In my book American Woman: The Poll Dance, I wrote about being a twenty-something who believed women were close to achieving full equality—that America was on a winning track and women’s rights would only expand. Never in my wildest Gen X dreams did I think those rights would be repealed or rolled back. But they were.
I’ve always been a feminist because I always believed in gender equality. It wasn’t a topic I discussed a lot, though it would come up in conversation from time to time. I experienced my fair share of sexism and it pissed me off but I didn’t feel like a victim. I figured, in time, things would improve so I’d either speak up if I thought it would help, or I’d suck it up if I thought speaking up would invite more trouble. I bided my time because I knew it would keep getting better.
When No Doubt’s Just A girl was released in 1995, I identified with the lyrics in a way that’s different than I how I identify with them now. Back then, when I’d hear the song, I’d remember key moments where I’d experienced sexism: that time at work when two male bartenders didn’t like whatever I’d said (I don’t remember what I said, I just remember they didn’t like it) and they silenced me by scolding me in front of patrons sitting at the bar. Or that time my older male boss called me a “sour pussy” because I didn’t want to go to the work Christmas party. Those sexist moments were fairly rare and didn’t threaten my overall existence as a woman in the world. They served to remind me the fight for equality wasn’t over and certain achievable obstacles needed to be overcome.
Now when I hear the song, I think about Donald Trump bragging about how much pussy he’s grabbed. I think about all the abortion clinics that have closed because men in Congress want to control women. I think about the endless articles citing young men who get no jail time for raping women. I think about how Cyntoia Brown was sentenced to 51 years in prison for shooting her abductor; a man who sold to her to other men so they could rape her when she was a teen. I think about Christine Blasey Ford getting death threats for months after she credibly accused Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of raping her. I think about all those things and more.
I’m aware women have been dealing with an oppressive patriarchal system since the birth of this nation—and long before—but it’s gotten worse in the last decade, not better as I mistakenly assumed in my youth.
I’d love to offer an easy solution, and I actually do have one: vote. Young people have to vote, and passionate Gen Xers must realize purity tests give us Republican rule—which means a healthy patriarchy where women’s rights are the first ones the chopping block. Don’t believe me? See the dramatic loss of reproductive rights after the Tea Party Republicans won congressional seats in the 2010 midterms. Democrats were lulled into a false sense of security because we had a Democrat in the White House, so we didn't vote in the midterms. Presidents don’t write and pass laws, congressional representatives do. And conservatives worked quickly to repeal and roll back all kinds of reproductive rights.
Abortion clinics in 1991: 2176
Abortion clinics today: 493
In November 2018, the country decided to step up and vote. A record number of women won congressional seats and they'll have legislative power starting in January. Yay. But there are still more men than women making decisions about women’s bodies. It took a misogynist mobster like Donald Trump to motivate us.
We need to learn how to be motivated to vote and run for office when we're comfortable so we can prevent disasters—not wait for them to happen before we act.
The chilling lyrics were a creative way to protest the patriarchy, but those lyrics are truer now then they were more than twenty years ago:
Take this pink ribbon off my eyes
And it's no big surprise
Don't you think I know
Exactly where I stand
This world is forcing me
To hold your hand
'Cause I'm just a girl, little ol' me
Well don't let me out of your sight
Oh, I'm just a girl, all pretty and petite
So don't let me have any rights
Oh, I've had it up to here!
The moment that I step outside
So many reasons
For me to run and hide
I can't do the little things
I hold so dear
'Cause it's all those little things
That I fear
'Cause I'm just a girl
I'd rather not be
'Cause they won't let me drive
Late at night
Oh I'm just a girl
Guess I'm some kind of freak
'Cause they all sit and stare
With their eyes
Oh I'm just a girl
Take a good look at me
Just your typical prototype
Oh, I've had it up to here!
Oh, am I making myself clear?
I'm just a girl
I'm just a girl in the world
That's all that you'll let me be!
Oh I'm just a girl, living in captivity
Your rule of thumb
Make me worry some
Oh I'm just a girl, what's my destiny?
What I've succumbed to
Is making me numb
Oh I'm just a girl, my apologies
What I've become is so burdensome
Oh I'm just a girl, lucky me
Twiddle-dum there's no comparison
Oh, I've had it up to!
Oh, I've had it up to!!
Oh, I've had it up to here