by Nairoby Otero
How could I miss the signs that I was being raised in a world that didn’t consider me an equal?
I am a 26 year-old woman that has never experienced sexism. I am a 26 year-old woman that has never been told, “You cannot do this because you are a girl”. I am a 26 year-old woman whose gender has never been a threat in my profession. I was raised by parents who insisted that my sister and I played sports instead of taking ballet classes for fear that we would grow up and think we could not compete as adults in a man’s world.
This progressive upbringing in the 1980s/90s continued when I attended my alma mater, Cabrini High School, named after St. Frances Cabrini, the first woman to establish a missionary order of women. She was penniless, alone, and couldn’t speak English; however, she pioneered the building of schools, hospitals, clinics, and orphanages around the world. My Alma mater’s mantra reads, “Stand Among Great Women”.
Everywhere I have ever turned throughout my life I have been surrounded by powerful women who exceeded their own gender’s expectations.
Living in the company of such incredible role models and principles, why wasn’t I warned that women do not necessarily take care of their own gender?
Recently, I received a text message from an acquaintance, a fellow 26 year-old woman who wrote, “Haven’t talked to you in awhile, figured you were in hiding as a result of Sarah Palin being chosen as a VP candidate”. (I was a Hillary Clinton supporter.) I responded to her text message, “Palin doesn’t bother me. I’m voting for McCain/Palin. Want to get dinner next week?” She responded, “You’re kidding me right?! She’s an abomination to women! Spit on her!”
“Spit on her” struck a chord with me that I cannot shake off. Has my generation come so far as women that in the process we have lost respect for one another? I have been trying ever since to understand why this comment has resonated so deeply with me when I realized that I had been living in a blissful word of ignorance.
My generation often referred to as Generation Y; (I prefer the generation of entitlement), has yet to experience something so monumental that it has threatened our rights in a way that has frightened our existence; therefore, we have never fought our own battles and expect our parents to protect us.
The women of the Baby Boomer generation have given me the majority of my rights as a woman, but why is it that a large percentage of these very women seem to have forgotten the struggle that they endured? I see some of these very women attacking other women on TV, in newspapers, and in coffee shops. Are women officially tired of fighting? Is it easier to just accept the status quo that we will always be second? Their generation has fought for so long, that it would be a travesty for my generation of entitlement to not pick up the torch that has been left burning for over 30 years, and lead. The question then becomes: Is there an entitled woman who has the guts to take the first stance?
Every woman in every age group that cannot say, “I disagree with ‘Betty’ because of x, y, and z”, but instead chooses to belittle the woman by saying, “Spit on her”, is the cause of our lack of solidarity. Women will never rise higher than where we are at home or at the work place unless women across this country identify that we are the cause of our own oppression. We are the ones to blame. How can we demand equal representation at work or in government when we are the first to humiliate one another?
“Spit on her” did not affect me because it was a jab at a political figure; it hurt me because it came from a woman who cannot seem to put politics aside and recognize that a sister has set a new bar of power and success for every young girl watching.
In questioning why women are quick to tear one another down, I got the perspective of a male friend. I posed the question, “Why is it that men truly understand the word ‘fraternity’ and will look out for one another?” When I asked him this question, I assumed very foolishly that he would need a moment to think about his response, but instead without hesitation he answered. His response came in comparing the greater number of male professors versus female professors at the university level across the country. He believes that women are experiencing what he calls “power envy” among their own gender. A phrase he defined as “an envy that occurs when one has worked hard for their current position only to watch another gain the same position without an equitable amount of ‘hard work’”. He also explained that today, when a hard-working woman enters the education field, her corporate climb is, by comparison to her female predecessors, a much easier one. As a result, the women who are already at the pinnacle of the educational level, having fought for their place at the top, become envious that this younger generation is having it easy. Instead of holding their sister’s hand, they let go.
He then explained that men, on the other hand, have always been at levels of prominence in both their domestic and professional lives. Helping another man is not threatening because, whether they help or not, they will still be at the executive level.
Which brings me back to, how could I possibly miss the signs that I was being raised in a world that didn’t consider me an equal?
Perhaps my parents went wrong in teaching my sister and me that we were free as young girls. My parents are Cuban immigrants who fled to America, because here we are all created equal. Nah, it’s not my parent’s fault they taught me to dream and become successful.
Perhaps the fault lies on the schools I attended for teaching me that being a young woman would never hinder me. Nah, it cannot be my school’s fault; I went to an all girls high school founded by a woman who has a shrine in Philadelphia.
Perhaps it is the women of the Baby Boomer generation for making it easy for us to take for granted the liberties we have been born into. Nah, it is not their fault they are the reason I am writing this; they have inspired a nation of women.
The culprits of my awakening are none other than my sisters who have taken me out of my bliss of ignorance. I miss the time when I thought everything was okay for me as a woman because my sisters would always have “my back”.
Since this realization I find myself mourning my gender.
I mourn for thinking that women understood that only we could take care of one another because if we don’t, who will?
I mourn for thinking that in America, I was at an equal playing level as men.
I mourn for the lack of courage across this nation from my sisters who have yet to step up and scream, “Enough is enough!”
As I allow myself time to mourn what seems to be the loss of sisterhood, I will remind myself how powerful I have felt these last 26 years, living in my bliss of ignorance. This has given me the courage to dare and compete in a man’s world not knowing I was a minority.
It is my desire that when I wake up from mourning, that all my sisters across this country will too wake and join me in continuing the empowerment of our gender. We do this by simply putting one another on a pedestal, asking ourselves where we lack representation, and then following through by reshaping our role, and by taking responsibility when we are not treating one another with dignity.
In the meantime let me pretend that I can go back to my bliss of ignorance.