What I Take For Granted

Coming from a middle class family living in a suburban town in a developed country, there are probably a lot of things I take for granted. Many of which I probably don’t even realize. I never had to worry about food, clothing, or transportation, and most importantly I have never felt unsafe because of my gender, race, or values in the town in which I grew up or in the towns that surrounded me. But the one thing I certainly know I have taken for granted is my education.

By now, it’s no secret that about three weeks ago over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School by an Islamist group called Boko Haram, simply just for going to school. The group is now selling these girls into slavery or as “wives.” Boko Haram actually means “Western education is sinful.” These girls did absolutely nothing wrong on April 14th, the day their school was attacked and they were taken as hostages and transported to a remote forest outside of Cameroon. They were simply just trying to get an education- they weren’t asking for a miracle, they weren’t expecting the impossible. They just wanted to learn, which is apparently a “sinful” concept to some.

Living in the United States, schooling for me was always a given. You have preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and then high school. Our public schooling system makes education accessible to everyone despite gender, race, or religion. In the public school system in which I attended, college was also pretty much a given. I never felt like continuing my education onto college was an option, rather more like a requirement. I know very few people who didn’t continue onto college after high school, whether it was part-time, full-time, one town over, or across the country. There are very few times that I think twice about my college degree. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I am very fortunate to have had the college experience, to have a Bachelor’s Degree to my name. Looking back, I feel overcome with joy and happiness. I made some awesome friends, attended many thrilling classes  (some not so thrilling), and created many life lasting memories. But at the same time that lack of personal acknowledgement, that sense of feeling like college was a requirement rather than a privilege, makes me sad and a little less incompetent.

Incompetent? A little strange, yes. But how could I not feel that way? There are so many young girls and women out there who are constantly restricted. Restricted on what they can wear, who they can marry, what job they can hold if any, or what they can believe in. And here I am, a 20-something year old woman in my career of choice, married to the man I chose, with a college degree, and a house of my own. What do I really know about life? About struggling? About challenges? About being told I can’t do something? About being restricted? Let me answer that for you- absolutely nothing. And despite all my years of schooling, I couldn’t even begin to pretend I understand.

So, I won’t pretend. I absolutely cannot wrap my “educated” brain around what is happening in Nigeria right now. I especially could not begin to fathom the lack of importance some people put on an education. Ojonwa Miachi, an education activist in Nigeria, recalls remarks she remembers hearing from some of her extended family members, “We don’t need to spend much on their education, they’re just going to go off and get married.” Of course, having an education is not a prerequisite for marriage but what does that have to do with anything? An education is a priceless commodity. Wait, education? A commodity? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it has become. Education is not a given, it’s not a requirement, nor should it be privilege. Education is not accessible to everyone, but it very damn well should be.

An education is not about how much Shakespeare you have read, how much calculus you understand, or if you can recall the dates of World War I. It’s about the ability to think. The ability to formulate your own opinion. It’s about the ability to acknowledge that everyone doesn’t have the same opinion  as you do. That many times, there is more than one right answer to every problem. It’s about knowing that everyone’s life should be equally valued, regardless of gender, race, religion, or morals. Most importantly, it’s about having the chance to become your own person. To shape your future into the life you want. If you end up being a housewife- great. If you end up being a doctor- great. But that ability to think, to comprehend, to formulate is priceless. It’s a skill that every single one of us should possess. Therefore, each and every one of us should have an education. Each and every one of us needs an education.

I may not be able to completely understand what is happening in Nigeria. And I certainly do not agree with it. But what I do know is this: violation of human and women rights is a very real thing. We may want to shut our eyes and turn our heads because yes, it’s horrific. But that doesn’t change a thing. It’s still there. It’s still happening. No matter how perfect your own life is, no matter how easy you have it, no matter how few obstacles your life entails- oppression is still there. To not acknowledge it is ignorance. To not talk about it is ignorance. To not accept it’s existence is ignorance. But to not educate yourself and your loved ones- your friends,family, neighbors, and even complete strangers- is the worse ignorance of all. I can promise you this, our darkest days will arrive the second we stop learning.

We are all entitled to an education based on the simple fact that we are all human. As Miachi said herself, “We can’t keep quiet or sit back or think, ‘You could lose your life.’ Because we want to ensure the rights of human beings and women and girls are not violated.” To me, that’s a truly educated woman.

