Encouraging Empowerment On and Off Campus

At the crook in the wall next to the table, the yellow paint wrinkles and sags, weary from the years of hope and despair trapped within the walls. The paint chips at the corners, spiraling like flakes of dandruff onto the large pieces of craft paper I have carefully arranged on the lacquered table tops.

Every week I volunteer for eight hours at a homeless shelter for women and children through the PULSE program. On a snowy day last Tuesday, I arrived at Margaret’s House in Dorchester with a mission in mind. Emboldened by the newly sparked women’s movement and yielding craft scissors and magazines as my weapons, I was intent on contributing to the empowerment of young women. I proudly displayed my poster titled “Who I Want to Be” to the girls huddled around the craft table. The words “powerful,” “smart,” and “strong” were stuck to the paper in a hodgepodge arrangement. Crinkled images of Michelle Obama, Viola Davis, and Emma Watson smiled on the page, still wet with glue. When it came time for the girls to make their posters, instead of pasting confidence-boosting words to their paper, they decided to decapitate the body of a magazine model and replace the head with the gurgling face of the Gerber baby一the entire craft project turned into a competition for weirdest poster. Yanie, age 8, proudly declared that she wanted to cover her poster with the word “pretty” in the color pink. Later, when I got back to my dorm, I could only laugh. Contributing to lasting change for women will never be as easy as creating a few motivational posters.

Sexual harassment accusations against countless famous and powerful men including Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and Donald Trump kindled the beginning of a female revolution in early October. The #MeToo movement and recent Time’s Up legal defense fund are part of an international campaign to end sexual harassment, especially in the workplace. All around me, women are powering up and taking action. During the Women’s March in Las Vegas on Jan. 21, Anna Galand, director of the liberal group moveon.org, motivated the gathering crowd, proclaiming, “This is a birthday party for a movement that has only begun to flex its power to change this democracy.” But the more marches I attend and upsetting accusations I read in the news, my part in this change grows increasingly elusive.

In the past few months, I watched with admiration as close friends, peers, and powerful political and social figures found the strength to say “Me Too” and condemn their male oppressors. They staked a collective claim on the women’s movement. I constantly find myself infuriated by the stories of vulnerability and abuse recounted by women at Margaret’s House, aggravated by governmental policies that disproportionately affect women but are largely drafted by male politicians, and passionate about the universal advancement of women. But sometimes, the issues facing women feel so daunting that I don’t know how to begin to instigate change, or I doubt that my voice will be loud enough for anyone to hear.

In her speech at the 2018 Women’s March in Los Angeles, actress Viola Davis quoted the prophetic words of Martin Luther King Jr. declaring, “I am not ready to wait 100 or 200 years for things to change. I believe that time is actually neutral. It can either be used constructively or destructively … It is through human dedication and effort that we move forward.” The change Davis speaks of is more profound than a single rally, passionate conversation, or craft poster. Instead, the status of women will change because of the collective and undying actions of millions of women. This means that no action or person is too small. The movement demands persistence.

The best way to catalyze equality is to elect women to positions of power. According to Time magazine, an unprecedented number of women are running for political office in the 2018 midterm elections. In the House of Representatives alone, the number of Democratic women running for seats “is up nearly 350% from 2016.” Registering to vote or inquiring about absentee ballots is as simple as a Google search. Keep yourself informed, and vote in the 2018 midterm elections. If Congress is disputing a law you deem unfair for women, contact your congressperson by sending them a quick email or call. Participate in programs organized by the Women’s Center at Boston College. Volunteer for or donate to organizations that support women’s equality initiatives such as Planned Parenthood, Time’s Up, or U.N. Women. When we are increasingly focused on the large and powerful changes we could enact, we risk stagnation. We forget that small changes are potent and can be sparked in an instant. Most of all, engage in conversations surrounding women’s empowerment with friends, family, and young girls.

College is the opportune time to talk about women’s equality. We are so lucky to be surrounded by smart, talented, and successful female students. Whether they feel comfortable talking about it or not, sexual assault and the #MeToo movement affects women across campus. I know multiple women at BC who battled sexual assault in silence, never feeling safe enough to confide in a close friend or support system. It is our collective duty to foster an environment of care and inclusion to raise the status of every woman at BC and fight for future female success.  Get involved with BC Women’s Center events like Love Your Body Week. Encourage your female friend to apply for that competitive internship she assures you she “will never get.” Always lend an open and trusting ear to those who confide about their experiences with sexual assault. The women’s movement will progress because of joint participation and dedication to women’s equality. Don’t allow the headlines in the news to dissipate, the conversations surrounding women’s equality to go mute, or the women running tirelessly for political office to never ascend to their seats.

I know that craft projects cannot unravel the history of inequality and sexual assault that plagues marginalized women at Margaret’s House. However, these conversations marshal a critical conversation about female equality and strength. As Viola Davis contended, “When we don’t look, time actually becomes an ally to the primitive forces of social stagnation. The guardians of the status quo are in their oxygen tanks keeping the old order alive. Time needs to be helped by every single moment doing right.” The most destructive force to the women’s movement is the toxic voice inside every woman’s head that screams I am not good enough, I can’t, or WAIT. It takes extreme bravery and persistence to silence this destructive talk. Together we can raise our voices, take action, and realize that by claiming a single moment, we contribute to a global movement.

Featured Image by Nicole Chan / Heights Editor