What it feels like to be a woman in America today.

October 5, 2018.

 

The Senate has not officially confirmed Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court yet as I write this, but the votes are there. It’s going to happen. The glimmers of hope have all faded away into history.

 

I sit here and reflect on my people. The tribe of strong, powerful, incredible women who surround me and uplift me daily. Every single one of them has a story, countless stories really, of injustices that have happened to their hearts and minds and bodies directly at the hands of men who do not protect us and do not value us.

 

But I also sit and reflect on some of the precious men in my life. A close friend from graduate school sat with me as we watched hours of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, the Senate floor votes, the nauseating speech by Senator Collins. He has remained a steady ally and advocate for women, and specifically women in our office who were sexually harassed by a different male student and subsequently had their voices silenced in favor of the University’s reputation and fear of litigation. I had coffee this morning with a male engineer in his seventies who spoke of how encouraging and inspiring it is to see so many young women pursuing STEM degrees and positions of leadership. My own father is someone who has spent much of his career championing diversity and increasing support and opportunities for women and minorities to be successful. I know that I am surrounded by men and women who understand. There are so many women who cannot say the same. I know that there are people who fight for me, support me, and protect me every day. I am so lucky. But right now, it does not feel like enough.

 

I expend immense mental and emotional energy every day to convince myself that I belong in the spheres in which I dream to work. I combat the lies that I am unimportant and inferior. I fight incredibly hard to remain optimistic.

 

But every day, the message that is sent to me from all sides is that I still do not have an equal place in society. I still do not have a voice. I still do not have protection. I will not see justice. I do not deserve it.

 

And I fully know that I enjoy immense privilege. I’m white. I’m from a wealthy family. I live in Boulder. I have a graduate degree and will soon have a second. I have no debt. I benefit daily from my connections and opportunities, most of which have fallen into my lap with ease. I do not experience discrimination or racism or sexism to the deep extent that minority women, gay women, and transgender men and women do.

 

My women grapple daily with how to heal and exist when our bodies and our rights have been so devastatingly violated. I spoke with a friend on the phone two days ago, and she voiced the inescapable tension of trauma meeting guilt head on. Are we responsible to educate our attackers on how to treat women? On what is right? On what is ok? Are we responsible to educate all men? All we want is our own healing. But if we do not educate others, who will?

 

I follow some truly outstanding black men and women on Twitter. They provide a daily reminder that it is not their obligation to educate white people on how not to be racist. But, they do it anyway. It is survival, I think. If we do not, we will not make it. If we let up, we will be defeated. If we stop, we will be destroyed.

 

I also think about Dr. Anita Hill. She holds a Juris Doctor degree with honors from Yale University. She became a doctor eleven years before Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court. Her work as a doctor was actually how they met. And yet, the coverage at the time rarely, if ever, called her Dr. Anita Hill. Media today that connects Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimonies to Dr. Hill’s still too infrequently bestows her due respect yet always highlights Judge Kavanaugh’s qualifications.

 

I am in an all-female pottery class this fall in Boulder. I think I am the youngest person by approximately forty years. Every Tuesday morning, I watch in awe as women create art and community together. Most of these women have been coming to the Pottery Lab for decades. They worry when Terry is more than fifteen minutes late. They debate excitedly about which scone Mary will bring next week. They praise each other for beautiful sculptures and glazes. They bring in flowers for each other to take home. I spoke with some of these women earlier this week about the Judge Kavanaugh hearings. Each woman reflected on where they were during the Justice Thomas hearings. They remember standing in their kitchens at home when that history unfolded. They remember driving their kids to school. They remember. Will I remember the desk I sat at in the windowless office on campus? These women reflected also on their high school and college days. Each one remembers being told to get over it, to stop being silly, to just let him. The parallels of history are unsettling. I will not say that nothing has changed because that would be a grave disservice to the centuries of women who have fought for the life I have today. Certainly though, not enough has changed.