So, please bring back our girls and let’s all get educated.

We Have A Right To Choose

I never really liked Hobby Lobby. Why? I’m not completely sure. It seems exactly like my kind of place- full of fun and creative things to decorate your house with, one craft project after the next. You can seriously get lost in there for hours. My friends rave about the place, but I just don’t understand it. Time after time I seem to have a bad experience there. Long and slow lines, poor customer service, long waits on the phone, or crappy store hours for us busy folks. But now, my time has come. I now have a real reason to dislike Hobby Lobby.

It’s no secret that Hobby Lobby is a religious company- founded on typical Christian beliefs. They are closed on Sundays and host a variety of religious paraphernalia throughout the store. I think this is great (except the closed on Sundays part- sorry, blame it on my generation). There aren’t many major companies out there today that abide by morals and beliefs such as these. Most companies just care about making money in any way possible, completely diminishing any personalized touch or uniqueness. Eventually every business or store gets mushed into one big smorgasbord crying for people to come and spend money there- any time, any day. So I get it, Hobby Lobby is different- they have values, that’s great. Really.

On March 25th, Hobby Lobby will present their case to the Supreme Court for a right to deny their employees with birth control coverage. As a company, they are legally responsible to provide birth control coverage under their health insurance plan but of course, this goes against their Christian beliefs…

There you go- I rest my case. I could just end this blog post here. But of course, you know I won’t.

Now, we must remember this is a company, a corporation, a business. This isn’t a church or a religious institution, “We’re not talking about religious organizations—we’re talking about corporations and commercial businesses. We’re talking about the guy who’s made a living selling needlepoint kits, glitter glue, and artificial topiaries deciding whether his employees should have access to affordable birth control,” quotes an article from The Daily Beast. I really can’t believe Hobby Lobby, along with other businesses, are seriously contemplating this. I can’t believe they are wasting our courts time with this. I thought we’ve made progress. I thought we were finally reaching a point where people were allowed to make their own decisions-  who they want to marry, when to be sexually active, or whether one wants to have a baby or not. Apparently we need a lot more progress, a lot more change, and a whole lot more communication about the reality of these issues and struggles that many people are faced with every day.

I can’t even begin to fathom a rational answer to this one. I just don’t see how the owners of any business can seriously sit around and decide for their employees whether or not they should have access to birth control because it doesn’t abide with the companies beliefs. But what about the morals and beliefs of your employees? Part of running a business is making your employees happy, treating them like human beings, making them feel like they have a say, that they are making an impact. Part of paying back your workers for their efforts is to provide benefits of interest to them. Health insurance is one of these benefits that is very important to many people, in fact many people solely depend on their job just for the insurance. Birth control is legally part of that package. If you provide the health insurance, the access to birth control needs to be there too. Your employees rightfully deserve the whole package, they work for the whole pie not just for a piece.

Just because the access to birth control is there, doesn’t mean it needs to be used. If an individual is against birth control then they won’t use that part of their plan. That doesn’t change the fact that every employee has the right to take birth control if they so choose and they certainly should not be denied that right because their employer doesn’t deem it morally right. As an employee you have a right to those health benefits, you work hard for them, and are a conscious human being capable of making your own decisions. You are the only one in control of your body- not your job, spouse, partner, religion, or government. Only you. You have the right to choose.

Taking birth control is responsible. The woman recognizes that pregnancy isn’t the right choice for them at their current position in life. They might be too young, financially unstable, not in a committed relationship (gasps!), or just not ready to devote their time to and love another human being to their fullest potential. As a woman, we have the right to choose when to procreate. We have the right to say when it’s time, if ever. We have the right to protect our best interests and the interests of our future offspring. It’s not fair to bring a child into a world that isn’t ready for them and a mother is the only person who knows when that time is right.

The scariest part of this whole debate for me is to think that there are women out there, whether they are working for these companies or not, that are okay with this restriction. It’s not about what religion you believe in, if you support birth control use or not, or what your views on abortion/procreation are. It’s about the freedom to choose. To have control over your body. To have options, tools, and the education to make the best possible choices regarding your own life. It’s about creating a life that works for you. And most importantly, it’s about keeping the public out of your personal life. We need to support each other, to fight for the type of world we want to live in and not become comfortable in the world we are living in.

