Despite strides, too many don’t see women as equals

Originally published October 8, 2010

At a time when women are walking away with more degrees than men, I honestly assumed everyone believed women were making strides for the better.

I was wrong.

I spent the majority of last summer working at a video store, and most of the days seemed to run together in one stuffy, boring, endless shift. But one night in particular will always stick out in my mind.

It was a stormy Saturday night, and the line wrapped around to the back of the store. I had been on my feet all day.

The phone was ringing. A child knocked down the candy holder. And then, the mailman came up to rent his movies.

A regular customer, this man always had a story to tell and a lesson to teach.

“Enjoy the day,” he would say. Or, “remember to appreciate what you have.” But on this particular night, he was in a less than positive mood.

He approached me, DVDs in hand, and stared at me for a while.

This made me uncomfortable, and the line of customers was not getting any shorter.

But he continued to stare, shook his head, and asked, “Why is it that women these days, like you, think men like them skinny? If you want a man, you need some meat on your bones.”

Despite the insult, I rang up his movies, eager for him to leave. However, he had one more nugget of information to pass on.

“Why are you working here?” he asked. I told him I wanted to save up money before I went back to school, and he just laughed.

“You don’t need to work,” he said. “I don’t know why women even go to college. That’s what men are here for. All you need to do is get married and have kids.”

I wish I could say he was kidding, but he said it so matter-of-factly that I knew he couldn’t have been.
I told him I wanted to be able to take care of myself, and he shrugged, grabbed his movies and left.

My blood was boiling. Somehow that one comment left me feeling more degraded than anything else anyone had ever said to me.

Why shouldn’t I educate myself? What harm was there in that?

And what right did this man, someone who did not even know me, have to ridicule my future plans, not to mention my body?

As U.S. Department of Education statistics stand, the number of females enrolled in graduate school has surpassed male enrollment since 1984. Women currently receive approximately 62 percent of associate’s degrees, 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 60 percent of Master’s degrees and 51 percent of doctoral degrees.

But sometimes, even the facts aren’t enough.

Knowledge is power, and for some people, those numbers are threatening rather than encouraging.

But that day, I chose to ignore him. Just like everyone else who has ever been put down for something they did or who they were, there is nothing you can do but accept it and move on.

I have been encouraged all my life to work hard and get an education. So have my four brothers.

And no, we are not equals.

We have our individual strengths and shortcomings, but we have all been given equal opportunities to be whomever we wanted. Unfortunately, there will always be those who won’t agree that everyone deserves that chance.

The mailman, for example, did not agree. But the little old woman behind him in line made all the difference.

“You go girl,” she said. “I bet you’ll never be delivering his mail.”