 

I think about my experience as a woman and an engineer. Nearly three years ago to the day, I attended the debate for the Republican presidential candidates hosted by the University of Colorado Boulder and the Republican National Committee. I fought CU and the RNC to increase student attendance, to almost no avail. I stood in the security line surrounded by wealthy Palo Alto residents who started PACs for Carly Fiorina. I sat next to a white man whose son was working for then candidate Trump’s campaign. The man asked if the College of Engineering had lower GPA requirements for women. He told me I would always be employed solely because I could check the diversity box for companies. He is not every Republican nor is he every man in this country, but he is many.

 

I want to believe in our government and our institutions. I want to believe in my country. I want to believe in our leaders. But how can we trust people whose decisions are predicated on their reelection campaigns? How can I feel safe on a campus where the burden of justice is still placed squarely upon the shoulders of victims and our concerns are swept quietly under the rug?

 

I have left campus early three times this week as a direct result of disheartening breaking news. I cannot focus. I wonder the value of completing my engineering degree when it feels so unconnected. And I know that is a fallacy. I know that I am passionate about my work specifically because of the impacts that sustainable infrastructure has on women and girls globally—their health, empowerment, education, income, safety. Again, I recognize that I have immense privilege. I live in a society where I can choose my vocation, access birth control, attend school beyond the third grade, drive, drink, and speak out. So many women do not. At the same time, I have to wonder if we are actually moving forward, or if every forward step is erased by two steps back.

 

At the same time, I cannot separate these feelings from what I believe about how the government should work. I do not believe that it is fair to presume guilt over innocence, just as I do not believe that it is fair to selectively interview witnesses or treat survivors with brusque disdain. I do not understand how we do not have a clear and institutionalized process that is automatically triggered when an accusation like Dr. Ford’s arises. I do not understand how hearings and Congressional proceedings can be so easily modified and influenced by partisan leanings. I am shocked that presidents and senators do not demand bipartisanship in every decision. But I am also not. It is an addiction to power that fuels our government more than tax revenue, duty, or morals ever will.

 

In the midst of all of these feelings, I also feel uplifted. I met with a female professor yesterday at the twilight of her outstanding engineering career. She recently accepted a position as an Assistant Dean for Faculty Affairs where her main focus will be to increase faculty diversity and support. She outlined for me her dreams for faculty recruitment. She highlighted that 2018 was the first year where an engineering search committee had five of twelve members as women. She spoke of her vision for a culture that is not built on complaints and punishment, but instead challenges all members of the community to hold one another accountable and create an accepting and supportive environment. I am also uplifted by Dr. Ford’s testimony and bravery. Her life has already been totally upended, and she faces decades of additional pain. But she knew the importance of still speaking her truth. I would not know how to move forward without strong women like Dr. Ford.

 

I refuse to let one decision, or one chain of decisions, define me. For now, I am choosing to believe that we can still hold our government leaders accountable. I am choosing to believe that small changes in our own communities and at the local level will have ripple effects to the state and national levels. I am choosing to believe that the grave injustices will provoke energy that can be harnessed into a dynamic cultural shift. Logically though? Rationally though? I am not sure. But the weight of despair is crippling. I am already a woman, so I cannot let myself break any further under this weight. So, I choose. I choose to believe. There is nothing else that I have left.

 

3 thoughts on “What it feels like to be a woman in America today.

  1. Articulate Profound Amen With Jesus we have great hope Jesus only Not humans Not institutions

    I love bean. I hope bean doesn’t quit. Praying Love Ma

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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  2. Allie,
    Beautifully written, and I am so glad you put to words what many women are stuffing inside today. I am sick, frustrated, angry, but I have to continue to have hope that yet another example of a partisan political decision which will have long-lasting effects will inspire the women in this country to make the changes we need to see in government so this kind of farce will never happen again!
    Tracy Brennan

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  3. Allie, When I met you and your family in our cabin above Boulder, I was amazed at what an articulate, intelligent and kind young woman you are. I LOVE this essay. I share your despair, but you give me hope. You can carry the torch forward in your work and in your ability to articulate the competing truths so well. Love, Kirsten Halstead

    Like

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