The use of birth control does not determine what type of person you are. It doesn’t determine your race, religion, or sexuality. It doesn’t determine your values, beliefs, or morals. It’s a choice, it’s an advancement. It’s a token of our freedom. And it’s about time that the rest of the world starts to catch up.

Seizing The Moment: Winter Olympics 2014

“Just get out there and know you have the opportunities. Just try it.”

Sarah Hendrickson, on encouraging young women to take up a sport.

Wondering who Sarah Hendrickson is? After this year’s Olympics you probably won’t have the same question. But for now, let me answer that for you. Hendrickson is the reigning female ski-jumper world champion. Now nineteen years old, Hendrickson started jumping when she was just seven. By the time she was twelve she was jumping off the Olympic large hill at the Utah Olympic Park and just one short year later she was traveling all over the world for competitions. At a young age of thirteen, Hendrickson was ready to make a name for herself, ready to go all the way to the top.

The problem? Hendrickson excelled in a sport that didn’t really support her, that didn’t really support any women athletes- until recently. The 2014 Winter Soci Olympics will be the first time women athletes will be competing in the ski jumping event and Hendrickson will finally get to celebrate her success, along with many other female ski jumpers, the way she deserves. The long battle is finally over. Female ski jumpers have been petitioning to be included in the Olympics since 1998. They  have heard all sorts of excuses ranging from it’s a man’s sport, there aren’t enough women involved, or that it’s not “medically appropriate” for women to participate. Hendrickson and other young aspiring ski jumpers had full support of their older teammates, women who knew what an accomplishment and honor being an Olympic athlete truly was. Just before the 2010 Vancouver games, Lindsey Van and Jessica Jermone helped to lead a gender discrimination lawsuit. The lawsuit was unsuccessful at the time, but a year later in 2011 the International Olympic Committee finally approved women’s ski jumping as an Olympics sport looking ahead to 2014.

This story really stuck out to me because this just isn’t something many people think about anymore. We get too comfortable, we think that since we have come such a long in gender equality that’s enough, we assume that everyone has the same rights, we don’t pay attention to it anymore. This proves that there’s still plenty left to do and that there are really amazing women out there trying to make it all happen. I was a competitive swimmer since I was 9/10 years old all throughout college. I was lucky enough in those 12-13 years never once to feel undervalued or excluded based on my sex. I was lucky enough to be in a sport in which, because of the brave women that came before me, I was accepted. Being a part of a competitive sport has taught me more skills, values, and life lessons then I would have ever imagined. Being fully immersed in a sport goes way beyond the physical, it shapes the person you become mentally along the way. You form friendships, develop skills, experience failures, celebrate successes- you inherit a second family. I never once stopped to think that other women haven’t been as lucky as I have been. I never once stopped to think that the struggle isn’t over.

Despite being excluded in the Olympics, these female ski jumpers could still compete, could still enjoy the sport, could still excel on an international level. But, in the end they were still told they couldn’t do something that their male counterparts have been doing since 1924. Their success automatically stopped. Not because they couldn’t make it to the Olympics but because someone told them they couldn’t. As Hendrickson recounts in a TIME interview (in which I got the rest of this information as well), “It’s really hard to pursue a sport like that, where there’s not really support, not really a future.” With all setbacks and disappointments included, Hendrickson stuck it out despite her temptation to switch her full focus onto soccer. She is a prime example that nothing is truly impossible. If you want something bad enough you will do whatever it takes to get there.

What does this mean for all us non-Olympic-athletes? A lot.

1. Never take anything for granted. Be thankful for every person, place, thing, or opportunity in your life.

2. Support and inspire each other.

3. Try something new.

4. Don’t take “no” as an answer for anything.

5. Do what you love.

6. Never pass up a new opportunity and don’t give up on old ones.

7. Always seize the moment.

The Olympics are about more than just the sport. It’s about what it takes to get there and the lessons you learn a long the way- it’s about the journey, both good and bad. This year while I am watching the Olympics, this is what it will mean to me. It will be about the athlete’s impact both on and off the “court.” It will be about their impact on people just like me. What does the Olympics mean to you?

#GenYproblems

Searching for some inspiration right before the weekend, I came across some great articles about my generation of women. It completely validated why I write this blog and put me in a really good mood (well, mostly). So naturally- I had to write about it.

