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Women need to start assuming equality at all levels as our perfect right, as boys and men are socialized to do from birth. And then we need to act.

Written by Gloria Feldt for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This article is published in honor of International Women's Day.

"If women want any rights more than they's got, why don't they just take them, and not be talking about it." —Sojourner Truth, former slave, abolitionist, Methodist minister, and early U.S. women’s rights leader

International Women’s Day began 99 years ago. With so much progress accomplished since 1911, yet so much more remaining to be done, it seems to me that it’s time for women to change our approach to something closer Sojourner Truth’s.

Her advice to women as she stated it in the above quote to Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of the influential anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, when they met in 1853, comes from a position of knowing her own power. Despite being been born into slavery and experiencing oppression, poverty, and discrimination far greater than most women reading this blog in 2010, Truth was way ahead of many of us in her perspective about how to advance equal rights.

Without question, in many places around the globe, women remain as oppressed as Sojourner Truth--born Isabella Baumfree in Ulster County, New York, and once sold for $100 and a herd of sheep--was before she "walked off" from her master.

But even in the most gender-repressive societies such as Yemen, there are Sojourner Truth-like women and girls such as ten-year-old Nujood Ali, who was married off to a man three times her age but had the idea of a different, more just life, the intention to get it, and the courage to divorce her husband despite male dominant customs.

In the U.S. as in many highly industrialized nations, women have become not just free to choose their mates and manage their own fertility, but we are the majority in the workplace and almost 60 percent of college graduates, we make over 80 percent of consumer purchasing decisions, and own over 50 percent of start-up businesses—just for starters.

Yet we hover around 15 percent of corporate board memberships and top executive positions, we earn 78 cents to a man’s dollar, and though we’re 52 percent of voters, we’re only 17 percent of Congress and around 25 percent of state legislatures. Why the disparity?

I have been researching the question for over a year now, and I keep coming up with the same answer as Sojourner Truth. We need to just take what we want.

All indicators are that our learned behavior has not yet allowed us to break free, or to see ourselves as fully powerful. So women don’t put ourselves forward for those top slots in numbers and with intention sufficient to break through to parity once and for all.  We don’t assume equality at all levels as our perfect right, as boys and men are socialized to do from birth.

At See Jane Do’s Passion Into Action conference recently, a woman shared this story as an insight to how we might break the bounds that keep us from reaching equal rights and responsibilities: It seems that trainers of baby elephants tether them to a posts soon after birth. After a couple of weeks, the newborn stops trying to break free, for she has come to believe she lacks the ability to do so. Once grown, the elephant has plenty of strength to pull up the post or break the chains. But because she doesn’t realize she has the power to free herself, she remains tied to the post, held back by her own previously inculcated experience.

Women can only be disempowered from reaching full equality if we stay tethered to old constraints of custom and behavior that remain in our thinking. We need to understand our own strength, embrace it, and have the intention and courage to use it, for our own good and the good of the world.

IWD, which started in Copenhagen as a Socialist movement for better working conditions and voting rights for women at the turn of the 20th century has unquestionably helped to change the world for the better. Now it’s up to 21st Century women to finish the job—no excuses if we don’t.

In her most famous speech, delivered to a women’s rights convention in 1851, Sojourner Truth proffered Sojourner Truth another piece of advice that we would do well to heed: "If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!"

Let us pledge to turn the world aright, with equal rights, by IWD’s 100th anniversary next year. All we need to do, after all, is "just take them."

Originally posted to RH Reality Check on Mon Mar 08, 2010 at 06:27 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Just take the right to equal pay for equal work? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    claude, kyril, Marja E, boophus

    How is that done, exactly?

    And as a transsexual woman, how exactly do I take nondiscrimination?

    •  Collectively? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      One worker can rarely demand reasonable wages - a union can.

      One worker can rarely start out on his or her own - a cooperative can.

      The same logic applies to specifically feminist struggles as to any other struggles for social and economic justice. I think the second wave recognized this but was unreasonably hostile towards individual solutions - as an example of the hostility, some second wave feminists supported punitive laws against sex workers. I think the third wave - as reflected in everyday attitudes to these things - can be blind to the potential of collective action, though.

      Remember Duanna Johnson. Tortured by the Memphis PD for being black and trans. Killed by the Memphis PD for speaking up.

      by Marja E on Mon Mar 08, 2010 at 10:22:21 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I love assertive attitudes in women (0+ / 0-)

    but your premise that it's all "socialized" is an ideological myth.  Men don't learn to be a certain way because they're told that's how men act - they learn it because it resonates with instincts.  

    If you taught men to wear makeup and look pretty and act genteel - like the 18th century - they'd still go to war and kill over politics, religion, and money, as in fact they did.  

    And the irony should not be lost on us that in all the Communist states that ever existed and preached "Cultural Revolution" ideals with respect to gender, not one was ever led by a woman.  Not one ever even came close to it.  Instead, there were female leaders in Pakistan, Israel, Chile...not exactly hotbeds of feminist ferment.

    Which I think actually goes to show how this diary is correct: Women really don't need to be socialized to be assertive, they can just do it if they want.  But if they don't want to, there's nothing society can do about it.  So it just comes down to the individual.

    •  the individual lives in Freedom (0+ / 0-)

      Freedom is the natural state, the default mode we are all born into. It is up to us to manifest this freedom, not to beg for it. It is also up to each of us to make our own choices as to how to live, accepting whatever consequences come as a result, and making what compromises to our freedom we choose.

      I am free to drive ignoring all Laws of Physics and rules of the road, but I am also free to choose to stop at stop signs because pragmatism sometimes trumps my freedom.

      It's about attitude, a stance in the world, which starts with being free as the default and then choosing what to compromise out of perceived necessity.


      don't always believe what you think...

      by claude on Mon Mar 08, 2010 at 08:24:28 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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