give representation of women who are strong and knowledgeable," said another, "and not just the airheads or damsels in distress." In short, "get out of her way," one person bluntly stated.
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If there is one uniting force on this earth, it is the virtue of listening. For about three weeks I have been conducting interviews with women who are local to Western Washington to bring awareness in our community to women's issues that are happening right here, right now in our own streets, homes, schools, and businesses. It is vital that we not only look at statistics, but also take a moment to learn and listen to real women who can give us a personalized look at feminism, misogyny, sexual assault, and other issues. It is not often that women get to have an individual voice, as the women's movement is often lumped together as a group of people who all hold the same ideals. That isn't necessarily true. Everyone has different experiences, thoughts, and opinions on these topics. It's about time we took a chance to hear them.
Below are the stories of seven women who so graciously and bravely allowed me to listen to their involvement in feminism and their encounters with sexism. Please remember that many of these women are talking about sensitive issues, so try to remain understanding and respectful as you take in these stories.
Disclaimer: All of the following women have given me explicit consent to use their names, quotes, and any other information used.
Brenna Anderson, age 18 (Issaquah, WA)
Brenna Anderson was born in Seattle, but grew up and lives in Issaquah, Washington with her parents and younger sister. She currently attends Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington where she is an undecided major but is leaning towards studying creative writing or English. Being a college student, Brenna is certainly all too familiar with how misogyny has infiltrated our classrooms at all levels of education.
As early as middle school, Brenna noticed that her white, male teachers seemed to favor those students who best matched their own demographics. "I had a math teacher who would [only] call guys up to talk in front of the class," she says. As many girls know, this can severely affect their self-esteem and success in the classroom. But, as Brenna notes, this doesn't end once one graduate. Even in college classes, women are often not given equal attention and consideration as men. Brenna says that in a lot of her classes there are many male students who are "talking over women." From her perspective this makes it seem that the male students think that their input is more important than that of the women in the class. And, when professors fail to put an end to this male-dominated environment, it can seem as though the professors agree with the male students, consciously or not.
Originally what brought Brenna into the feminist movement was her own sexual assault. "[Men] don't realize the fear we have to live with on a daily basis just because of our gender," Brenna says. She also stated that not all women have the same experiences with their gender, which can lead to ambiguous understandings of the effects of misogyny. However, all experiences should be considered valid and important. Brenna says that "men don't know what a lot of the experiences are that [women] have to go through," but that they should pay attention and start to learn. Brenna leaves us with the simple, yet terrifying truth that she, as well as most women and girls in society, "are always thinking about being a woman," and how their gender might cause them to harm in any given moment.
Katherine Zumpano, age 23 (Anacortes, WA)
Katherine Zumpano has moved around a lot. She was born in Minneapolis, then lived in Ontario, Canada, followed by a move to California. Katherine then back to Canada, this time living in British Columbia, and finally now resides in Anacortes. Currently attending Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, Katherine attended Skagit Valley Community College in Mount Vernon, Washington before coming to WWU. She is a Creative Writing Major and is likely going to pursue a psychology minor.
Katherine's passion for feminism began with her family, specifically her mother, who is an advocate for equality. "I have a brother and a sister," Katherine says, "and [my mother] treated us all the same." Katherine's mother is a role model for her, she states, she was a stay at home mom and taught Katherine and her siblings how to be positive, upstanding people.
From her roots, Katherine grew from her mother's influence and worked to write a paper about sexual assault while at SVCC, where students, staff, and faculty of the college anonymously discussed their experiences with sexual violence. "For a week [or] week and a half all I was doing was talking to people," Katherine explains, "it was hard." She goes on to explain that she didn't sleep very well, as she was talking to people about very sensitive and emotive topics. "I'm proud of what I wrote and I'm glad that I wrote it," Katherine says, "but it was really difficult."
Personally, Katherine has experienced gender bias at school and in the workplace. In one SVCC class, she was assigned to write a paper about rape. However, the professor teaching the class seemed to be too misogynistic to properly instruct such a class. Katherine says that the professor told male students to be very careful about their interactions with women to avoid being falsely accused of any crimes, and asserted that while rape does happen, it's often made up. To make matter worse, he would often mansplain to the women in the class. Female students in the class apparently felt very uncomfortable, but many were too afraid to confront him. But, Katherine says that she would counter him in class when he said something offensive. Katherine wrote her paper on how rape leads to long-term mental illnesses. Her professor criticized her topic choice, saying that there wasn't enough evidence to prove her point. Still, she went out and wrote the paper. "I think I proved my point," she says.
