The world we currently live in has not been supportive nor accepting of women who speak up. We’re taught to be silent, to be smaller, to occupy less space. For myself, as a child, I was told not to do things because they weren’t “ladylike.” As an adult this means that I do not know how to change a tire on my car (I’m working on changing that).
The poem “Shrinking Women” by Lily Myers brights to the forefront the difference in the way we raise our daughters versus our sons.
By training women to be smaller, to diminish not only in size, but also in presence, we are teaching them to be silent, to carry their suffering alone. It’s an unhealthy way to live. The phenomenon of the ‘shrinking woman’ is not one to be proud of–by muting women, we perpetuate the cycle of sexual violence, mistreatment, and sexism.
We can do better than this, teach our daughters better than this, but we need to learn to speak out, and to have the courage to do so. Speaking out means that we cannot shrink into ourselves, we cannot be overlooked. We need to follow the examples of women like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has made her living on speaking out for what she feels is right and just.
She was once asked her thoughts on women in the Supreme Court. Her response? “When will there be enough women on the court? And my answer is when there are nine.”
Justice Ginsburg was appointed in 1993 during the Clinton administration, and was only the second woman to be appointed to the highest court in the United States (only two have followed since then). She cites her mother as her motivation to work hard, and was only one of nine women to graduate from Harvard in 1956. She worked as lead counsel for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and has often been compared to Thurgood Marshall for her work in achieving equal rights for women.
She is no ‘shrinking violet’ and isn’t afraid to dissent against the opinions of her colleagues. The important thing to remember about Ruth Bader Ginsburg is that her dissension on the court isn’t always verbal. She incorporates fashion into her justice apparel, and on the days she will vote in dissension, she wears a particular collar.
Ginsburg realizes that sometimes a visual statement is just as powerful as a verbal one. Women have been using fashion as political statements for centuries, and Ginsberg’s collar has become somewhat of a feminist icon. (You can actually buy a replica here).
“I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at. My favorite example is the symphony orchestra. When I was growing up, there were no women in orchestras. Auditioners thought they could tell the difference between a woman playing and a man. Some intelligent person devised a simple solution: Drop a curtain between the auditioners and the people trying out. And, lo and behold, women began to get jobs in symphony orchestras.” -Ruth Bader Ginsburg
There are three women sitting on the Court now, and though it’s still a minority, it is improvement. These women use their voices on a daily basis to affect changes in the United States, and do so knowing that every word they say will be ridiculed by some. Their courage and intelligence should be motivation for us to speak out in our own lives on a daily basis–because it is only by speaking out that we will begin to change society’s perception of the experience of women in it.
Also, in case you’re worried about Justice Ginsburg retiring–she’s 85 now–she has no plans to do so. “I asked some people, particularly the academics who said I should have stepped down last year: ‘Who do you think the president could nominate and get through the current Senate that you would rather see on the Court than me?’ No one has given me an answer to that question.”