“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own,” Audre Lorde, the famed poet, wrote in 1981. As sage and wise about feminist issues as she was, it is doubtful even she could’ve anticipated the haunting backslide of women’s rights that took place in the next four decades.
The shackles that chain women still snake out from all spheres of life — from the government, from purported men of God, from the men we marry and have children with, and from those who raised us. What’s worse is that many people, women and men, still claim that we have achieved gender equality and that there is nothing left to fight for.
In 2022, barely a century after (white) American women gained the right to vote, we lost the legal rights to our own body.
In 2022, Iranian women are being hunted by the “morality police” for letting their hair drift in the wind or not binding themselves in restrictive coverings.
In 2022, Muslim women in France are prosecuted for freely and harmlessly choosing to wear hijab. Since 2021, girls in Afghanistan are stuck at home again, their dreams of an education dashed by cruelly misogynistic men.
Almost all of these horrific statistics boil down to one harsh, unforgiving idea — under patriarchy, women are not supposed to have autonomy.
We are not supposed to choose when, how or if we bear children. We are not supposed to choose what to wear or how to worship. We are not supposed to educate ourselves, and we are supposed to understand why the men who “love” us treat us like disposable objects.
I see the appeal in feigning ignorance, in pretending that all women are free and equal because we have a woman vice president or are allowed to have our own credit cards. It becomes so exhausting after a while — hearing about women incarcerated for miscarriages, young women killed by their lovers, girls barred from school over and over again. It’s an endless cycle.
But this ignorance, at all levels, is killing women and girls. When our boyfriends and brothers laugh at Andrew Tate — a violent, wildly popular streamer who believes women can’t drive and quite literally belong to men — they perpetuate a culture that condones femicide of independent, autonomous women. When women who would not choose abortion — like myself — don’t fight for the rights of all women to make choices about their own bodies, choices that we grant corpses, we uphold the patriarchal society that holds us down.
There is no longer room to giggle at “women belong in the kitchen” jokes or to wash our hands of the atrocities happening to our Iranian and Afghan sisters because they live in a society so different from our own — or so we think.
We also can no longer rely on men in power to save us or to fix this mess. They have ruled the world since the dawn of civilization, making every political decision and controlling every religion — and look where we are.
Women and girls need to fight for each other now. Every one of us is acutely aware that there is nothing separating us but arbitrary locations, families, and luck. As frustrating as this seems, one of our best ways to hold back the tide against misogynist laws and punishments — at least in America — is voting.
These midterms are some of the most important in our lifetimes, and maybe even in history — the bodily autonomy and legal rights of women that were once enshrined in law are yet again on the ballot.
The old adage, “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others,” is sadly applicable here. The feminist situation in the West is not nearly as dire as in the Middle East right now, but there is precious little that American women can do if we don’t vote in politicians who will uphold our own personhood and protections.
Abolishing patriarchy is a seemingly Sisyphean fight that will certainly last my entire life, and likely far longer. Still, I take heart from the fact that the women who came before us fought when they couldn’t vote, when they couldn’t hold jobs, when they couldn’t wear pants, and they won.
Now, even though we currently have less rights than our mothers did, it is our job to carry the torch, make sure our ancestors did not work in vain, and ensure that our daughters live in a world that is built by and for them.