Last summer, when Katherine worked at Safeway, the store didn't have a department manager and other employees sometimes had to fill in doing managerial tasks. However, Katherine noticed that a lot of those responsibilities fell onto her. "[My male boss] would tell me to do something, [but] ask my [male] coworker to do things," she explains. Katherine was doing the work of a manager but wasn't getting financially compensated, whereas her boss would offer her male coworkers more money if they threatened to quit. She did ask for a raise a few different times, but she was always denied. She feared to push the issue any further and bringing her grievances to corporate in fear of her employment being terminated. "I went into work every day thinking I was gonna get fired," she says. Additionally, Katherine was regularly denied days off, even when her requests were backed by legitimate reasoning. She admits that "I would get frustrated and started talking back and doing things I wasn't supposed to do," but only because she felt as though the treatment she was receiving was unfair and sexist. "It was pretty obvious it was a boys club with [my boss]" Katherine says.
If there is something Katherine has taken from her experiences, it is that people have to be aware and keep talking about misogyny. When completing her aforementioned article, Katherine interviewed a few men to record their reactions and thoughts about sexual violence. Many were saddened and concerned as "a lot of them didn't know if family members had gone through something or close friends that were girls," she says. For this reason, she believes that continuing this kind of discussion and communication is beneficial. "Men will see that women aren't just overreacting or being irrational," Katherine says."If you're talking about it, people are going to start paying attention."
Additionally, her writing has made her much more aware of the issues. She says she is "constantly thinking about what I can do to avoid [sexual violence]." Katherine notes that as a woman, "you have to be aware of it, you have to think about it." She advises other women that, until we as a society make more progress, they should "[try] to avoid the situation," and take their safety as much into their own hands as possible. Katherine knows and recognizes that violence is never the victim's fault, but that women should always do what they can to avoid danger. "You shouldn't have to [be responsible for your own safety], but you need to," she says. On a positive note, though, Katherine thinks that "instead of [women] just talking about [the issues], [men] are starting to understand."
Bonnie Kosko, age 73 (Sammamish, WA)
Bonnie Kosko has a unique outlook on the feminist movement. She has seen many eras of women's rights come and go throughout her life. She grew up in a time when "women didn't work outside the home," and her mother stayed home to raise her. However, Bonnie has a different story. She became employed by Darigold while living in Olympia after having two children. And, most of her experiences with female oppression come from within the workplace. In the early years of her career, women were largely in "support roles," where they served the needs of men, she says. But despite providing for the business-related needs of the men in the workforce, she was made to feel as though she "had no right to be there." In 1976, Bonnie was asked by Darigold to move to Issaquah to be an office manager. There, she says, a man in the office told her that she was "taking the job from a man, and she should be home taking care of [her] family." However, Bonnie says she was instilled with the value of perseverance and knew that if she just "kept [her] head down" and "worked hard" she would find success.
Bonnie believes that women have certain values and skills that are vital in the workplace and beyond, such as being sensitive, nurturing, and diplomatic. Yet, even with these important contributions, Bonnie says that in her experience "women had to work harder to prove themselves" than men did. Despite the difficulty of doing so, Bonnie continued to be promoted in her career. "Things came to me somehow," she says, "and that was because of the work ethic." Bonnie became an entrepreneur, starting an awards business and running it for five years. Later, she ended up at working at a probation department supervising staff and managing a caseload. She attributes her ability to work well with former convicts to her compassion. "I had common sense," Bonnie says, "and an ability to deal with people, and [to] treat people with respect, compassion, and understanding."
Bonnie Kosko's unique look back on the women's movement offers us an important perspective as we move forward. Bonnie says women have "come into their own." And an important part of continuing that success, she says, is how people are raised and shaped. "it really starts with the family," she states. But most importantly, hearing Bonnie's story should remind us that while we have a long way to go, we have really, truly come so very far. Women have finally "begun to arrive in the place they should have been years ago," she says.
Jane Doe - Anonymous, age 18 (Bellevue, WA)
Jane Doe is a first-year student at Western Washington University, double majoring in marine ecology and environmental policy, with a minor in international studies. She grew up in the bay area of California but is more recently from Bellevue, Washington. Jane has a long history with sexual assault, which made her involved with and passionate about the women's rights movement. Jane has been sexually assaulted five times and raped once. "For years I just didn't do anything about it," she says. "I never said anything, I never spoke up." But, she eventually did decide to share her story in a documentary that her friend was recording. The second time she shared her stories was this past year at the Western Believes Survivors Rally, where she talked about all six of her experiences in front of hundreds of strangers on campus. At this point, her parents knew nothing of her assaults and she was concerned they would find out in coverage of the rally. But, she says, "I can either do nothing, or I can use my experiences to help others." She chose the latter.
