Speaking Out Against Sexism -- Because Our Children Are Watching

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My son has an adorable friend who is easily described as charismatic, handsome and funny. He has been a big part of our family since he was four. His parents are well-educated, professional people. But this spirited 15 year-old loves to vex me (and I’m an easy target) by saying things about this election like,”A women can’t be President because women are too emotional,” or “A woman wouldn’t have the [blanks] to pull the trigger in the case of war.” Now I know he’s trying to get a rise out of me, and because it works, he does it a lot. After a deep breath and a silent prayer of gratitude that he’s not old enough to vote, I try to explain to him the flaws in his logic to no avail. Now, I can assure you, these are not his parents’ beliefs. He’s not learning it at home. He’s learning it from Donald Trump.

When I look around during these discussions, I notice his mother, his sisters, my daughter and I are the only ones arguing with him. I know the men in the room agree with us, but think he’s being too silly to respond to. I’m afraid this just isn’t good enough. We. Must. Respond. WE must teach the children - not allow an anti-feminist, fear-monger have the only voice rising to the top without response.

This election is terrifying to me. The juxtaposition of our first female nominee for President to a man who is an equal opportunity discriminator against anyone who is not like him (rich, white, Christian and male). What does this perfect political storm bring to the surface from the depths of our society? Fear in many forms, but one in particular I thought we had tackled: Sexism.

And it’s really bugging me. I experience this Trump brand of sexism amongst peers and mentors I respect, but most terrifyingly, with our kids. Trump isn’t just propagating intolerance, he’s proudly campaigning on it! And as Michelle Obama pointed out: Our kids are watching.

I’m lucky. My sisters and I were raised by a strong woman who was also raised by a strong woman. I, myself, am trying to raise a strong woman, but I’m not doing it alone. My daughter’s father, like my father, is a feminist. When he asked for my “hand in marriage,” my dad was flabbergasted. He replied, “She makes her own decisions and she’ll decide for herself if she wants to marry you.” That story has become family folklore, but what a strong message it sent to me! My dad believed in me as a human. I was not property to be given away from one man to another. My parents taught me to think for and to take care of myself. My mother was my role model and my father contributed to an environment that supported such an ideal.

One thing I’ve noticed in my work with educating girls in Kenya (www.wiser.org) is that you cannot raise and educate strong women in isolation. You need to change society to accept this kind of person. I used to think that there was a huge disparity between their society and ours. I was hoping the gap would close with them coming closer to us, but I fear we are heading in their direction.

What kind of society are we aspiring to be? Do we believe that the most qualified person should get the job regardless of gender (and be paid equally for it)? Or are we secretly terrified of powerful women? Do we do our best to tear them down? Many leaders I believe in disparaged the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg before they’d even read it. Ironic, because, in that book she talks about women not supporting other women. The premise of the book, in my opinion, was women should pursue whatever path works for them, and as a society, we should “Lean In” and support them. What’s not to agree with?!

I support Hillary Clinton. I believe in her. I believe she is the most qualified PERSON for the job. I am not naive. I do not think she is perfect. She, like all of us, is accountable for her mistakes. Errors that can only happen when you are in “the arena.” When you serve. I am inspired by her courage to stand strong against the slings and arrows aimed at her perhaps more numerous than those drawn by men. And does it excite me as a woman to finally see the majority of our citizens represented in the White House? Hell. Yes!

But I feel like only female voices are defending the idea that women and men should have the same opportunities. That’s what feminism is: the idea that women’s rights are human rights. We can’t do this alone.

When I express my support for our Democratic nominee, I get a lot of strong, negative feedback from those who disagree with me. Pressure to change my viewpoint. I will not change what I believe in for you. That’s not what strong women do. I will respond, because my daughter, my son, and all of our children, are watching.