On Being an American Woman
Collaborateively Written // Edited by Chelsea DuDeVoire + Mara Strobel-Lanka
There are catchy songs, history books and multi-million dollar ad campaigns that have attempted to define the American Woman for centuries. In the midst of a political landscape that has strongly divided our demographic (to say the least), we wanted to hear from our fellow women about what their American citizenship means to them to commemorate Independence Day this year. When you're sporting your stars and stripes, lighting your sparklers and chowing down on your BBQ today, we challenge you to ask yourself what being an American Woman means to you, too.
"I'm proud and thankful to be an American woman. I have seen much discussion lately about the trials and tribulations of women in America, and I agree that we, as a nation, aren't getting it all right. We still have a ways to go, but there's nothing like being married to a soldier and raising two little girls to help me realize we're doing pretty well. Because I am an American woman, I have:
-The right to an education
-The right to vote or to abstain from voting
-The right to speak up and to speak out without fear of reprisal from my government
-The right to marry whomever I choose
-The right to not marry at all
-The right to have children with or without a husband
-The right to not have children
-The right to get a job and to keep it if I choose to marry and/or have kids
-The right to practice any religion I choose or to not practice at all
-The right to serve in my country's military in a combat role
For me, the bottom line is this: in America, women are free. Free to do what we want, how we want, when we want. We are also free to not. The freedom of choice is one of the most liberating, powerful things I can think of, and it's what makes me grateful to live here."
-Amanda Handley / Tallahassee, FL
"I'm proud of my parents for being so courageous to leave our country to forge a safer, more prosperous future for us. I'm proud of my parents for making a home out of a foreign land; for seeking citizen in a country that they've made their own. I'm ridden with guilt for enjoying the instant gratification of capitalist "freedom" while my family experiences food shortages in my native Cuba. I'm ridden with guilt for once shunning my heritage and almost losing fluency of my native tongue. I'm ridden with guilt every single time I lose patience with my parents' broken English instead of relishing in the poetic sounds of their accents.
I'm consumed with disgust to find that the country I once idealized should be more aptly called America: The Destroyer than America: the Brave. I'm consumed with disgust by the constant exploitation of fellow women, of blacks, of immigrants, of people of color, of "others". I'm consumed with disgust at how disenfranchised I've come to feel within this country. Pride, guilt, and disgust all coexist within me. Yet, there is no perfect ratio of the three that could fill the void of being a citizen of a country who so vocally condemns my identity."
-Dayli Vazquez / Tampa, FL
"Being an American woman to me means the opportunity to make my dreams a reality. Because I was born into a supportive and financially stable family here, I've had a leg up in life - and that's not something I take lightly. I started my own business at 17 and have only ever worked for myself. In college, I studied Entrepreneurship and was given the resources to take my business to the next level. I have always had my needs provided for and was blessed to attend a university with amazing mentors that helped shape me. Today I still work for myself, and have turned my passion for photography into a career that has supported me and taken me all around the world. Being an American means that I was given a chance, and I want to help give that chance to others who may not be as fortunate."
-Donna Irene / Miami, FL
"Immigrant. Woman. Lesbian. How do you balance the different facets of your identity when they’re all under attack? On June 26th, the Supreme Court lifted the stay on the President’s travel ban as well as agreed to hear a case in which a baker wanted to deny services to a same-sex couple. Last week, Senate Republicans introduced a bill intended to repeal ObamaCare while at the same time voting to restrict $500 million dollars to Planned Parenthood. Every component of my identity at this point has been politicized; used by men and (even some women) to gain popularity and power. Much like other people of color, queers, and trans individuals, the personal is political. Perhaps it was the naivety of my youth, but I once believed in the American Dream. My parents immigrated from Guyana, and with the help of their support system, were able to work tirelessly and provide for their children. To me, it seems like the America that my parents worked in and the one I now live in are different. Theirs was full of blind optimism and hope. Mine threatens to take away my civil liberties,one by one.