Jane's family has been one of the many obstacles she has faced with coming to terms with her assaults. While her mother supports feminism, her stepdad doesn't. "Whenever feminism was brought up," Jane says, her stepdad said, "that the #MeToo movement is stupid, and [that] women deserve less pay [than men]." She also says that her stepdad went so far as to assert that sexual assault charges are usually fake and made up. This was especially difficult for her during her senior year of high school when she was developing her liberal political opinion because her stepdad is a strong Donald Trump supporter. Additionally, she felt unsafe telling her family about her assaults due to her stepdad's political affiliation. "For probably a full year I just never said anything," Jane says, explaining how she avoided political and ideological topics to evade conflict in the household. One of the main reasons she came to WWU was to be in a like-minded community where she could feel safe.
The news that she spoke at the Western Believes Survivors Rally eventually reached her family, however they did not know what she spoke about. Therefore, her assaults were still unknown to them. But that didn't stop her stepdad from yelling at her. Jane says that during the confrontation with her stepdad, she thought that "this is why I can't tell you [about my assaults]." However, Jane's biological father is much more supportive of her activism. She got an unexpected and emotional phone call from him, in which he told her that he was sexually assaulted and that he would like to talk to her about it sometime. Jane says she was shocked "because my dad is a big, powerful white male and I would have never expected he went through that as a child." She adds that "men should be believed too."
Jane bravely and openly discussed her assaults, saying that one of them happened during her freshman year of high school, three during her sophomore year, which all happened within the same three weeks, and two this most recent summer after her senior year of high school. She says that "right when I felt like I was getting over one, there was another incidence." Jane says that the way people think about rape and assault is often inaccurate. "It wasn't some big horror scene," she says. "Every single one of the times we were just hanging out comfortably, and it just comes out of nowhere." Additionally, Jane explains that most of the time people are assaulted and/or raped by people they know, as was her experience. "I was close with these people," she says. "It also impacts my trust," Jane added. "Now having close guy friends honestly terrifies me." She also disclosed that she was planning to marry the man who raped her, as they had been on and off dating for seven years. It can be hard for her to "accept love" without expecting "something bad is going to happen." She is currently in a happy relationship, but it is "really difficult" for her to accept her boyfriend's "love and affection."
Jane is working hard to move past her experiences and is planning to talk to CASAS (Consultation and Sexual Assault Support) at WWU. But it is a difficult process. She wishes that society was more open and accepting. "A lot of people are so close-minded and trapped in their own views," Jane says. "When I told people what happened they would shut me down." She thinks that people in our society don't fully understand what happens to girls and, therefore, they don't want to hear about it. Jane says she felt especially unheard after her third assault when she told her boyfriend at the time what had happened and he blamed her for it. It was his opinion that Jane had cheated on him. "He didn't understand the difference between me hanging out with a friend and him taking advantage me," she says. This one reason Jane feels that society needs to stop viewing feminism as a political opinion. Gender rights and equality should be accepted as a fact. "It's not a political movement," she says.
Her assaults have also affected her career decisions. She knew she wanted to study environmental and marine topics since she was eight years old. However, after her assaults, she was "very tempted to be a social worker or a therapist." She knows she should pursue her passion and do what makes her happy, especially "after everything that has happened." Jane states that it sometimes "feels selfish to not use my experiences to do what helps" others in her situation. She wants to aid her community, especially because women in society "can't do so many things" in fear of their own safety. But, by even sharing her story, she is helping the community in unimaginable ways. As long as we talk about subjects like these, we create a tolerant and understanding society in which survivors feel less alone.
Laura Gygi, age 52 (Shoreline, WA)
Laura Gygi was born and raised in Wisconsin, living most of her childhood in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. She later attended the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, where she studied Interior Design and Spanish and then went to Rochester Institute of Technology for her graduate degree. Laura has held several jobs in interior design, even having her own business for a while, but stopped working in the field after she had two daughters. She now lives with her husband, daughters, and three cats in Shoreline, Washington, where she works as a Graduation Success Coordinator at a high school in the greater-Seattle area. Being born at the tail end of the women's rights movement of the sixties, for most of her life, Laura says didn't see "a whole lot of movement in improving [women's rights], and increasing them, and really going out and fighting for them." However, when the 2016 presidential election was gearing up, she noticed an increased concern about women's rights. "Until you've really been affected by [misogyny]," Laura says, "you just don't see it, and understand it."
