Brenda Siegel: Through the lens of progress


As I scroll through Facebook or engage in conversations on and off line, I find myself often awestruck by the sexist comments. This is true across the spectrum of political belief, not a problem relegated to one party. I fear that if we never name it, it may never change. I find myself compelled to say publicly that there is no reality in which it is important to protect the patriarchal society in order to advance progress. Frequently when women give an intellectual response to an accusation of "reverse sexism" or my least favorite word, "mysangery" or just an issue that folks are discussing, that response is followed by "she talks down to everyone" or "she is a snob," the list goes on. Anything beyond conceding the point in order to lift up the ego of our male counterparts is evidence that we are just acting like we are "better than everyone." Women are often shapeshifting to move about society and be heard without offending anyone. We may feel that we have moved beyond a society that devalues the intelligence of women, I would argue that there is still plenty of work to do.

The oppression doled out by white men in power on people of color, minorities and women is real, not imagined. Just as all of us are responsible for implicit and sometimes explicit bias when it comes to racial justice, just as all of us are responsible for the history that has allowed white people to have more power than others, men are responsible for the role that they play in the patriarchal society that stands in the way of equity.

As a 42-year-old woman who has only sparingly seen examples of women in leadership throughout my entire life, who has learned the history of men and not women in my schooling, who has watched my peers as well as myself get passed over in favor of men in both work and leadership, who is both witness and prey to a society that has not prioritized childcare and expects me to care for my child, but does not expect the same of his father, who has watched my right to my own autonomy get threatened over and over again, these comments show a lack of awareness about the role men play in this power structure.

In Vermont alone, we have had 11 women ever in statewide elected leadership roles and no women have gone to Washington. We are the last state to send a woman to Washington. If your reaction to that is to feel a little embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated, that is the right response. Our record is abysmal. I too have at times said "yeah, but ". I too was wrong when I said that. I was thinking recently how different my life and the lives of my friends may have been had we consistent images of women in history and leadership. If we had role models that were women in elected office and at the head of organizations and businesses that we valued. What would have happened had we seen women in power?

What I am tired of as a progressive woman, is a narrative that does not value representation. A narrative that prevents women and people of color from leadership because to point out that we have never been appropriately represented, is frequently followed by an accusation of identity politics. This causes women and people of color to often shrink away for the "greater good" of progress.

It is time for white men to own the responsibility for generations of a patriarchy that has both in practice and in theory kept women from leadership, from autonomy and yes a patriarchal society that consistently has men sucking up all the oxygen and space in most rooms.

That is not imagined; it is reality and it is time to be our allies.

Brenda Siegel is a former Democratic candidate for governor, founder and director of the Southern Vermont Dance Festival, vice chair of the Newfane Democratic Committee and delegate to the Windham County Democratic Committee. She is an anti-poverty activist and single mom from Newfane. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.



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