Kisha Patel is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2016, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A political science and gender/women's studies major at Ursinus College, she is studying abroad in Sydney this semester.
In celebration of Women's History Month, Kisha dedicates this post to women around the world and talks about the need for discussion, education and action around matters of women's rights.
Happy Women’s History Month! I'm taking a break from my usual posts that tell you all about my amazing adventures and stories during my time in Sydney. I want to take a week to appreciate a really important month and dialogue that needs to be had until it reaches every corner of the world.
I am so thankful for all my experiences studying abroad, but I want to acknowledge that I would not have this opportunity without the strong women of the past- the ones who fought for a right to education for women and a right in society. But the fight isn’t over. We have a long way to go.
I write this post for all women. The strong women who stand up for other women everywhere, and the even stronger women who continue to fight back while facing daily discrimination. I write this post for the missing school girls, for the girls facing persecution, for Malala, for Ayesha and for all of the amazing women around me. You go girl.
(This post will be littered with quotes, because in addition to my voice, I want the voice of strong and empowered women to be represented. We spread the message better standing together than alone.)
“As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, my country is my whole world.”
- Virginia Woolf
Why do we need women’s history month? Because women have been misrepresented in history for as long as time can tell. History is written by the dominant, usually white male, so our stories have been disguised or distorted throughout time. We celebrate this month to recognize the women around the world today who still fight for equality.
This is especially important to me as I proudly declare myself a feminist and a women’s rights advocate. I am a gender/women’s studies major at Ursinus College and I am proud to be a woman. What can I do with that degree? I can speak up, I can deconstruct your societal expectations and misrepresentations and provide a dialogue that forces you to re-evaluate inherent sexism.
Image: An old "glass ceiling" cartoon
“Well behaved women seldom make history.”
- Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Photo: I need feminism because I should not STILL be asking for equality - Sydney Fair Day 2016
In fact, for the past nine months, I have proudly been working on a research paper entitled “My Body, Not My Say” that examines reproductive freedom in America from a legal and political field by looking at gender discrimination towards women’s health in Supreme Court cases and congressional bills. What have I found? That it is 2016 and legislators are still more concerned with my body than the fact that our national debt is rising, that more and more people are homeless, that our national programs are failing, and a myriad of other real problems. Women’s bodies have been legislated for years, and it is taking away their rights as citizens.
Photo: Me presenting my research on campus
"Feminist" has been dragged down to become such a dirty world. I found that especially in Australia, women do not want to call themselves feminists.
“I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid to not be on my own side”.
– Maya Angelo
The thing is, feminist is not a bad word. Feminism is all about the radical notion that women are actually people. Feminism is all about equality, giving women a boost so they can reach the same level playing field as men.
“Womanist is to feminist as purple to lavender.”
– Alice Walker
Photo: Beautiful painting at MOP gallery, Sydney
"We teach girls shame. Close your legs, cover yourself. We make them feel as though being born female they are already guilty of something. As so, girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. They grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think. And they grow up - and this is the worst thing we do to girls - they grow up to be women who have turned pretence into an art form."
- Chimamamda Ngozi Adichie
It is time we stop being afraid of the word "feminist" and start being afraid of the state of our world: where women everyday are being told they are lesser. Think of the women in your life: your mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and wives. What do you think they deserve? The thing about any group of people in society is that there are always some bad eggs. There are always going to be radical people who distort the message and muddy your movement. The feminist movement is not about male dissemination; it is about equality.
“Here's to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.”
The problem is that sexism is around us every day. It is in the media, it is in education, it is in fairy tales, it is in every store you go to. We are teaching young children, both girls and boys, that they must be forced into a stereotypical gender role that makes men dominate and women submissive.
“We need to stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. I think it's a mistake. Not because they can't, but because it would have never occurred to them they couldn’t.”
- Sarah Silverman
“I want every little girl who is told she is bossy, to be told instead she has leadership skills.”
- Sheryl Sandberg
We teach little girls to be like Cinderella, Snow White, Aurora, and Belle. To be women in distress waiting on a prince to save them. Being so young, these tales can impact young girls in how they see their role in society for the rest of their lives. Instead, we should teach girls to be the hero in their own story. I want to see tales about female superheroes, about princesses saving the day, and about women generally doing some form of adventure at all!
“After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels”.
- Ann Richards
The most common forms of sexism and discrimination are visible everyday. Women constantly face cat-calling, sexist jokes, slut shaming, gender roles in the workplace, fat shaming, rape excuses, career/family expectations, wage gap diffrences, and so many more examples.
Photo: News picture found in Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney
So, why do we need to look at women’s history to understand women’s future? Because history repeats itself, and we want to move forward, not backward. Currently, reproductive rights are at risk everywhere. In order to examine what is truly at risk, we first have to turn back to see what happened before. Women in the 1920s were having unsafe, illegal abortions that often resulted in their death. History has deemed that women will access whatever means they can to practice their rights to their bodies, and therefore as a society, we need to protect those women and offer them the help and support they deserve.
Lastly, and most importantly, we need to protect the disadvantaged women in developing nations. Western women have many opportunities that our fellow sisters abroad still do not have access to. These are fundamental rights, such as speech, liberty, personal freedom, and education. Women comprise of 2/3 of all illiterate adults worldwide. These women struggle simply because they ARE women.
Art print by Sophie Doodle
Now after reading this, you may think: okay Kisha, but what? What do I do now?
Well, you have an entire month to educate and celebrate and the rest of your life. Read, learn, and listen to women’s stories. Hear their experiences and understand from a women’s perspective. Take notice of the sexist culture around you and make an effort to change that.
Here are a few references to some of my favorite resources where you can learn more about this cause:
1. "Miss Representation" – documentary on Netflix
2. Possessing the Secret of Joy – book by Alice Walker
3. Feminism is for Everyone – book by Bell Hooks
4. Women on Huffington Post
5. The Vagina Monologues - book and play by Eve Ensler
6. The Representation Project
Photo: BuzzFeed / Larry Busacca / Getty Images / Via hachettebookgroup.com
Thank you to all the women who sacrificed so much and fought so diligently for other women everywhere. You are appreciated. <3
Kisha's journey continues every Wednesday so stay tuned.