I was 19 years old the last time I cried in school.
The first time was because I spilled grape juice on my white corduroy pants.
The second time was when I lost the Arbor Day poster contest to my classmate, Tracy. I thought my poem about a tree was better than her picture of a tree. [Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.]
But the last time I cried at school was not an occasion when I felt clumsy or jealous. It was a day when I felt silenced.
I was giving a presentation about women’s poetry in a college English class. I was nervous and naïve and excited and proud. I quoted lots of poems in my talk, which I thought made me seem worldly and smart.
Midway through my presentation, the instructor interrupted. Had I “learned NOTHING in this class?” Had I “not been listening all semester?” My professor announced that if I did not have something better to say then I should just sit down.
In the days that followed, I thought of so many better things to say. “If you are so concerned about how women’s voices have been overlooked throughout history, why are you ignoring mine now?”
But in class that day, I stopped my presentation and tearfully sat down.
I remember that day as the last time I ever allowed myself to be silenced, the last time I ever let myself be convinced that someone else’s opinion about what I knew was more important than my own.
Today is International Women’s Day. Women across the globe and the men who stand with them – men like my husband, Ken – are coming together, speaking out, and reminding the world that the playing field is not yet level.
I am proud to join the long list of women who are no longer staying quiet about the things that matter to us -- like access to affordable health care, paid family leave, and equal pay for equal work.
Ken and I want our kids to grow up in a world where their voices matter. I know you want that, too. There is power in discourse. There is strength in speaking across our differences. Most of all, we must make ourselves heard.
Happy International Women’s Day.