Presidential Equality

February 3, 1870.  That’s when the fifteenth amendment stipulated that
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

To be clear, all men regardless of race or color had the right to vote.  It would be over 50 years before women of any race or color could vote.

August 18, 1920. That’s when women received the right to vote in this country. My grandmother-in-law, who turned 100 this year, was born when women couldn’t vote. A woman with whom I spend my holidays had a mother who could not vote in the first election of her daughter’s life.  I find this unfathomable.

Never in my life have I questioned my worth when compared to my male counterparts, and I am grateful for that.  Along the way key points of the women’s intelligence dogma missed me.   Somehow I managed to excel in reading and writing AND math and science.  Girls are bad at math and science?  Who knew?  In 3rd or 4th grade I made the gifted and talented program in English, but not in math, which I found unacceptable.  Whatever stipulation the school set I must have accomplished, because I was in both the math and English G&T program from then on.  I scored a perfectly even 650 math and 650 English score on my SAT.  After high school I received scholarship offers for acting and engineering programs, and went the engineering route. My class ratio started at 8 men to every woman, but I never thought I shouldn’t be in an engineering college; I just found it really easy to find a date on Saturday nights.  After getting my degree I went to work for a big management consulting shop and picked the most challenging technical track I could find, without ever thinking if a girl belonged in that role.  Now, 20 years into my career I lead a team that is half women and half men and not a day goes by when I question if one of my male colleagues is better at his job than I am, because they are not.  We may have different skills and strengths, but they are not better.  My husband, as I have mentioned before, has had the same career duration as me and we make exactly the same amount of money.  My life is a symbol of the equality between men and women, and until recently I believed with all my heart and soul that gender equality was a reachable goal for this country.

In 2008 I held my baby girl and marveled that Barack Obama, a black man I voted for after caucusing for Hillary Clinton, was elected as president.  So much social change has been catalyzed during his 8 years in office.  Why shouldn’t the barrier of a female commander in chief be the next to fall?  In my mind it was a foregone conclusion, so I sobbed on Election Day when my dream of celebrating President Hillary Clinton’s win with my little girl evaporated.  How did a highly qualified woman lose to a man who has never served a day in office?  I don’t want my daughter live in a world where boys are just assumed to be better leaders than girls, because I have never lived in that world.  How dare this election destroy my 42 years of proof that men and women can be equal in this country?

Misogynist is being thrown around everywhere and peppers casual conversation in my circles.  Misogyny, according to the old hardback Merriam Webster Dictionary on my desk,  means the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls.  Filled with vitriol the word is spat meaning the first two words, but my fear is that it’s really the third.  Hatred and contempt could be focused on a single candidate or person.  It could mean that Hillary Clinton and her actions kept her from becoming elected.  However, I am terrified that the real problem is that the 48% of voters are actually prejudiced against my gender.  That is a much bigger wall separating women from the presidency, because that isn’t a candidate problem it’s a cultural issue.  My fear is that somehow outside of my bubble lives a country that still thinks women should be seen and not heard, honor their husband and father, and stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

We still have a chance to have our first woman president before the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage, but on the eve of this inauguration day that historical occurrence seems unlikely.  Friday I will watch Hillary attend the inauguration as the wife of our former president and worry that I live in a country that doesn’t think a woman can take the oath of office.  I will wonder if my father’s adoration and pride in me over the years would have been enhanced if only I’d been a boy, even though that thought seems impossible: he always seemed so proud of me. But he voted for our new misogynist president and I believe he is excited about the direction our country is going.  Is my own bubble more fragile than I ever imagined?  I will worry that my daughter will have to overcome obstacles that I was lucky enough to avoid through pure dumb luck.  And I will hope that the pace of change has accelerated from the late 1800s and we don’t have to wait 50 more years – the duration between black’s right to vote and women’s right to vote – before this country’s prejudice of women ends.  Will my daughter’s granddaughter be the first woman in my family to have a presidential female role model?  Will that far off progeny finally live in a world that I falsely believed I inhabited; a world where men and women are equally respected and valued?  Time will tell.

