Talking while waiting in line for a bathroom is pretty standard for women. Sometimes we compliment each other’s clothes, their shoes, or just discuss how ridiculous the bar was for only installing two stalls and no more.
This weekend, I had a discussion in the bathroom line with a woman and it got a lot more serious than most bathroom conversations. She said something, something that is haunting me if I have to be honest. Her words made me both angry and sad.
This is how it began. She was chatting with a guy I had met earlier, who I had spoken briefly with about the U.S. Election. When I walked up, he mentioned it and of course the three of us somewhat engaged in the same talk. I said something, I can’t even remember what, and the woman replied, “Oh, you wouldn’t like me then because of who I voted for.”
I asked, “Trump?” and she nodded. I quickly told her that it wasn’t that I didn’t like her – there are reasons that people voted for him and I’m sure they were valid. And since the election, I hate to admit it, but I get why some of the population did vote for him. They wanted something different, someone different who gave them ideas of grandeur and hope of keeping an old-fashioned society in which they benefited from. She probably wouldn’t have said it in that manner or thought in that exact way, but these are my feelings.
I did tell her that we all want the same thing in life because I believe we all do. We all want opportunity, to feel safe, to have chances to prosper, and get access to things like education, healthcare, and more. She agreed.
At some point, she asked me, “Did you really vote for Hillary?”
And I replied, “Of course.”
And it was her next words that chilled me to my core.
“Women can’t be presidents.”
My heart stopped.
“Yes, they can,” I said when I found my voice. “Having a uterus doesn’t prevent me from doing anything.”
She looked at me skeptical, with a sly smile on her face, and said, “Come on. Really? You think you could actually run a country?”
“Yes,” I said strongly. “Yes, I could. Being a woman wouldn’t make me incapable of doing that job –“
“But like wars, and talking to other countries—“ she argued.
“If anything,” knowing by then that she was coming from a stereotypical viewpoint of women, “I think women would be better at the job.”
“Really?” She said again, right when the bathroom opened up.
You might be surprised to know that the conversation ended well. She even let me go to the bathroom next, though it was her turn.
But her words were still so shocking.
This wasn’t the first time I had heard a woman say such a thing. My mother had taken me to the nail salon in my hometown right after Trump had won the election. There were only six people in the entire room, and while my toes were drying, I was looking around and watching TV. With so few people in the building, it wasn’t hard to hear everyone’s conversation, especially from one woman who was talking very loudly.
My ears perked when she and her nail technician started talking about the election. She was Republican, it was quite clear. And then she said it, “I just don’t think a woman can be president.”
Though I was angry at her comment, this woman was well into her 60s. She had grown up in an era where the women’s rights movement didn’t have a huge impact on my small city in Texas. She had grown up in an era in which women were secretaries before they gladly became stay-at-home mothers – because they were told that this was a “woman’s job.” She had grown up in a time in which a woman even being considered for president was absurd.
So I could understand how this older woman’s mind worked. It didn’t make me happy, but I could understand.
The woman I spoke to in the bathroom line was definitely my age — mid-20s, early 30s. And this shocked me the most.
I think we, and especially I, tend to think that as millennials we have figured out some things that our parents won’t (or will take longer to figure out), and one of those things, in my mind, would have been the belief that women can do anything a man can do – even be a president.
But this woman had, somewhere along the way, not received that message.
I was so angry when she spoke those words, but not necessarily angry at her.
I was angry at whoever told her that women weren’t equal to men — that they didn’t have the capabilities of being president. Angry that someone had made her believe that she, as a woman, wasn’t as capable as the men in her life. I was angry that she believed it. I was angry that there were probably many people who told her this and no one who had refuted it. I was angry, all over again, that Hillary didn’t win and prove that having a uterus and a vagina and boobs doesn’t prevent you from being good at a job, no matter what it is.
And then I was sad – sad that she had accepted all of this so easily and didn’t take the time to figure out that those lies she had been told were wrong. I was sad because her sense of self-worth was lower than it could be all because she was a woman. If she didn’t believe that women, her own gender, had the capability to run a country, then what did she not believe about herself and how did she limit her life because of that belief?
When I founded Fempotential, I did so because of this situation exactly. I had met over and over and over again women and girls of all ages, races, and creeds who did not know their self-worth. They didn’t think they were capable of doing certain things because they had a uterus. They lived in fear of every little thing because their parents, their teachers, the world told them to. And by that definition, they weren’t really living at all.
I am profoundly sad that that both women I encountered don’t believe that we, as women, are capable of certain things, and that they’ve internalized and believed stereotypes of women. But I am determined more than ever after meeting them to do my job at Fempotential and that is to show and prove to women that having a uterus doesn’t prevent us from doing anything as well or better than our male counterparts.
And I promise you, if there is anything I’m good at, it’s helping women and empowering them in creative ways — and I can do it all with a uterus. Because it is my firm belief that a world in which women believe in themselves, know their worth, and feel empowered to make changes and big moves, is a world that is truly better for us all.