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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Emily Wine: Taking symbolic steps toward leadership roles

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 25, 2017

By Emily Wine For The Spokesman-Review

I am a newly minted feminist. Today, I will be marching proudly and resolutely at the Women’s March on Spokane, a local offshoot of the flagship Women’s March on Washington. I am marching because I believe that it is time for women to fulfill their potential as leaders. It is not enough to demand control over our own bodies, because that should be a given. It is time for women to shape this country.

Growing up, I never felt that I was being held back on account of my gender. I attended an intensive math and science high school, where everyone was expected to excel, regardless of gender. Yes, the student population was 60 percent male, but I didn’t give that much thought. When I did my undergraduate degree, the vast majority of my professors were white and male, but I still was unfazed. The status quo did not disturb me, because I perceived no barriers to my success. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that there were forces at work preventing women from achieving at the highest levels.

It wasn’t until after I left the halls of academia and entered the workforce that I began to understand the subtle sexism that pervades daily life in America. My first job was as an inspector with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. I drove around in a pickup, visiting apiaries and inspecting honeybee hives for diseases, pests and pathogens. It was hard work that required lifting boxes of live bees which, when full of honey, could easily weigh 100 pounds.

But the work was made much harder by my interactions with beekeepers, nearly all of whom were male. Every day, men told me how to do my job. When I replied that I was simply following state protocol, the unsolicited advice flowed unabated. Eventually, it occurred to me that if I were male, I would probably have escaped the constant criticism.

Now, I am back in an academic setting. I am a graduate student studying pollinators of alfalfa grown for seed. I have learned that while roughly half the students in biology are female, they only comprise 21 percent of tenured science professors, according to the National Science Foundation. The “pipeline problem” is a myth; there is an abundance of talent, but hiring discrimination and a lack of family friendly workplace policies keep women from advancing in the field. Women are underrepresented in leadership across the board; there are few women at the highest levels of academia, government, business and technology. Women are allowed to be likable or powerful, but not both. I want to believe that it is possible for women to succeed at the highest levels in this country.

For me, this election cycle was a referendum on female leadership. I am fully aware that this election was a political Rorschach test, and that other people following this election perceived it differently, but this is what it meant to me: Given a choice between a strong, dedicated woman and a degenerate, people went with the latter. I saw an undisciplined, inexperienced man who was forgiven for all his faults and indiscretions, and a brilliant, highly qualified woman who was picked apart with a fine-toothed comb.

In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton said, “And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”

While this is meant as a message of hope, it carries sadness. It is sad that we live in a society where girls question their value and capabilities.

The past election sowed discord and division throughout this country, when leadership should be about uniting around a common purpose. It rubbed salt into racial wounds and pitted neighbors against each other.

We are better than that. Instead of fighting each other, we need to build a nation that works for all the people.

Emily Wine is a graduate student in the entomology department at Washington State University.

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