People without my consent - whom I’ve never met - have voted on and politicized everything from my ability to get married, to my ability to seek help for continuous monthly bleeding and depression. They have debated and filibustered my rights in front of the world, without any shame. For me, being an American Woman is continuously (and almost comically) striving to be like Leslie Knope, while knowing that the country is run by men who inherited their fortunes, yet still claim that others unlike them must pay their fair share for a slice of the American pie. Being an American Woman means holding onto hope and finding strength in my partner, my community, and my work, because losing them might mean losing myself."
-Rajkumari Sukhnandan / Tallahassee, FL
"Each time I wear my naval uniform in public on the way home from work, I'll undoubtedly receive a "thank you for your service" or two, and I’m never quite sure of the ideal response I’m supposed to give in return. In training, we were taught to say "it's an honor." Do I feel like it's an honor everyday? No. But when I think back to visiting Pearl Harbor and seeing the mass grave of the brave men who died for our country, I tearfully remember that yes, it is an honor. What a privilege it is to represent my country every day, and to have the opportunity to work side by side with the men AND women who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. So to me, being an American is an honor, and one that I did absolutely nothing to deserve."
-Jody Joynt / Jacksonville, FL
"For the majority of my life, I've been a bit of an America-hater. I always considered us to be spoiled, greedy and fat. However, since recently traveling through several other countries including Thailand and Vietnam, I am incredibly grateful to have been born to two parents, with a nice home, and many opportunities in the United States of America.
Being an American woman means I have employment choices. Being an American woman means I can drive a car. Being an American woman means I had compulsory free education until I was 18. Being an American woman means I can choose my husband someday. Being an American woman means I can use birth control if I want to, critique the government on Facebook if I want to, and attend college if I want to. Being an American woman means I have a lot of freedom that women all over the world don't have, and I think sometimes we forget to be thankful for that. Being an American woman means I have the ability to fight for people who don't have these rights.
Obviously, this doesn't mean that we should be complacent in our freedom. I've experienced harassment, been treated differently in the workplace and felt I didn't have the same options as men. To my fellow American women: be thankful for the rights we do have, fight for the ones that we don’t, and stand with the women of color, the LGBTQ population, the disabled, and other marginalized groups who are fighting to be heard."
-Chelsea Pillsbury / Washington, DC
"I come from an extremely diverse family, with members across several minorities, religions and social statuses, etc. I grew up overseas for half my life and lived abroad as an adult, and one thing that has remained through it all is that I’m proud to be an American. There is not a day that goes by that I am not thankful to be a part of the population of this country. Our constitution, the American dream that my immigrant family members (especially my own mother) want to achieve, and the massive melting pot of those who make this country great - are a few of the things that make me most proud to be an American woman. After traveling the globe and serving in the military, I’ve learned firsthand that there is nowhere else on earth that offers the same freedoms and liberties that we have."
-Natasha Niemann / Anacortes, Washington
"The American Man has enjoyed a steady identity since the first pioneers settled in the West. Braving the new frontier and conquering all land, people, and enterprises in his way, he’s known for his John Steinbeck grit and Mark Twain resourcefulness. The American Woman, however, has filled a revolving door of roles from faithful homestead wife, to Rosy the Riveter era worker, to rock and roll fantasy figure, to the new and prized Girlboss business woman. Our true character lays somewhere between loving and strong caretaker, and brave and ambitious innovator.
While the threads of our character may be elusive to definitions, there are a few things I know to be true about American Women: we’re strong in times of need, we’re triumphant in creating ourselves anew, and we’re constantly realizing new and cherished freedoms for ourselves. As every new headline highlights the injustices we face or the divides that deepen our differences, I challenge myself to remember that our charged identities are not up for debate, but on a reflective drawing table. Media outlets, politicians, and ad campaigns can’t keep up with our growth long enough to realize that we don’t all fit into one magazine cover or party platform. But we do fit into one country, and we’re figuring out that geography a little more every day. I may not live in the perfect America our elementary educations envisioned for us, but I do live in an America teeming with brilliant, ambitious, and empowered women, and that’s something I am very, very proud of."
-Mara Strobel-Lanka / Jacksonville, FL