Being a woman in today’s world is a constant battle of finding one’s self when that self is repeatedly constructed and molded by society. Growing up, a girl is encouraged to participate in activities attributed as being “feminine,” such as playing house or dressing up dolls. If a girl seems more interested in playing sports than deciding on Barbie’s next adventure, she is labeled a tomboy and pushed toward the more feminine route. As she grows older and transitions into her teen age years, she is ambushed by beauty campaigns telling her how she can fix this and that and become a more desirable citizen of the world. And when she crosses the threshold into womanhood, she begins to feel like she has a voice – only for society to find ways to quell that sense of empowerment.
Soon after arriving at the College, I found that it was easy and accessible to become involved and to create a voice on campus. With so many resources and support, I realized that this was a place where I could make my aspirations of becoming involved in politics a reality and eagerly began my studies in the field. Being a young woman did not play a negative factor in my interest; it instead encouraged me, for far too few women are present in the political realm. Yet even though I found full support for my interest in the purple bubble, outside I received less encouragement.
I remember calling my dad one night to talk about my day. We discussed classes and what the weather was like, and eventually, we got to the topic of majors. When I told my dad that I intended to be a political science major, I heard an exasperated sigh on the other end of the line. Knowing this meant he was about to give a long-winded response, I listened on the phone as he went on to tell me that pursuing politics as a woman was not a well thought out decision. He stressed that not only was the possibility of me getting a job in the government slim, it was an unnecessary gamble. “Why not go into science?” I retorted that I was not interested in becoming a scientist. By the end of the talk he realized he could not change my mind, so he suggested I think more about it.
My dad by no means sees women as inferior or incapable, and he has always embedded in me the notion that I can achieve anything that I put my mind and energy into. But throughout his lifetime he has seen how women are degraded in the political sphere, always working twice as hard as men and receiving half the recognition. His attempt to dissuade me from pursuing politics was the well-intentioned attempt of a father, wishing to make his daughter’s life devoid of the sexist aspects of politics.
Having this talk with my dad made me realize that women are still seen as unequal in today’s society. Sure we have more women politicians, but more young women are being pushed into different fields with less public visibility. Even worse, women are still being denied rights such as freedom of expression and the right to say no to sexual advances and even worse, protection against mutilation without consent.
Going to a place like Williams can make one forget the injustices women still face around the world. Here, women can run for office and become president, raise awareness about sexual harassment and have our voices heard. But it seems that we have forgotten that outside our purple bubble women are suffering and it needs to stop.
There are global campaigns that focus on these issues, including One Billion Rising (OBR). Pioneered by the famous playwright Eve Ensler, known for starting The Vagina Monologues, this event was started to raise awareness of the plight many women face to a broader audience. But on campus, student involvement in clubs that focus on women and their rights is not as strong as it could be. I recall attending a Frosh Women’s lunch put on by the Women’s Collective and hearing the upperclassmen encourage us to become more involved in the women’s groups because their memberships were waning. A lot of the upperclassmen were seniors, and they feared that with their graduation, their clubs would disappear due to lack of student involvement.
With OBR happening on Valentine’s Day, bringing the issue of women’s rights to the forefront, society is being reminded that this issue is not a thing of the past. Colleges across the nation are participating, further reminding students that not all women have access to the resources they enjoy on campus. With this revival of attention I encourage students on campus to attend events that will expand their knowledge on the topic and look into clubs that focus on different aspects of the cause. Groups such as Men for Consent, Amnesty International and the Women’s Collective are great clubs to explore because they create platforms for discussing the abuses and adversities women face, on this campus and off, and give students the ability to address them and make change.
With all the freedoms I have at the College, I see what girls in other parts of the world lack. Here, I have been given the resources to bring the plights these girls face to light, and it is my hope that more students will become involved in this cause, too.
Michella Ore ’16 is from Oakland, Calif. She lives in Williams Hall.