Identifying With Feminism

By Abigail Pelzer-Opinion
Newton Daily News, Iowa.

It was recently I discovered I’m a feminist. I honestly had no idea.

It doesn’t seem too uncommon to equate the term in a negative light — oftentimes with radical, bra-burning women involved in the civil rights movement. (Although, what was wrong with those efforts exactly?) Identifying with feminism took me well into my 30s, thanks in part to this stigma.

As it turns out, fighting and obtaining equal political, social and personal rights isn’t such a bad thing, although some have fought to make it appear so since the beginning of time.

Probably not unlike many women in the last few years, I was shaken out of my fog by a number of influential women, one being Sheryl Sandberg, who penned “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”

Sandberg, former Google executive and current COO of Facebook, has fought for gender equality for years. Many of the themes Sanberg discusses in her book trace back to deeply ingrained cultural expectations — that is, stuff women have to put up with that men don’t. Things we don’t even recognize.

I’ve since discovered similarities in other books that explore women in the workplace. In “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office,” I discovered I play into some behaviors I don’t need to … although being nice doesn’t happen to be one of them.

I minimize compliments, for example. Should someone compliment my writing, leadership or even my blouse, I’m inclined to say something like “It was nothing” or “just doing my part” or “this old thing?” I’m learning to say, “thank you — I too am pleased with this.”

Also, I was asking permission all the time. The “Nice Girls” book points out that men are more prone to not ask, and then apologize later, if needed. (Cue my husband.) Meanwhile, I was feeling obliged to run small and necessary purchases by my boss. He finally asked me to stop.

Carrying around the book I’m reading now has generated curiosity, pride and far more comments than I anticipated.

Apparently my mom and everyone elses is well versed about journalist, activist and proud feminist Gloria Steinem, but her vast work is nearly new to me. I’ve realized while reading her “My Life on the Road” women like Steinem played and continue to play an important role in blazing the trail to equality.

As for my own struggles, I’ve had angry men yell at me, dismayed I’m in a position of power, demanding to talk to the editor of the paper — “I’d like to talk to HIM!” And others who address their correspondence “Dear Sir,” as if the possibility of a woman operating a newsroom is outlandish. Others try to avoid me and address my almost always male boss. Apparently it is sometimes assumed my superior might put me in my place rather than trust my judgment. Fortunately, I’ve worked with wonderful publishers who haven’t been prone to engage in such nonsense.

Perhaps most hurtful was learning that throughout my career, men with similar experience and similar positions earned more than me. I was delighted to receive a news release last week about Iowa Rep. Marti Anderson and Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum joining with women impacted by pay discrimination to discuss the details of an equal pay bill and plans to move it forward during this legislative session. Women in Iowa only make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Meanwhile, there’s been a women’s issue circulating on social media — the tampon tax. Iowa is one of 40 states that actually taxes women for essential products. I was pleased when a friend of mine reached out to a local legislator and called foul. It’s exciting to hear it’s at least being discussed at the statehouse. It hardly seems fair to tax women for being women.

Perhaps it’s time for gender inequality, not feminism, to become the stigma.

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