You ever notice how the question that can most easily stump someone you’re having a conversation with is also usually the easiest? And in the case of most feminist issues, the easy question is “Why?”
Emma Watson, my current idol and future best friend, continued her work at the U.N. as Women Goodwill Ambassador giving a speech for the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 University Parity Report. And, people, it was a sexy, sexy event. Bar graphs, 60-plus pages of policy documents, commitments from presidents from ten of the world’s most prestigious universities that their schools are striving to make substantial changes towards gender equality, more bar graphs. (I’m joking, but only a little bit. If anyone wants to do a book club on this report in the next few days, hit me up in the comments.) And while Watson did blatantly discuss sexual assaults on campuses, she reminded us that a large portion of the world exists the way it does because those are the expectations we put on it.
I know that my university experience shaped who I am. And, of course, it does for many people. But what if our experience at university shows us that women don’t belong in leadership? What if it shows us that yes, women can study, but they shouldn’t lead a seminar? What if, as still in many places around the world, it tells us that women don’t belong there are at? What if, as is the case at far too many universities, we are given the message that sexual violence isn’t actually a form of violence?
But we know that if you change students’ experiences so they have different expectations of the world around them, expectations of equality, society will change. As we leave home for the first time to study at the places that we have worked so had to get, we must not see or experience double standards. We need to see equal respect, leadership and pay. The university experience must tell women that their brain power is valued. And not just that, but that they belong within the leadership of the university itself. And so importantly right now, the experience must make it clear that the safety of women, minorities, and anyone who may be vulnerable is a right and not a privilege. A right that will be respected by a community that believes and supports survivors, and that recognizes that when one person’s safety is violated, everyone feels their own safety is violated.
It’s always a little surprising to me what passes for “radical” ideas. Like the “radical” notion that an executive suite should have as many men as women. Or that we could monetarily value the time, effort, and work that primary child-care givers (primarily women) put into raising their kids. Or that reducing the number of rapes on a college campus isn’t actually good enough, and that demanding we at least strive for no sexual violence isn’t a fairy daydream picked from La-La land. If our expectation is that these things be treated as rational, reasonable answers to our gender inequality, then those opposed to us will need to explain how those statements are unreasonable and the reasons we need to live with the status quo.
And to them I’d say, “Why?”