To be honest, I couldn’t get out of bed until 2pm on Wednesday. That day, I stayed in the same sweatpants I had slept in. I didn’t put on a bra. I didn’t go to class. I didn’t even leave the building. I wasn’t ready to face the new reality.
As a white, female, American citizen, I have never experienced racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, or many other forms of discrimination, though I have dealt with sexism. Growing up, I never believed in attributing opportunities, or lack thereof, to gender. I still don’t think we should, but I realize gender does matter in many instances where it shouldn’t. In conversations with my dad, he has brought up the topic of gender differences on a few occasions, speaking in terms of the opportunities available to me compared to my three older brothers. As I prepared to enter college and choose a major, my dad talked about the business world needing more women, telling me I’ll be better off because companies want to increase diversity. He said I’d probably find a great job if I decided to study science or mathematics. I was excited by the idea that I could be better than my brothers, though I questioned the degree of truth to these statements, wondering why gender differences should have an effect anyway.
When I think about gender differences, I think about the gender gap in education in countries like Somalia, Liberia, and Afghanistan, where girls have limited access even to an elementary school education. Sixty-five million girls around the world are not in school because of cultural barriers or family obligations. A girl named Kanchi from rural Nepal wrote a poem that said:
“Father & Mother always used to say
that i don’t have any right to read & write
because 1 day i have to leave birth place
& i have to be someone’s wife.”
Kanchi’s six older sisters married young and never had the opportunity to get an education, though a chance arose for her to go to a school that opened an hour and a half away from her home. She had to convince her parents to let her attend, and they asked her on more than one occasion to drop out so she could work on the family farm. Kanchi’s parents weren’t aware of the benefits of education, as they themselves were not educated. Many counties are not making an effort to close the gender gap in education. Last year, in Afghanistan, three girls were walking down the street when two men approached them and asked if they were going to school. When the girls answered, “Yes,” the men threw acid in their faces, causing hospitalization and permanent scars. For weeks after this incident, many of their classmates didn’t leave their houses for fear that they would encounter a similar situation. In another incident in Afghanistan, 100 girls were killed by a group of men with hand grenades outside a school. As Americans, we are sometimes unaware that these attacks are happening in other parts of the world. Or maybe we choose to turn a blind eye because it’s not happening to us.
The gender gap in the U.S. is much different than the gender gap in areas like Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, or the Middle East. In our country, women are not denied access to education or punished for wanting to learn. But we have to acknowledge our gender gap, because although it has narrowed since the 70s, it won’t go away on its own. In 2015, women working full time in the U.S. were paid an average of 80% of what men were paid across all fields. It’s been said that a female president would shatter the highest glass ceiling in our country. I want this too, but it’s not the reason why I reacted the way I did to the election results.
On Tuesday night, I stood in front of the sink outside the bathroom in our three-person apartment, washing my hands. Behind me, I saw Sam running to her room. The door slammed shut. I let the warm water continue to run, trying to block out the sobs that choked her and caused her to gasp for breath. I turned off the water and took slow, quiet steps down the hallway in the opposite direction, toward the TV. Deanna was darting my way, her face red. “Did I miss something?” I asked.
Deanna shook her head, “I think it’s over.” I sat down in the middle of the couch and brought a small throw pillow to my chest, holding onto the pillow the way I held onto the hope that we would still emerge as a nation with a competent leader.
Deanna returned to sit next to me on the couch. She put her head on my shoulder and asked if we could turn off the TV.
“We have to watch till the end. It’s not over. It’s not over.” I repeated these words for the rest of the night. The longer I watched, the itchier my body became. I started scratching my hands. Deanna gently grabbed my wrist so I would stop. I used the other hand to scratch my back. I scratched until I started bleeding. When it was officially announced, I let myself sob. I sunk down into the couch, scratching and sobbing and bleeding. Deanna and I held onto each other, both of us at a complete loss for words and unable to form a coherent thought. All I could mumble was, “It’s over.” I turned off the TV, my body shaking. Chants drifted in through the open window. We couldn’t tell if the uproar was in protest or celebration, but Deanna shut the glass panel to block it out anyway.
I cried for immigrants and refugees, for people of color, for Muslims, for Hispanics, for the LGBTQIA+ community, for everyone who has been victimized by recent hate-filled comments and actions.
I’m upset because we are allowing hateful, discriminatory behavior to be justified. I’m upset because our nation is going to be led by someone indisputably unfit to lead it. A few women my age are most upset because America didn’t elect a glass ceiling breaker. I believe a woman leading the nation would break gender barriers and empower women, though the fact that one woman lost, doesn’t mean all women have to be knocked down. I am consoled by my belief that gender equality in the U.S. is certainly reachable in our lifetime. I’ve dealt with my fair share of people telling me I couldn’t do things because I’m a woman. In high school, I worked at a family-owned ski shop in my town. The shop is in its third generation of ownership, and the system has always been the same: the men handle equipment, while the women work at the register. Why should my role in a workplace be determined based on gender? I worked there for over two years, taking stock of inventory, setting up displays, helping customers find jackets and ski pants, and fitting them for helmets. I enjoyed working there; we all wore flannel shirts and jeans and could crack jokes with the employees and the owners. As much as I liked my coworkers and the relaxed atmosphere, I still couldn’t get past the gender division. I brought it up frequently, asking why they couldn’t teach me to fit customers for boots and sell skis and tune rental equipment. They said I’d likely do a better job than half the guys, but that the shop simply didn’t work that way. I wasn’t able to reach my goal, but I did what I could to bring attention to the matter.
If the U.S. reaches gender equality in our lifetime, our nation can serve as an example for other countries to start taking steps toward gender equality. We can help women in countries where equal opportunity is not the norm. Women who are educated tend to marry later, have fewer children, and support families who have fewer health problems and are better off financially. Educating women reduces poverty and spurs economic growth and development. This is something we can work toward.
As a woman, I don’t feel well respected by our president-elect or by the people who support him, but I’d like to believe our rights will not be taken away from us. I’m more concerned about families who are living in fear of being torn apart, illegal immigrants who are in the process of becoming legal citizens or who have given up on the arduous process, and refugees from Syria and other unstable countries who will have nowhere to return to if they’re sent back “home.” I’m worried about the most vulnerable groups of people, whose rights can potentially be taken away a lot easier than my own.
This election is dividing our nation and inciting fear and uncertainty. We as a nation must fight for social and economic justice, fight to end discrimination, and work toward equality for all groups. We must be strong, brave, powerful, resilient, and full of hope throughout the next four years. We will move forward. And let’s not rule out the possibility that our president-elect could become a leader for all Americans.