The Pulse on Gender Equity in Seattle & Beyond

It's All Connected: How the fight for gender equality is linked to other movements

It's All ConnectedMartha BurwellComment

It’s hard to see the world from the perspective of someone else.  Really hard.  Even people who have been in relationships for years have trouble with this.  But we especially struggle to imagine what it’s like to be someone from a different background, who’s life experiences look nothing like yours. 

As a white, middle class woman, I’m privileged to only have to worry about one main form of discrimination, based on my gender.  Knowing this, I’ve worked to better understand other types of oppression, from what I studied at university, to traveling and volunteering long-term in developing countries like Guatemala, to working in a nonprofit with team members from 9 countries.

But I still have a hell of a lot to learn.

I was reminded of this when I posted how women earn $0.73 for every $1 a man earns in Seattle.  What I should have written is that this is what a white woman earns.  If you are Latina, for example, you would only earn $0.55 to the white man’s dollar (national average). 

Yikes.  That is a massive difference.  Even having spent most of my adult life working towards stopping oppression of different types, I still have blinders on sometimes! 

So this summer, I’m going to explore where the fight for gender equality overlaps with other social movements.  Because gender does not stand in isolation.  A black woman living in poverty does not experience her gender separately from her race and her financial situation.  She experiences all those things simultaneously.

Why write about this now?

A few events recently inspired me to take action and start talking about this. 

1. A reminder that being privileged means I don't feel the brunt of the world's problems.

Native Americans participating in the sHell No! Protest (c) Martha Burwell

Native Americans participating in the sHell No! Protest (c) Martha Burwell

I was in a kayak at the Port of Seattle “sHell No” protests against the continued investment in dirty energy.  During the speeches afterwards, several leaders from west coast Native American nations spoke, explaining that continuing to destroy the environment also destroys their culture and traditional food sources.  It was a reminder that climate change is very much a class and race issue, as I have seen first-hand in the past as a volunteer in Guatemala.  I’ll always remember the harrowing bus rides across mudslide zones that had not been repaired due to lack of money, and seeing the remains of houses crushed by storms, because they could not afford to build structures that can survive hurricanes.  That's a lot more than enduring another sweaty Seattle week without air conditioning. How does this translate to gender?  Because sexism affects under-privileged women infinitely more than privileged women. Just like the pay gap example above. 

The author (right) meeting Terry O'Neill, president of National Organization for Women.

The author (right) meeting Terry O'Neill, president of National Organization for Women.

2.  Mainstream feminism (indirectly) acknowledging that they do not always do justice to non-white women.

Another inspiration was attending the National Organization for Women conference in New Orleans in June, which had a theme of “intersectionality,” or “the study of intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.”  The conference focused mainly on the overlap of feminism and anti-racism.  For example, one speaker was Carol Mosely Braun, who was the first and to date the ONLY black woman senator in our country.  This is important, because mainstream feminism has been known to only represent the needs of white women—so much so that a parallel movement for black feminists was created, called womanism.


3. An interview with Kshama Sawant of Seattle City Council

Kshama Sawant of Seattle City Council (used w/ permission)

Kshama Sawant of Seattle City Council (used w/ permission)

Finally, I was inspired by a recent interview I had with Kshama Sawant, current Seattle City Council member.  Sawant is well-known because of her role in social movements in Seattle, such as the push for a $15 minimum wage, as well as because she is the first socialist in Seattle City Council in over 100 years, as a member of the Socialist Alternative party.

During our interview in June, Sawant made a comment that is a great starting point for this series.  It’s the reason that social movements exist in the first place:  There is a serious gap between what citizens want and need, and how their elected leadership actually represents them.

As Sawant put it:

“if you stop the average person on the street ….and ask them ‘what do you think Seattle should look like?’ I do believe, and my belief is confirmed by having had hundreds of conversations ….the majority of the people in Seattle want us to be a genuinely progressive city, are outraged by the wealth inequality, they’re outraged by the gender pay gap, are quite distressed by the excessive use of force by the police against the black lives matter protests, want to end racial disparities in schools, and so on.” 

But instead of fulfilling those wishes, she stated, the city leadership has traditionally only paid “lip service to these issues decade after decade, and really (has not had) much progress to show for it.

When people’s needs aren’t heard, one option is to organize social movements to demand change.  We tend to think of these movements as separate—that ‘Black Lives Matter’ is very different from the fight for LGBTQ equality, and that ‘Occupy Wall Street;’ has nothing to do with the ‘sHell no!' protests.  But in fact, they have an immense amount in common, and they each overlap with the gender equality movement.

Throughout July and August, the "It's all connected" series will be exploring topics like LGBTQ equality, race, worker’s rights, poverty and social services, the “occupy” movement, environmentalism, and immigration, and I look forward to sharing what I find with you! To subscribe, sign up in the sidebar on the right.

We’ll post other blogs as well over the summer, to mix things up and cover new developments in gender equality. 

If you know someone who’s an expert in the topics mentioned about who would be willing to do an interview to contribute to the discussion, please contact me.