In fact, Laura became involved with the feminist movement after the 2016 presidential election. "When Donald Trump got into office is when I really started paying close attention," she says. She then joined the Seattle women's march and read more about the women's rights movement. She has always been interested in making sure women are equal, but hadn't taken any action until Trump was elected. After the march, she talked on social media about "how impactful it was" to be a part of the experience. Laura says she participated in social media to spread information about her experience at the march because many women she knew who didn't support the march, withheld their support simply because they felt it advocated for a pro-abortion mindset. "I was trying to get the point across that this wasn't about reproductive rights," she says. "[that] was just a small, tiny part. It was really about us not being put way back to where we were prior to all the feminist movements that happened in the sixties." She thinks that many women of the younger generation today think that "there is nothing to fight for" because women have so many more rights than they used to. "I don't think they understood that we still need to fight to keep our rights," Laura says. "We don't want them to be moved backward by this administration."
In her daily life, Laura doesn't feel she is very affected by her gender and states that she is well respected and has a lot of opportunities in her career. "I'm pretty lucky," she says. "I'm surrounded by people who believe women are equal to men." However, she does recognize that "there [are] often women working very hard and not being paid, and single women who have a much harder time [than me]." Once in a while, though Laura feels looked down upon by men who are fifteen or twenty years older than her. She sometimes they use a "backhanded comment" or say something that is "meant to be a compliment, but it's really not." She attributes this to generational differences. "[It's] something they grew up with that they just can't tweak from their brains," Laura details. "It's really inherent and part of them." She also notes that women of that age range often have the same preconceived notions of gender. "They want to be equal," she says. "But they don't really think they deserve it."
Although she doesn't feel discriminated against currently, Laura can think of one instance in her early career where her gender caused her to be on the losing end of a wage gap. At a design business that she worked at after she was married, Laura was hired for designing and drawing what would later be built in the shop. Her job was vital and "needed to be done in order for the shop guys to build." However, a man who worked in the shop, a job which required few qualifications, was making five dollars more per hour than she was, even though her job was more significant than his. In fact, while Laura "was educated with a masters degree, and he had absolutely no degree." And, to top it off, she says the man was "just getting out of prison" when he was hired. When she approached her boss about this issue, he told her that "you've got a husband at home, so he needs the money more than you." Laura says this not only completely incorrect but also sexist. "There is a misconception that if you're married, the woman doesn't need to make as much money," she explains "[since] the man is there to support the woman and the family." She wishes that society would realize that women aren't a "second class." Simply having a husband, Laura asserts, "doesn't mean that my value of the experience of time is less important."
As a Graduation Success Coordinator, Laura has a lot of responsibility for helping disadvantaged students, and sexism often enters this sphere too. Her job is to work "in the goal of helping to find interventions and way to help [the] kids who are at risk of not graduating." Additionally, she is an Academic Coach for English Language Learners (ELL). Most ELL students, Laura adds, "come [to the United States] for the education." Her job is to meet with them frequently, form a "really good, positive relationship" with each student, and "help them with their academics." Many of the students are "having difficulty with adjusting to being here in the country. Through this process, Laura has worked with several female students who aren't given as much of an ability to succeed as their male counterparts. "Parents want their girl children to be successful in school and be smart, and want them to go get their college degree just like they want of their male children," Laura explains. It isn't for lack of wanting their child's success that parents limit their female children, it's simply cultural.
It can be difficult for some female ELL students to work on academics, as they "can't stay after school and work on their grades because they have to go home and take care of the kids." However, most male students are allowed to. But, Laura is seeing some improvement in the female situation. She is "seeing more and more of her [female students] … starting to work and make money for the family." This isn't a classical expectation of many women, and Laura says it signals a positive shift in allowing young women more autonomy. " I don't think they would be [working outside the home] in their own cultures," she notes. "[I] see them taking on our ways, and yet definitely keeping some of theirs." At the end of the day, though, Laura believes that a high school diploma will be the biggest catalyst in these students' lives. "The ultimate goal is graduation," she explains, "so they can accomplish the goal that they came here for." And in order to lead students down the right path, Laura has had to do a lot of bonding with them. She wants to make sure that she is "someone [they can] come to at school, that they know is there for them." Feminism enters all spheres of life, across all cultures, and all marginalizations. Laura says she wants to make sure that ELL students have just as much of a chance at a successful future in this country as anyone else. "[We're] trying to find equity in any way [we] can for these kids," she says.
