Barriers made to be broken

Last week I had the opportunity to sit on a panel at West Virginia University at Parkersburg with inspiring women at the college and throughout our region who are making their mark — no matter what stage they are in on their journey. “The Climb Symposium: A Celebration of Women’s History Month,” was a chance to learn from each other.

We had a little fun with some of the questions asked — for example, there was a running tally of whether grandmothers or mothers had served more as role models for us … the tally came out ahead for grandmothers, I believe; though I think I might have thrown off the count by noting that my mother and BOTH of my grandmothers had been smart, hard-working, inspiring women who broke barriers I never had to worry about.

It is true. I grew up having never been told there was a certain role to which I had to cling, or that doors might be closed to me. Frankly, I don’t remember my gender entering into the conversation much at all. We were past all that.

But that was at home. That was within my family, where I was safe. Out in the real world, as is the case for most of the other women with whom I was speaking that day, we are nowhere near past it.

The glass ceiling still exists, the generation that MIGHT be able to claim they are old enough not to know better has passed along all its subtle (or not) sexism to the generation that should know better. Every woman sitting on the two panels that day still has to figure out how to navigate it all in a world that thinks we’ve already fought that battle and won.

Too many people operate under the assumption that woman have reached their goals. There is no work left to do.

Not even close.

One of the problems is that yes, we CAN do it all. Many of us appear to have it all. Rewarding careers, families, exciting social lives … social media is evil.

Maintaining anything close to having it all is exhausting; and nothing is being handed to us. We are still fighting every day.

Some days it’s the small things: A reader walks into the newspaper and asks to speak to the editor: “Can I go back and talk to HIM?” (emphasis mine). Do we ignore every “sweetie,” “darlin'” and “honey” because it is likely innocent and harmless? How much time do we spend worrying about whether reacting to such language will actually prove right the person who maintains that women are too emotional and thin-skinned?

Other days it is larger issues, like seeing a male, conservative friend post on social media a collage of every female member of Congress he can find, most of them obviously having been photographed while speaking about a matter on which they are passionate, and laughingly suggesting the collage sums up everything that has gone wrong in our country, and that those women are all “crazy.”

I walked away from the panel discussions last week feeling inspired and supported, but also with something gnawing at me. I wasn’t sure what.

A day or two later, a different male friend (and I have to give him credit for his honesty) suggested to me that a member of almost any other demographic group would be elected president of the U.S. before a woman would.

Then I attended an event at which I saw a little girl dressed in the uniform of what had until very recently been an all-male organization. There she was, breaking another barrier. I wanted to walk up to her — encourage her to keep being that brave and strong.

But that was when I realized what had still been bothering me. She is still going to have to fight. She IS fighting, though she probably doesn’t think of it that way just yet. Someday, if we do not dump some of what we cling to because it is “traditional” and not because it is good and right, she might be one of the women on a panel similar to the one I sat on last week, still talking about the climb.

I hope not. I hope we are not so far away from genuinely being past all that. But we have not reached the end of the climb. Not yet.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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