2017: The year of the woman

The year 2017 was, among other things, arguably the year of the woman, although not for reasons that women were necessarily happy about. The rise in the women’s movement was most certainly an antidote to not only to the loss of the first female presidential candidate (nominated by a major party) in a national election, but also to her opponent who is the antithesis of what we picture as a modern man in 2017. Donald Trump, who seemed more like a throwback to the 1950s (and maybe even the 1690s, as someone who would be pro-Salem witch trials) touched and continues to aggravate a lot of nerves with his style of governance. Because of this, the women’s move sent out ripples that reached many unexpected places.
One could say that the roots of this new activism were planted in 2013 by three women with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. Although this movement was started with the acquittal of George Zimmerman, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi showed many other women, especially women of color, how social media can create a “movement.” These women, by attempting to transform their own community, perhaps unknowingly, transformed activism and how social media can assist in that activism.
As a direct result of the election and the ubiquitous nature of social media, another movement, the Women’s March on Washington, was born. This one-day march, on a cold January day in 2017, drew roughly 6 million women worldwide to not only Washington D.C., but also to their local city centers to march not only against the sexist rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign, but also to show support for women’s right legislation. Evie Harmon, Fontaine Pearson, Bob Bland, and Breanne Butler originally started the Facebook page for this march which grew into a movement.
During the campaign of 2016, another social media star was born in Libby Chamberlain, a private citizen who started the social media group Pantsuit Nation (named for the chosen wardrobe of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.) This Facebook group was originally founded to encourage women who were voting for Hillary to wear pantsuits to the polls on Election Day in a show of solidarity. After Clinton’s defeat, the group and the movement continued, breaking into regional groups, and after initial criticism, began to celebrate all things diverse happening in our country.
Another social media movement which came to the forefront closer to the end of 2017 was the #metoo movement. The hashtag “Me Too” was started in 2006 by Tanara Burke to raise awareness of sexual abuse in the mostly underserved communities of women of color. The movement resurfaced in 2017 and spread across social media with women of all ethnicities sharing their stories of sexual abuse and harassment. This movement has been felt not only through the entertainment community, but also those of sports, politics, and journalism. Let’s hope this new awareness trickles down to other industries so women feel safe across the country in all of their jobs, from factory worker, to coal miner, to farmer.
These movements have not been without controversy. The majority of the criticism surrounding the new women’s movements surrounds the inclusion of women of color and the movements often co-oped by white women. And the criticisms seem to have merit. Consider this: some of the women from the #Metoo movement were featured as Time Magazine’s persons of the year, but the magazine neglected to include on its cover the founder of the movement and a woman of color, Tanara Burke. This willful neglect of women of color by society was never more obvious than the case of the Grim Sleeper, a serial killer in Los Angeles who most likely killed at least 25 women of color over 20 years. Finally, in 2016, he was brought to justice, but I can’t help thinking this would not have happened in Beverly Hills.
So what’s the next step in the women’s movement for 2018? Will it be quiet? Will we see an equal rights amendment for gender discrimination finally passed? Perhaps. It is a tough pill to swallow when you realize that the Constitution of the United States doesn’t ever specifically mention the word “gender” or speak of sex discrimination.
The late Justice Scalia once said, “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws” (www.aclu.org).
The future of the women’s movement isn’t clear, but what is clear is that women want an equal seat at the table. And this means a seat without being ogled or harassed or demeaned in some way. Women want a government that reflects the demographics of society. They are tired of having conversations about their appearance or other topics which often trivialize their existence.
This is evidence of the rise of female candidates who have showed interest in running for office in 2018. West Virginia itself has a few notable female candidates throwing their hats in the ring in 2018. One in particular has decided to challenge Democratic Senator Joe Manchin; Paula Jean Swearingin, a coal miner’s daughter from Logan County.
As a teacher, I often work in a collaborative position in the classroom. The lack of equality is never so clear to me as when I collab-teach in a history class. I see a classroom of brilliant, impressionable girls and boys, eyes big and bright, hanging on every word of their history teacher, only to hear their history as told through the lens of rich, slave-owning, white men.
Little girls, left with disproportionately few female role models, are left thinking white men are models of success, while girls are sent the message through marketing that beauty is valued over brains, and female leadership is given short shrift. But both things are empirically incorrect.
Our society becomes richer through diversity, stronger with the contributions of many, and more difficult to break down if all of our members are empowered and engaged.

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