Frances Golla, age 19 (Seattle, WA)
Frances Golla is currently a student at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, where she is majoring in Communications, with a double minor in Journalism and Sociology. She is involved with many activities on campus, currently rushing the Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity, and planning to join the Filipino American Student Association at WWU. Frances's parents immigrated to the United States from the Philippines with her older brother and sister before she herself was born. This cultural influence led Frances to become very interested in politics. She describes how in middle school she "question the system," and "acknowledge the gap between people of color and their counterparts." This concern only increased in high school when Frances began to further educate herself on "racial issues and how that affects public policy and the government." Her interest was also heightened by her familial influence, her brother works for the Washington State government, her cousin works in public policy, and another cousin is a lawyer. "I was exposed to politics at an early age," Frances says.
When Frances was in high school she became very aware of the feminist movement. "Women started calling out the differences we face just for our gender," Frances noted. Current college classes have helped to further shape these ideas. A sociology class, which requires students to compare how women think today, versus how they thought in the past, brought Frances to realize that "women have been held more socially responsible compared to our male counterparts." She says that women have been "taught to be conscientious and act in behavior that conditions us to prevent making mistakes, males are not and instead are taught to take risks without inhibitions." In Frances's daily life, she feels as though mansplaining is one of the largest sexist issues she faces. "[I have] interacted with men who have explained stuff to me in a condescending tone," she details. Frances says that she tries to ignore these stereotypes and actions, especially when participating in male-dominated environments, such as politics or business classes
One main criticism of the feminist movement is harsh and aggressive. "I think many people imagine us to be some extremist who holds grudges against men," Frances says. "But honestly, that's not what we're trying to achieve." Some people fear associating with the feminist movement for fear of succumbing to the stigma, but Frances is different. "I honestly have no problem with the word," she explains. When people ask her if she is a feminist she simply shrugs and answers, "yea, don't you believe women and men should be on an equal platform?" However, Frances does think the feminist movement could improve upon its diversity. "It's imperative that we also acknowledge how our racial identity affects people differently," she says. "I believe that gender stereotypes are more prevalent within cultures outside the United States."
Frances describes that the Philippines is a "historically more conservative" country, due to the prevalence of Catholicism. In the Philippines, there are "negative connotations and assumptions" surrounding women who go out with their friends frequently, or who stay out late at night. Therefore, when Frances was growing up, her brother had quite a bit of social freedom, while she and her sister would be "expected to come home earlier or even not go out at all." Other cultural gender stereotypes have influenced Frances. She was brought up with the idea that, while men are seen "as the breadwinners and didn't have domestic housework responsibility," women are expected to simply care for the home and marry early. "It was definitely difficult having to grow up with these stereotypes," Frances states. She feels that in her culture, the "goals or ambitions aren't considered." However, since she was born and grew up in what she describes as an "American culture," Frances now knows that she isn't forced to "play into this stereotype." One of the pillars of feminism that Frances holds dear is the encouragement for women to "think for themselves and do things for their benefit." In order to succeed a better society and break stereotypes, Frances has the confidence and drive to say that "focusing on my career and my interests take precedence over others."
Jennie LeVeque, age 18 (Puyallup, WA)
Jennie LeVeque was born in California but now lives in Puyallup, Washington. Currently, she attends Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, where she is double majoring in Theater and Political Science, with a minor in Economics. Jennie says that she grew up in a "feminine sphere," around her female cousins, mother, a strong Hillary Clinton supporter, and sisters. Her passion for feminism was bred in this environment. She has participated in the Women's March and volunteers with Planned Parenthood. This empowering background led Jennie to have a very unique outlook on feminism.
As a bisexual woman, Jennie understands how the LGBTQ community is disproportionately affected by sexism. "Within feminist circles its harder for marginalized women to get a voice," Jennie says. This is often the case, Jennie explains because the feminist movement is a "white, cis, het dominated field." In her opinion, we could avoid marginalization within feminism through education and representation. Even in the LGBTQ world, there is a lot of sexism and misogyny, Jennie details. "Queer women also have to deal with a male-dominated LGBT field," she says. Often in the queer, female community, there is a distinction between Femmes (a feminine queer woman), and Butches (a masculine queer woman). "I hate the terms butch and femme," Jennie admits. She says that the words force a heterosexual binary on woman/woman relationships. She further explains that those kinds of words create a binary, as she believes femininity is a spectrum and shouldn't be put in terms of either masculine or feminine. There is a middle ground, she states.
