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A Room of One’s Own

March 13, 2010

We ask justice, we ask equality, we ask that all the civil and political rights that belong to citizens of the United States, be guaranteed to us and our daughters forever.” —Susan B. Anthony, Declaration of Rights for Women, July 1876

There’s this blog I absolutely adore, called Shakesville. It’s creator, Melissa McEwan, goes by the nickname Shakespeare’s sister. Poking around recommended posts there, I found that this name comes from both a song by The Smiths, and an extended essay by Virgina Woolf, talking about the history of women, and why they didn’t write in Shakespeare’s time. Then I traced back to two posts which quote relevant paragraphs of the Woolf essay. And I figure, the book is only $12 on Amazon. And if I buy that Ani DiFranco album I’ve wanted for ages then I can get free shipping. So I bought it and have been reading.
I have had the Stupak Amendment on my mind much of late, and the absurdity that Viagra coverage will probably be mandated in the final health bill, but birth control will probably not. I have had the frustration that feminist blogs blog about gay rights, but the gay blogs I read haven’t really mentioned these things. I have been weeping silently for the girl in in Richmond, and railing at those boys that committed that awful crime.
I, then, expected this book to enrage me. It’s a distinctly feminist book, afterall. I expected to, I don’t know, purchase as NOW membership and go volunteer at the abortion clinic. I expected anger at the unjust system of American oppression that…whatev.
Instead I am reminded that in America, I can expect to make nearly as much as my brothers in my life time. In this time and place, I have sexual autonomy, subject to some (relatively) minor hormonal effects of birth control and an unpleasant doctors visit every year. In my life, I can expect to choose my place of residence and my career, as well as almost every minor detail about my day from the clothes I wear to what I eat for dinner.
And in most of the world, these things are not true.

Yes, in Canada, and Western Europe, these things are true. In some of those places these things are more true than they are here. But in much of the world women can’t decide if they will cover their heads or not.  In Afganistan girls, not women but girls, are risking acid and beatings to go to school.  In parts of Africa girls are subjected to female genital mutilation in the name of purity.  I have read stories of ten year old girls married to forty year old men, of places where husbands are expected to beat their wives, of women facing jail and lashes for wearing pants.  And I find myself motivated, once again, to find a way for my voice and my motivation to help.

What can I do?  I’m a relatively poor and relatively busy grad student.  How can I change anything?  I can give money now and again.  Twenty five bucks to me means forgoing a couple of CDs or a night out.  Twenty five bucks means a year of school for a girl in Afganistan.  There’s some bang for your buck.

I can also agitate.  I can write here, which serves two purpose.  Maybe it encourages some of you to think about these issues, and to consider action.  And it helps me hone my words, for the other part of agitation: writing letters.  We’ve currently got a Secretary of State who kicks ass when it comes to getting things done for women globally, but that isn’t nearly enough: lets work on getting a whole government like that.  So I can write letters, to my senators and representatives, to my president, to diplomats, telling them how important these issues are.

It could have been me.  That’s what never stops ringing in my head.  Go look up the doctrine of coverture.  Read the wikipedia article, and pretend that the words in it are often foreign sounding.  Realize that it’s the same thing that women today face in third world countries.  It could very well have been me, if I was born two hundred years ago. I wouldn’t have a laptop or an education.  I wouldn’t be sitting in a room of my own, making independent money, just like Woolf said we should strive for.  I’d have a pile of children and hopeless dreams.  Each and every one of those girls and women I read about could have been me, though, and still could be.  They have the potential for great things, including great love and great enjoyment, and how could I sit here without thinking of them?  They could be me.

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