It was a typical autumn morning for my fifth-grade self. I was finishing up an episode of Pokémon while crunching on Reese’s Puffs before it was time for me to head to the bus stop.
My mom wasn’t feeling well that day and so my grandma, who was visiting from Pakistan, took me to the bus stop instead.
As we crossed the street, I noticed that my bus was about to arrive so I ran to the stop. As I started to board the bus, I realized my grandma still had my backpack. She came closer to the bus and handed it to me. As I turned and walked up the stairs, my grandma gasped. I turned around and asked, “What happened?”
She looked puzzled and said, “Your bus driver is a woman?!”
To which I replied, “Yeah, so what?”
I then proceeded to board the bus. Throughout the day I was curious about why my grandma was so shocked to see a woman drive a big yellow school bus. Nearly all of my bus drivers from kindergarten through high school were women. This curiosity sat with me for years.
In my first week at Boston College Law School, I started becoming more aware of gender biases and implicit cultural norms. We were at a retreat for LAHANAS at a law firm in downtown Boston (LAHANAS is a diversity initiative at BC Law). We entered a big conference room – one that could seat nearly 50 people – we all arrived together, but despite there being seats at the table, most of the men gravitated towards the table and sat around it; most of the women gravitated towards the seats along the wall.
Then the Dean walked in. She asked, “What is wrong with this picture?”
“What is wrong with this picture?”
If women do not have a seat at the table, if they are sidelined, how can we say we are an equal society? If they subconsciously gravitate towards the sideline and we gravitate towards the center, is that not a problem implicit in our understanding of issues with our culture?
It was an eye opening experience for me, one of many that I would encounter in my first semester of law school. Because of these experiences, I started to think more critically about gender equality issues.
Gentlemen, we must take up the mantle. Gender equality is our issue too because it impacts all members of the human race socially, economically, and politically. This is why we need to embrace feminism. This is why more of us men need to be aware of our surroundings. We need to lend our voices and serve as allies and advocates to making our nation and our world a better, a fairer one for our partners, sisters, mothers, colleagues, and future daughters.
Often times I reflect on where our society is right now and where we need to be. For anyone that says we are an equal society can just look at the great pay disparity that exists between men and women for equal work and equal time right here in the United States of America.
Right now, in the 21st century, girls are targeted and killed for the only ‘crime’ of wanting to obtain an education. The terrorists that targeted Malala Yousafzai cited religious authority to justify their heinous acts, yet that same religious authority’s first word is “Iqra” which means “read” in Arabic.
Right now, in the 21st century, women are still blamed for a perpetrator’s sexual assault. The perpetrator, and members of society, will cite what the woman was wearing as a sign of ‘she’s asking for it’. But what about the women that are fully covered from head to toe – and are also sexually assaulted? Is society going to blame the sexual assault on their choice of clothing too?
Right now, in the 21st century, women’s health is regulated by some men that do not even understand how the female body works. There exists a fundamentally flawed understanding of human anatomy.
Right now, in the 21st century, it must be apparent that we are nowhere near done with the advancement of gender equality.
We must challenge our underlying assumptions if we are to be a better society. We must embrace the notion of respect for human dignity – regardless of gender – and fight relentlessly for the advancement of all men and women to live to their full potential.
In December of 2014, the United Nations launched the HeForShe campaign with the UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson at the helms. The HeForShe campaign seeks to engage men and boys as agents of change for the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights, by encouraging us to take action against inequalities faced by women and girls.
After watching Emma Watson speak, the memory of my grandma’s shock at seeing a woman drive a big yellow school bus came back to mind. When I went home for break, I asked my mom if she still remembered that day. She told me that my grandma was so shocked at seeing a female bus driver because where she grew up women could not do those things.
Though I am grateful to live in a society that allows my mother, my sisters, my future wife, and my future daughters to do many things, enormous barriers still exist simply because of the way they were born.
Let us speak up now. Let us be more conscientious of who has a seat at the table. Let us not clip our future daughters’ wings. We can do better. We must do better.
*Forgive me for any ‘mansplaining,’ this blog post was a sincere reflection and an effort to elevate the conversation of gender equality issues. I invite constructive comments and feedback.