The conversation "needs to be more open," Jennie says. She explains that there is often a "dispute between different identities" (usually between bisexuals and lesbians) within the female LGBTQ community when they really should be working together. She attributes this to the fact that "bi women [are] erased" when it comes to discussions about sexuality since many people feel that bisexuality is made up for attention, or isn't a truly marginalized sexuality since bisexual people can still be in heterosexual relationships. "They don't get as much representation," Jennie adds.
Jennie thinks that educating and talking about gender and sexuality would help a lot of people understand how to be better citizens, and would positively contribute to the feminist philosophy. There should be "more education on gender issues and sexism," she says, "and how it affects diff marginalized communities" at a younger age. She adds that this could help on two different fronts. First, she says, it would be "helpful for kids who are questioning their gender" to not think of things in a binary way. It's a toxic frame of thought that society makes us view things as "these are girl things and these are boy things," Jennie contributes. Secondly, it would allow "women [to have] their own self-determination." She says that a lack of understanding about women and their experiences "psychologically ruin a woman's self-esteem." Jennie has had several experiences in which masculine environments have contributed to a lack of respect for females.
One such masculine environment in which Jennie feels unwelcome is that of STEM-based courses. "I've always wanted to pursue occupations in male-dominated fields," Jennie says. But, in her experience trying to prove herself in a masculine environment is "really intimidating." Especially when she isn't always respected as an equal member of the academic experience. As a short woman, and a frequent wearer of makeup, skirts, and dresses, Jennie feels that she isn't always taken seriously. "People assume that just because I care about my appearance a lot that I'm shallow," she says. "Or [they think] that I don't really care about intellectual things or academics." This isn't the case, as Jennie is passionate about many things. She asserts that the way anyone chooses to look and dress is not an inward reflection of their character. She also describes a general attack on femininity in our society today. "People who have feminine traits," she elaborates. "Even men, are definitely disadvantaged." Jennie adds that the general fear and hesitation surrounding femininity contributes to a dangerous cycle of toxic masculinity. She doesn't mean to say that just because she wears more feminine clothing that she is oppressed, she simply relates it to societal views of female expression. "This correlates to gender expression," Jennie says. "If you appear to express yourself on the more feminine side of that spectrum, then you are faced with more microaggressions than if you expressed yourself in a more masculine, androgynous way." Therefore, she believes that feminism shouldn't be just "women based," but should be "feminine identity based" also.
Even theatre, an art based subject, can have men in the driver's seat. Jennie was in theater programs consistently throughout high school and, as previously stated, plans to major in theater now at the university level. Jennie says that her drama teacher in high school viewed women as "very one dimensional." This was reflected in the way that he cast and directed shows. The teacher looked down on female characters and didn't often regard them as being important or significant roles. Jennie describes how he had a habit of romanticizing relationships on set in a sexist manner, that demeaned female characters and confined them to stereotypical depictions of women. "Him being in my life with such skewed versions of women was frustrating," Jennie says. "[He was] very prone to putting women in boxes." In one example Jennie shared, a female castmate, who Jennie described as an "amazing actor," was never cast in leading roles. Jennie attributes this to the woman's body type. "[The director] would never cast her in big roles because she was a larger woman," Jennie states. In the acting world, Jennie explained, the roles that an actor takes on are exceedingly important for resumes and future success in theater. "[The director] neglected her a lot," Jennie added, "and made it really hard for her to reach her full potential."
Jennie has existed in many environments where she had to constantly think about how her gender and sexuality affect her. From STEM to the theater to the LGBTQ sphere, Jennie knows that the only way to fix these issues to understand each other through communication and supply marginalized groups and women with the ability to succeed and grow as people. "[We can't] just give [women] the opportunity," Jennie says, as often that isn't enough. "[They] also [need] the resources."
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I hope that these local insights help you to think about women's experiences this month, and reflect on what you can do to eradicate sexism from our society. Misogyny is real, it still exists, it was not wiped out when women were given the right to vote. These seven women are proof of the fact that as long as sexism reigns, women will continue to be discriminated against, hurt, and belittled. Take International Women's Day, and Women's History Month to reflect on this.