Equality? #wwwp5k

img_4616“Gender inequality doesn’t exist anymore.” My husband declares with the emphasis of someone seeing his inherent privilege fade away. He goes on to outline the female project manager giving him fits, the multitude of females at high levels in his company and his aggravating female client. For an engineer who started his career seeing cubicles filled with monthly images of scantily clad women wielding power-tools, this twenty year rise of women from calendar to manager has been rapid and probably unexpected.

I can’t really argue too much with him. I manage a team of engineers, half women and half men. With our matching engineering degrees we make the same amount of money.  (Well, we leap frog. When I get a raise, I make more. Then he gets one and he makes more.) We have similar responsibilities, similar jobs, similar flexibility to balance parenthood and employment.

We both coached our daughter’s soccer team. He does the dishes and laundry. I shop and cook. He fixes the broken fence; I sew buttons on when they fall off. I handle plumbing issues and he handles electricity.

We raise our daughter to love math and science. We raise our daughter to sing and love books. We raise our daughter to be a strong person and gender roles aren’t a topic we ever think to discuss. In her world the best mathematician in her class is a girl. The best speller is a girl and the person with the best handwriting is a girl.

But I’m a runner. I love running when I travel for work. Last week I left my hotel room with my phone in hand and my room key in my pocket. I don’t wear headphones when I run, because I know it’s not safe. I hate holding my phone when I run, but I’m somewhere strange and no one knows I’m leaving and no one is expecting me back. On the off chance something bad happens I can call. On the off chance something really bad happens the last known location of my cell phone might be traceable.

I’ve taken a self defense class. I know what to do if I’m attacked. I know where to gouge how to shout and how to best strike someone to knock them out. I know that if someone attacks me with a knife I’m supposed to grab the blade. My stomach clenches every time I think that: grab the blade. Can you imagine? Have you ever imagined? If you are woman, you might have. If a man, probably not.

I never go for a run and don’t think of my safety. I vary my route. I’m aware of my surroundings.

In Austin I jogged out to my favorite run along Town Lake. Somehow I got turned around and found myself out on this amazing path I’ve never seen before. Maybe I usually run on the opposite shore or maybe I go the other direction?  Regardless, this new route was filled with people so I felt safe and headed out to enjoy an adventure.

Then I came to a fork. One side continued next to the river and the other diverted off into a wooded sanctuary. One side was safe and the other was unknown. I stopped and waited. Every single runner, walker, cyclist stayed on the main path. No one turned. No one sought out the shady refuge from the 92 degree heat. Minutes passed, and my desire to keep running waned. I turned around and headed back the way I came. As I neared my hotel I wondered what was down that path. Was I just being silly? Then I remembered the woman who was attacked the week before walking in my neighborhood. Better to be safe than sorry.

The genders are equal in lots of ways. But my little girl and I will have many conversations in her life about how to keep herself safe. How to make sure she has a friend watching out for her at a party. What the consequences could be if she drinks too much. How to be aware and not look like a victim. Why she shouldn’t wear “that dress”. If she’s a runner I’ll teach her what I’ve learned, and hopefully she won’t take the wooded path either, even if it calls to her soul. Safety first.

My husband and I are equal in many ways, but I have long hair and breasts and physical attributes that mark me as a potential victim.  I am smaller than my husband and I have soft places that bad men want to hurt and probe. My daughter has smaller softer places. I am weaker and could be overpowered by most men, if they wanted to. I have to teach my daughter things I would never teach a son. Just like black families have to teach their kids how to act if a cop pulls them over, which is something that I would never think to teach my white daughter.

“Have you ever worried about you safety?” I ask my husband when I get home from Austin. “Do you worry about being in a park after dark, or walking to you car at the airport?”

“No. Why?” he asks.

The conversation has to start somewhere. With a kneel at the anthem. With a conversation between two almost equals who love each other. Inequality exists.


My musings from my 5k around Austin, Texas and part of the WordPress WWWP5K.