American Woman 20/20

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Originally published in Huffington Post. 

The Constitutions interpretations and principles as they relate to the meaning of Women’s Rights are never ending. As we approach the first quarter-century of the new millennium, we look back at the last century and how American Constitutional precedent relates to our current perspective and lives. After all, are not the social movements of each time the direct reflection of our circumstances?

Michelle Obama spoke this past week while on an official visit with President Obama in Argentina to a gathering of mostly young woman (and perhaps a few young men) on the power of education and her “Let Girls Learn” initiative. Hosted by the first lady of Argentina, Juliana Awada, Mrs. Obama spoke of the richness of her childhood dreams that were supported by her modest upbringing. She described that although her family was not wealthy, and her parents had not reach higher levels of education, they taught her she could achieve anything. The first lady then told how when she began to attend school, external experiences presented conflicts to the support and messages she experienced at home. She began to question herself by these external challenges and doubts that were the voices of gender inequality, and the expectation that she strive to achieve less than her dreams and desires. Many young women experience this. I know I did.

This opens up a modern series of questions that are altered by our society today. As women increase in numbers in the workplace, single parenting is more likely, and divorce rates at all time highs, it puts women in a position they have yet to be in before. Is this challenge or opportunity? Or are the goals and dreams of young women being swallowed by doubt and fear created by external expectations. The modern feminist movement over the past several decades fought for freedom, rights, and the right to make choices.

What are the modern interpretations of the meaning of women’s suffrage and the movements for Equal Rights? Does Roe v. Wade have value and meaning as a Supreme Court landmark case in 2016?

In February of this year, the Supreme Court heard initial oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Heath v. Hellerstead. The case challenges Texas’ anti-Abortion law HB2. If the law were to be upheld, this would allow states to undermine the liberties seemingly protected under the precedent by calling the issues a protection of Women’s Health, instead of anti-abortion.

In the 14th and 19th Amendments protect the Women’s equal protection and the Right to Vote. But, where are we now? As I watched and listened to Michelle Obama’s speech days ago in Argentina, it made me think that there is another dialogue. Another discussion. “Doubt”. “Strength”. “Balance”. Equal Pay?

There is now an additional load that has redefined the feminist cause. Girls and women are now expected to do it all, while still battling on unequal battlefields. Many are top earners in their families playing multiple characters in their own play called “life”. Another large segment of women today are the first to attend college or achieve higher education degrees (or perhaps have gone to higher levels of education than their male spouses or siblings). The roles of Mother, career professional, community leader, organizer, problem solver, and then the added expectations of beauty and sex appeal. Not to leave out balancing family responsibilities, friendships and maintaining health. Today, if a woman works full time and is married, chances are and statistics show that woman is still more likely to carry the burden and responsibility of household chores and childcare responsibility. Arianna Huffington pushes women to “Thrive”. Sheryl Sandberg tells women to “Lean In”. Oprah Winfrey encourages both men and women to “OWN” themselves. Simply put, women are running themselves into the ground trying to be all things. Women are expected to balance climbing for professional careers, and balancing personal fulfillment and family life. Women are natural caregivers, which many times naturally has them think of others in major life and career decisions before serving their own needs.

For me, it has been such a combination of these aspects that struck a cord with me as I listened to the first lady described how she became “tired”. Tired of competing. Tired of people telling her she was not smart enough. Tired of people telling her she was too loud. Arianna Huffington described how she became “tired”. Literally. Collapsing at her desk.

“Women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world. The numbers tell the story quite clearly”, said Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.

On March 15th, after Hillary Clinton had given her Super Tuesday victory speech in West Palm Beach, Florida, had been criticized as being “shrill” and for her “style”. Regardless of your political views and party affiliation, the comments made by Donald Trump referring to Secretary Clinton’s bathroom break as “too disgusting” and a “weird deal”; comments that would not be made towards a male candidate. He was even more offensive towards Republican candidate, Carly Fiorina during the primary campaigns by commenting, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next President?”

This may resonate with women that have faced these challenges at home or in the workplace. It starts to sound like a familiar ring to any woman that has been looked at beyond anything other than her capabilities, and reduced to defending being a female.

I was raised in the state of Maryland, and the long time Senior Senator from the state of Maryland, Barbara Mikulski is the longest serving woman in the United States Congress (US House of Representatives 1977-1987; US Senate 1987 – present). As a young woman I realized what she had accomplished was not the norm. Women such as her defied the odds during a period of change and most challenged environments. Senator Mikulski responded to critics following Secretary Clinton’s victory’s on Super Tuesday by saying, “Many of we women feel that there’s a double standard. What’s being said about Hillary is what women have heard for centuries. Your too loud, your too aggressive, your too pushy”. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) also commented, “I think women go through a magnifying glass that men do not. Look at GOP Presidential frontrunner, Donald Trump. Talk about braggadocio, talk about arrogance, talk about shouting, talk about demeaning, talk about insulting. It is all there.”

The feminist fight is beyond “rights”. It is a fight to define what will truly serve women and their families, while being still being respected and appreciated as a woman. There are extraordinary women achieving great things in the United States and around the world. They would be so much greater if they were allowed to still be women. For men to still respect them as women. Equality does not mean you are not a man, and a woman is not a woman. It just means the playing field is clear, and there are not obstacles in the way. I encourage you all to use the hash tag #AmericanWoman2020 if you agree.

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