It’s no secret that women haven’t always had the equalities, sense of worth, or opportunities we have now. Some women never dreamed of holding a man’s job because it just wasn’t possible. Being twenty-three years old and coming from an all-women’s college I rarely ever think about this. I have never said I couldn’t do something, didn’t deserve something, or wasn’t capable of doing something because of my gender. I always assumed and hoped that other women (of all ages) felt the same way. In reality, it’s really only my generation that has this mindset and as happy as that makes me it also makes me kind of sad at the same time.

In a recent study by FleishmanHillard, Heart Magazines, and Ipsos MediaCT they found that Gen Y women (born between the early 1980’s and  early 2000’s) see themselves as equal to their male counterparts/co-workers in the work place. The best part? This isn’t just in the United States. Women all over the world are perceiving themselves this way. The study was conducted with 1,000 women and 500 men in the U.S. along with 3,000 women from UK, France, Germany, and China. When participants were asked if they would describe themselves as smart, 70% of women said they would while only 54% of the men from Gen Y said yes. We certainly need to take a moment and celebrate how far we have come. The values and mind-set in which Gen Y women have been raised are clearly working. Growing up, we were never denied anything. We were always told we can be whatever we want to be. I honestly don’t think I ever heard the words, “No, you can’t do that. You’re a woman,” growing up or even today. This proves that women were never less capable than men. We have just been forced to believe we were. It was engrained into our brains to the point where we actually just started to believe it. Men had their role, women had their role and that was the end of it. If you were a women you took care of the house, raised the children, and maybe picked up a secretary, nursing, or teaching job. It was normal, natural- nothing wrong with it. Now, young women are going way beyond any such standard. And the fact that they actually feel and truly believe they can do so and deserve it at the same time is the best part. What’s the difference between Gen Y women, Gen X women, and baby-boomer women? Absolutely nothing. Except what we were taught.

Yes, this is all good news but we aren’t completely done here. These same women also admitted that there are still wage inequalities. More then 80% of the women involved in this study said that men are still paid more, often for the same exact job. The women did attribute part of this to the fact that men are better at negotiating and asking for salary increases but in my opinion- we shouldn’t have to. Why is there this inequality in the first place? Why does having female anatomy parts automatically make you less qualified, leading to a smaller salary? Because we won’t fight? Because we are too passive? I don’t totally buy it. Every person doing the same job should be paid the same salary. End of story. Yes, I understand there are different education levels, people have been in positions and with companies for different amounts of the time but the base salary should all be the same. We shouldn’t have to beg or ask for equal treatment. If we are qualified enough to be hired, we should be qualified enough to get a fair salary.

Another disturbing result in this survey was that 50% of the women that participated said that men resent the advances that women have made in the recent years. We may see ourselves as equal- but do men? In my experiences I have certainly thought so. I guess I am extremely lucky, I have never been made to feel inferior by a man because of my gender. But, if 50% of these women have had this experience then I can’t deny it- it’s still very much a real thing. The women that came before us had to deal with the same prejudices. This is nothing new and unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to go away anytime soon if this many women are still struggling with this discrimination.

This brings me to the question- what has really changed? There is one thing that is different this time around. Our attitudes. Women are no longer accepting this mindset. My generation is breaking down this barrier by believing in themselves. We now know we are worthy and know we can do anything we set our minds too. We can do anything anyone else can do and we won’t except “no” as an answer. But, this is only the first step. Should we consider the fact that women are finally thinking of themselves as equal to or dominant to men a success? Yes, I think so- but how far is that going to get us? The world needs to see women in the same light as we see ourselves before anything can really change. Pay inequality or resentment because of your accomplishments is not conducive to reaching true gender equality. There needs to be a huge social/cultural change before we can see true equality, especially in the work place where males and females work closely together, competing for the same jobs. We believe in ourselves- now can the rest of the world?

It makes me extremely happy to be part of Gen Y and know that my other fellow female peers feel the same way I do. We are so close- we need to keep empowering each other, supporting each other, and reaching out to those who need a little more help to get to where we are. I am proud of where we are today and I can’t wait too see where we go in the next 20, 50, 70 years.

That’s my weekend wisdom for you- enjoy! My intellectual side needs a nap, or perhaps a glass of wine…