Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I'm Just a Girl in the World

Let me start off by saying congratulations to Pratibha Patil, the new president of India. I realize that the office of president is largely ceremonial in India, but women in India need a voice, and President Patil will provide them with a voice in the government.

I was impressed with her election because it is a well-known fact that women are not held in high regard in India. Indian daughters are not treasured but rather considered a curse or a burden. This is why an estimated 10 million daughters have been aborted in the past two decades, despite the fact that sex-selective abortions are illegal. Baby girls have also been the victims of neglect and infanticide. So many baby girls were abandoned after birth that the government has begun setting up cradles nationwide for unwanted babies to be left, in hopes that these babies may find homes with other families (more than likely abroad).

In addition to the killing of baby girls, young girls and women face severe discrimination. An estimated 40% of Indian women are illiterate because men and boys are given perference in academic settings.

Despite the fact that India is slowly turning itself into a sausage fest of nearly Chinese proportions, India has a history of electing women to prominent government positions. For instance, in 1966, Indira Gandhi became one of the first female prime ministers in the world as the prime minister of India.

So, my question is why are we, as Americans, falling behind? Why is it that women are the minority in our government? Why in this nation where women and men are supposed to be equals are women under-represented? Why is there resistance to strong, opinionated women? Why is there an undercurrent of disapproaval for women who want to change the world, especially if they choose the political arena to do so?

Let's look at the facts a minute:

In 2007, 86 women serve in the U.S. Congress. Sixteen women serve in the Senate, and 70 women serve in the House. The number of women in statewide elective executive posts is 76, while the proportion of women in state legislatures is at 23.5 percent.

Congress: women hold 86, or 16.3%, of the 535 seats in the 110th US Congress — 16, or 16.0%, of the 100 seats in the Senate and 70, or 16.1%, of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. In addition, three women serve as Delegates to the House from Guam, the Virgin Islands and Washington, DC.

Statewide Elective Executive: In 2007, 76 women hold statewide elective executive offices across the country; women hold 24.1% of the 315 available positions. Among these women, 45 are Democrats, 28 are Republicans, and 3 were elected in nonpartisan races.

State Legislature: In 2007, 1,733, or 23.5%, of the 7,382 state legislators in the United States are women. Women hold 422, or 21.4%, of the 1,971 state senate seats and 1,311, or 24.2%, of the 5,411 state house seats. Since 1971, the number of women serving in state legislatures has more than quintupled.

What is wrong with this picture? Our government is clearly not reflecting the composition of our country, as women make a marginal majority of our population but are only a small component of our government. Now, don't think I'm a feminazi demanding that a certain number of seats be reserved for women because I honestly don't believe that to be the answer. I don't think forcing the public to put women in office will change the attitudes that are creating this problem. I honestly think we as women need to work to change the world around us. I whole-heartedly believe that women have the right to be whatever they want to be. If a woman feels called to be a housewife or a nurse or a teacher or some other "stereotypical" position, I support them one hundred percent. I believe each of us has talents and desires that make us best suited for a particular career path. However, I don't think that any woman should sell herself short. I don't think that any woman holds an unimportant or weak position. Women are strong and dynamic, bright and intelligent. Women need to realize just how strong they are and realize the change they can evoke in whatever position God calls them to be in. Strong mothers set an example for strong daughters, strong teachers open the world up to the next generation, strong nurses advocate for people when they are at their most vulnerable.

I think women need to use the voices they have to show the world that we are valuable and have a lot to contribute. We need to be present, be active, and be loud that we can silence that voice that keeps yelling, "Will you shut your yap, woman?!"

It brings tears to my eyes to think about the ways young girls, young women are taught to shut up. I think of all the times that I've heard an adult ask a young child what their mommy does (for a living), and when the child is silent for a moment, the adult asks, "Does she stay home with you? Is she a teacher? Does she work at the hospital?" I thnk about when I was young and told everyone I was going to be an author. I remember my teachers telling me that they would buy my book and that they wanted to be at the book release, but I remember other adults pointing out that it'd be hard to earn enough money to raise a family...I remember telling people I wanted to be a famous singer...I remember that dream dying when it was made clear to me that I couldn't be a good mom AND a famous singer...and I wanted so badly to be able to be a good mom. Then comes the piece d'resistance: Once upon a time, I wanted to be the first female president of the United States. I wanted to change the world. I wanted to dialogue with world leaders, fight to protect the environment, and guide our country forward. I clung to that dream for quite a few years, but I remember deciding against it sometime in middle school. I like to say that I decided the position wasn't worthy of me, but I honestly think that it died because I believed I couldn't do it...which is why I thought it ironic that I was voted "mostly likely to be U.S. president" my senior year.

Anyway, the point is, I can think of several times in the recent past where I was made to feel as though I'd be a less capable leader because I'm a woman. I am the president of the pro-life organization, and I know that there were individuals who preferred to deal with my male vice president. I think I played into it, sadly, refusing to be the bad guy...because I'm a woman, and if I'm the bad guy, I'm a bitch, and that's the last thing I want to be. I just don't understand it, why should I be made to feel like a "little girl playing politics"? The worst part is that so much of the contention I felt was...not outwardly or directly expressed. But I can't deny it was there. I feel resentful that I had to prove that I could make an intelligent argument or a diplomatic statement. I hate that I have to prove that I function on reason as well as emotion...I hate that I have to prove that I can respond without getting catty...I hate that I have to prove that I have more to offer to a campaign than my breasts as a billboard.

I suppose it makes me feel better that I changed a few minds...not necessarily about the issue we were discussing but about me...and my value...and my a woman. I want respect because I am a woman, and I am bold and strong and I know that women can and will change the world with whatever power society has the guts to give us.

It still depresses me that in a nation where we proclaim equality between the sexes we imply through our votes and through our speech that men are more deserving of power and respect, that men are stronger and more capable of guiding our nation. But I ask you this, if we trust women to mold formidable young minds, care for the weak, and shape the next generation...why can't we trust them to nurture our democratic nation and guide into the future?

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