If I sit here and think about “Women’s Rights” I almost instantly feel my mind going in a million different directions. I think about what I believe most people would think-suffrage, abortion, employment, childcare, intimate partner violence, human trafficking and the list goes on. These are some of the different directions in which my own mind has started to crawl, but the one somewhat indescribable area that my mind rests is the “what if”.
I question, what if we weren’t raised to believe that boys and girls were so naturally different from one another. Then I hear the answer “but they are different, physically”. And my mind goes on…is physical difference all that we use for identity, sometimes. But then I have to reign myself back in and say “Women’s Rights”. As it has been said for decades before me, by countless women and men, Women’s Rights are Human Rights.
I struggle with the idea of separating one person’s rights from another person’s rights. What does that separation do- does it feel reminiscent of “Separate But Equal” or does it give the recognition, power and autonomy to limit outside control and influence? I don’t believe there is one answer to this question. I believe that our environment and our context heavily influences the actions needed to have an impact on any kind of progress. The risk of misinterpretation or being misunderstood when discussing topics our society labels as “sensitive” like “Women’s Rights” makes it challenging to have open conversations, an action that I feel is crucial to fully engaging and supporting equality. For example, if I believe that bringing men into the conversation on “Women’s Rights” is going to place me on that slippery slope of being a woman who is anti-feminist then I may elect to limit my contribution from the dialogue. I may be silenced.
“Women’s Rights” in my view is not about silencing anyone; it is about promoting everyone to a level playing field and to acknowledging personal autonomy. However, I do believe that understanding the damage that is done to all parties is extremely relevant. And I do believe there is damage done. When women/girls are oppressed, someone (often times men) is oppressing them. While our society will say that the oppressor is the one who is better off because they have power and control, I sometimes wonder. If we just step way back, away from the politics, away from the common fight and just think. We are all human beings, if we are all simply allowed to be happy and successful in our own right will men “want” to be oppressors? When we consider equality is there an assumption that those with power and privilege also have all the things that are “good” and “right” in this world? I for one don’t believe so.
I know at the heart of “Women’s Rights” is that acknowledgement that women should have free and equal access to opportunity and resources, as well as personal autonomy. Though, I am still left questioning, questioning “equality” when the other half of the equation can be seen as oppressive, controlling, sexist, and discriminatory.
Jessica Donohue-Dioh is a part-time faculty member in the Social Work Department.. Her courses focus on Race and Gender, as well as multiple facets of violence. She is the founder of End Slavery Cincinnati, a local anti-human trafficking coalition. She enjoys exploring the non-traditional lens of social issues, hearing new and different perspectives from students, community members and peers. This summer (2014), she will be taking students to Cameroon for 2 ½ weeks. These students will be enrolled in her Race class as well as her Gender class.