When I moved to New York, I was desperate enough to be hopeful. I had been working for nearly a year at a newspaper job that paid me just over nine dollars an hour. One of my superiors harassed me on a daily basis, criticizing everything from my work to my shoes. She called me in the middle of the night to berate me and embarrassed me in front of my peers. When I reported her behavior, I was told that it wasn’t “personal” and that I should tolerate her attempts to sabotage my professional career, all for little more than minimum wage. I lived with my parents. I paid only the interest on my student loans. I saved and went out little and amassed enough to get me to New York City, the beacon of all things creative. The first month without a job was breathtaking. I went out often to breathe in this new place was that now my home, filled with so many parks and stores, colors and shadows, shores and claustrophobic roads.
The second month, I grew desperate. I applied to any job I could. I had no experience handling food, but I decided to go to an open call for Subway employees. It would be something, I told myself. It would only be temporary. I was embarrassed to walk into the narrow shop holding my resume with its useless Latin and Greek praises–summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Tau Delta. I sat down with the owner at one of his small tables, but he didn’t even glance at my (over)qualifications. “You should know I don’t hire girls,” he said.
I was stunned. “But that’s illegal.” My protest sounded weak even to my own ears. Why would I want to work for a man who would hate me for lacking a Y chromosome? Because I had to pay my rent and student loans. Because I had to eat.
“Girls cry whenever there’s a problem. They cried every day here. They do not work. Are you going to cry?”
I didn’t cry. I left the shop enraged that I had wasted $4 of my rapidly dwindling funds on the round trip. The worst part of this story? I’m one of the luckiest girls in the world.
Sexism comes in so many forms that we ladies have to harden ourselves to it because we do not have enough time, patience, or sanity to confront all of the issues we encounter on a daily basis. A man almost ran into me at a door two hours ago because he wasn’t paying attention. He apologized and quickly added, “I only look at the women I’m interested in.” Excuse me? As a white, arguably middle class American who isn’t exactly skinny or the conventional version of “beautiful,” I encounter sexism that is most frequently based on my looks or my so-called ability to do a job. This is unacceptable, and yet I’m fortunate for the privilege. We live in a world where some girls are considered property. Families sell their daughters into prostitution, into rape. Female babies are murdered because male children are more desirable. There isn’t enough time and there are not enough words to depict the atrocity that happens around the world every day to girls specifically due to their gender.
We do not deserve this. We were not born weak or lesser or lacking. We are beautiful in spirit and do not need to have perfectly symmetrical faces and white teeth and impossible hair in order to have worth. We are just as capable of being intelligent, productive, strong, creative, and remarkable as our male peers. Magazines should not be telling us how to wear skirts and get skinny enough to resemble a heavily manipulated impossibility; they should be teaching us empathy. We live in a society that makes a killing on fostering doubt and unhappiness. (Are we the Photoshop proletariat?)
Today is the second annual International Day of the Girl Child. This is not a Hallmark holiday created to make you buy a card. The United Nations came up with this. Girls around the world suffer due to lack of access to education, healthcare, and other opportunities for personal advancement. They are taught to marry, to reproduce, to obey. The laws and punishments that stand in the way of some of these obstacles are horrific. You may think it’s a world away and just too much drama to bring into your own life, but what you don’t have to imagine is someone’s brutal reality.
I’d recommend some charities here to help out, but honestly, to do the research on your own is an empowering and humbling process. If you can, please reach out and help out the girls and women of countries less fortunate than your own. If you don’t have any money to spare, as so many feel today, volunteer. Get involved. Just tell one girl around you how much she means to you. Strive for equality every day. Then maybe eventually I won’t have to write posts like this.