|STUDENTS CALL FOR SOCIAL CHANGE|
I know that this was never something that was talked about growing up. Or at least not directly. Our parents taught us that we, as women, were equals, that we could do whatever we wanted, that we were smart enough, good enough, and supported enough to do so. But, we weren’t told that the rest of the world didn’t see us this way.
I keep thinking about what I would have wanted to hear, what I would have wanted to know. I see myself in you, and our mom in you, and our grandmother in you. I see all strong, powerful, and determined women in you. But, I also see those who are ready to try and take that away from you.
Mom and Dad taught us how to walk, how to read, how to ride a bike, but they couldn’t teach us how to fight for these specific rights - our reproductive ones, our human ones. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to, but rather I don’t think that they realized it was a fight that we were going to have to face. I think that they thought that this decision had been made for us in 1973 when they were eight years old. Roe v. Wade had already determined this right during their lifetime, and, therefore, the decision was final and the fight was over. I also think it is a fight in which they personally feel conflicted towards. And, I get why.
Our Catholic roots grounded my parents' generation. It gives them a sense of belonging, reminding them of where they came from. And, for us, religion has meant family and immense love. But, being Catholic or being young should not inhibit one from this fight.
The fight over our natural born rights in reference to religious principles is un-American. We were founded as a nation that believes in the inherent separation of Church and State. Ultimately, imposing religious beliefs on our laws is unconstitutional.
I never knew exactly what our parents’ view was on abortion rights. Of our thousands of conversations, regarding everything from the tropes in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to how I would look with bangs, this was never a conversation that was once broached. I don’t think it was until I started college that I directly asked them what they thought. Despite asking them separately, their reactions and responses were startlingly similar. It made them squirm, visibly conflicted and uncomfortable with both the question and their answer. “I don’t think people should get abortions” was probably the answer I was first given. “But, people will still get abortions if it is illegal. It will just be done unsafely and lead to desperate and dead women” was probably how I responded, unsatisfied with the initial answer. With some pressing, I was able to illicit an uncomfortable nod, in agreement that access to abortions should be legal.
I don’t think the responses of our parents are unique. Rather, I think that they are representative of a generation, and society, that has been ill-equipped to talk about important issues like this. This, however, can no longer be true.
I don’t want you to ever have to squirm with your answer. Nor do I want you to be uncomfortable talking about these rights. One should not have to feel ashamed, uncomfortable, or like they are betraying their religion by defending women’s rights.
You should be taught why these rights are so important and what you can do to defend them. Instead, I had to seek out this information, and, in doing so, I worried that I was betraying, or at least contradicting, not just my religious backing, but my familial one.
This, however, was not the case. My parents always encouraged me to be curious, to be quizzical, to be informed. To make independent decisions. But, when it comes to our rights, it is essential that we begin these conversations at home, at school, and in the public sphere.
Our reproductive rights should not be manipulated into an issue of morality. If anything, oppressing one gender and taking away their rights is immoral. You should never feel bad for defending the rights of the body you were born with.
But, one must first get access to this information. For without exposure, it is impossible to learn how to defend one's rights and engage in these conversations effectively.
What you haven’t been told is that we are in the midst of a war. This war is against people like you and me, and our mother, and our friends, and our neighbor, and even that girl who passes you in the hall that you do not know.
We are women and therefore we, along with every other woman, are required to be a part of this fight. Our reproductive rights and health are an issue that transcends race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and religion. We are all impacted by this. And, by limiting these rights, we allow ourselves to be a part of a cycle that normalizes the continuous oppression of women.
You also need to know that we have extreme privilege. Even if abortion became illegal, you would be okay. You have had great health education relative to so many other young people. You could get access to any healthcare you needed as we could afford to go elsewhere. This is not the reality for so many Ameri-cans. We must ensure that privilege does not determine whether a woman has access to fair, proper, and necessary healthcare.
While these issues may not have been directly addressed as we grew up, our parents have prepared us for this fight. They have taught you who a woman is already. A woman is strong, smart, loving, honest. You have had many women around you to teach you this. But, you were also taught what a women is not. A woman is not polite because she doesn’t want to unintentionally offend a man, a woman is not quiet because her voice imight be unwanted, a woman is not still because she doesn’t want to cause a scene.
There is no reason for you to accept an identity that is not your own. I want you to never lose sight of who you are, even if society is telling you to be or act otherwise. But, while we have been allowed to be ourselves, you must fight so that this is a reality for all.
The fight of the women before you must be remembered in this journey. It is the fights of those like Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg that must always be front and center. It is all people who have fought the idea that women are less than men. These are the people to whom you must look when it seems too tiring to keep fighting.
I know that this sounds daunting. But, I can tell you that you are not alone. I have been to Washington and stood by those actively demanding that our rights be respected. It has reminded me that this is a cause greater than just you and me.
There are going to be some who think that I am over-exaggerating. They may argue that the women I have previously listed have already done the necessary work. That, just as my parents may have thought Roe v. Wade had secured abortion rights, women’s rights are secure and “good enough” as they are. I am here to tell you that our rights are not secure and are not good enough. You must firmly declare this as I have had to do. Gender inequality is alive and well. This is a fight for our natural, human rights. We must ensure that we maintain our reproductive freedoms in the face of powers that threaten these rights and seem impossibly large to fight. Alabama. Louisiana. Mississippi. Georgia. Ohio. Missouri. Kentucky. Arkansas. Utah. I don’t care if that list expands to include all fifty states, you must remember that you can fight them and that you can win.
I am sorry to say that, while today it may be abortion rights, tomorrow it will be the fight to end the wage gap or sexual assault or workplace discrimination. The problem will always seem monumental, but that doesn’t make it impossible. I want to not only help you understand your role in fighting for our reproductive rights, but make you realize that we must continue the fight for gender equality as a whole.
Sojourner Truth once said, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!” I want you to remember this. I want you to remember that women can effect change. That you have power. We cannot stop fighting until the Declaration of Independence is amended to say “All humans are created equal.” And, I will be there, fighting the good fight, right beside you.