by Virginia Johnston

When I walk alone in the parking lot, I clutch my keys between my fingers in self-defense. My eyes stare straight ahead but I am hyper aware of my surroundings. I check the backseat of my car before getting in. I lock the doors right away. It seems like a lot, especially when there is no maniac on the loose or predator on the news, but I am pretty sure I am not the only woman with this routine.

March is Women’s History Month. To women all over the world, this is a time of celebration, reflection and men asking us why we need a whole month to ourselves. I consider myself a feminist, and I know that can really get people going. The idea of feminism enrages some people, but it also has the power to inspire.

Feminism is about the equality of everyone, regardless of gender. Women in general have been oppressed throughout history, so the focus of feminism is bringing women up to the same standing as men. We should all be on a level playing field. Great strides have been made to get where we are now, but there is still so much more to do.

It takes effort from everybody, not just the women. We need to be aware of the double standards present in our society and challenge them. We should judge people on their values and what they have to offer, not their gender. There are still people out there who think women already are equal, and we do not need to make any more progress. The first step is to admit there is an equality problem.

In 2016, a recording was released of the President of our country making lewd remarks about women. These comments are too vulgar to publish, and I would have a hard time forcing anyone to see them again. My eyes teared up when I was reminded of the blatant disrespect. The fact that he made it to the top after saying such obscene things about women goes to show how much we still need to grow. If his statements truly represent “locker room banter” as he put it, then misogyny is much too common.

I grew up with three brothers and no sisters. My parents have had to give me separate instructions on how to make it in this world that they never had to give my brothers. If I want to go for a solo run on a hiking trail, I can’t. If I want to take a day trip to the city alone, I can’t. Don’t wear anything too revealing in public and don’t talk back to angry men. My parents want me to be safe. Why does being independent have to be so dangerous?

I would love to go on a beach vacation and relax instead of getting catcalled. Men don’t have that problem. I would love to get a job and know that it is because I was the best candidate, not wonder if there were ulterior motives. I want to find more people like me in positions of power. I wish I could open a history book and see as many women doing great things as men. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

There are times when I make a conscious decision to defy gender roles or voice my opinion that may not be popular. It takes bravery to do this, though, because there are real dangers. If I want to question a teacher’s sexist comment, I am risking my grade. If I decide to wear a crop top, some men would see that as an invitation to my body. When I step out of the house without make-up, potential employers could see me as sloppy and unprofessional.

I am lucky enough to have more opportunities than women of the past. I am here getting a college education. I will be voting in the elections. I can wear pants. But is that all? Must I settle? These are all great things, but men have had these for so long. These are just the basics. Why do I have to be grateful for something that should be standard?

As we honor the women who changed history, let’s keep in mind the change that we can create in the future. This month provides an opportunity to take a step back and analyze our actions. Let’s make a future where women can feel safe going through daily life. How much more could we accomplish in a world equal for women?