I remember feeling invisible.
It was some season or other, warm enough to spend time outside just shooting the shit. I stood beside my dad in a friend’s side yard, in a group of people circled up and having a conversation. Or rather, everyone around me was having a conversation that I was not a part of, given the state of my gender.
Namely, the menfolk were talking.
Standing in that circle, I had two strikes against me: I was young. And I was female. I was as good as a fly on the wall.
Growing up in rural Appalachia, there was an unquestioned truth about women. “The woman” cooked food, cleaned dishes, did laundry, raised the children. She remained (most times) nameless and voiceless. A background character in the larger lives of men. So-and-so’s wife. His-her-their mother.
I had male friends who graduated from high school having never done a load of laundry or washed a dish. That’s what their moms did. And when they inevitably got married, that’s what their wives would do. No reason for them to trouble themselves with the domestic tasks best left to the women.
On the other hand, you had my parents. They moved to the county from a small coastal city in the early ‘70s. Both of them taught me from an early age that the world was larger than our rural community. That being a woman wasn’t a life sentence.
When I grew up and moved away, some things changed while others stayed mostly the same. I made male friends in college who still didn’t know how to do their own laundry. But I also discovered more of a world where women’s voices were equal. Respected. Even sought after.
And for a while, I began to believe we – humanity – were making progress.
I stand on the shoulders of the women who came before me. The brave ones who stood up and fought for a woman’s right to vote. For her ability to move beyond the kitchen and into whatever field she chose. For her equality.
But sometimes I hear whispers on the wind of times gone by. Where even though we finally have a woman of color in the second-highest office in the nation, just over a quarter of CEOs are female, and female-identifying folks are making a bigger impact than ever before… I also feel the steady drumbeat of regression.
As much as I want to believe that things will only continue to get better, I also see the groundwork being laid for the erosion of our rights. I watch as those not #blessed to be cis-gender straight white males face the blowback of a system rigged against them.
I see a growing movement of men who would happily take us all back to a time and place where women were silent, relegated to the kitchen, sidelined from the conversation.
And on quiet nights when my mind wanders to darker futures, I wonder:
What do we teach our children when we show them that to have a uterus is to lose your voice?