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  • The Reflective Doc

Women's Rights are Human Rights

I am so angry.

How do we find ourselves living in the 21st century, but facing a return to an era of state control over women’s bodies? Can we truly achieve any kind of equality in a world where we can’t even make the most intimate decisions about our own lives?

My maternal grandmother was born just after the turn of the 20th century. She was 10 years old when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote. She was 12 when Margaret Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, but over 50 when the first birth control pill was released. It was her birthday recently, and I wished, as I so often do, that I could talk to her about life as a woman in 2022.

My maternal grandmother was a feminist, though she may not have referred to herself as such. She was raised by a mother weakened in the 1918 flu pandemic and lost to tuberculosis when my grandmother was 13. Her father worked for a train company, but was also an alcoholic, unable to care for her or her 2 siblings, and they were sent to live with distant relatives. My grandmother, the eldest, on her own, with her younger brother and sister sent together to a separate home.

Raised in a home with two loving parents, I can’t possibly relate to her journey through adolescence and young adulthood. Somehow she thrived, moving to Chicago for her nursing training, marrying my physician grandfather and establishing a bustling medical clinic in rural North Dakota.

She was a “spitfire,” as they say. A vocal advocate for transparency in advertising, she would often write letters to companies about their misleading images and underwhelming products. I can remember the indignation on her face as she described receiving a return gift from the pretzel company whose merchandise tended to shatter in transit. “Why on earth would I want another bag of those awful, broken pretzels?”

The pandemic has forced self-reflection, not always welcome, but often illuminating. When I searched my past for the beginnings of my strong belief in women’s equality, I recognized her monumental role in my life. Both through her actions, as an independent, opinionated, engaged citizen, and her words, she encouraged me to push ahead, take changes, and speak up for what I believed.

When the days feel very dark, and I can’t find a clear path forward, she is often my guiding light. I put on her string of pearls, wrap my hair in one of her head scarves, and take a deep breath, feeling her presence encouraging me. Her beautiful portrait hangs in my bedroom, and her determined spirit lives in my heart.

It is frightening to enter the political and social fray at this point in our history. But if we are not the voices of our generation, what world will our children inherit? I am not one to shout over a loud room, but I will use whatever power I possess to support the amazing women in my life. I know my grandmother is watching.

“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” -Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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