The day Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, I encountered my first brown snake while running in my adopted country of Australia. Long and thick, the snake felt the vibrations of my feet pounding the dirt track and whipped around to face me. I froze for a moment, then ran the other way.
When I left for my run, I had felt powerful: For the first time in U.S. history, a woman was going to win the presidency. The New York Times election-tracking needle was sure of it, and so was I. As I ran, I thought about whether I would tell my kids what a momentous day this was. Do I make it a big deal for my 7-year-old twins, especially for my daughter? Or do I let them think that a woman winning the presidency is ordinary?
Because of the snake, my run was shorter (and faster) than usual. By the time I got home, the election needle had ticked over, favoring Trump by 88 percent. When I left to pick up my kids from school, the election results were in.
Turns out I would spend a lot of 2017 talking to my kids about equality—and not just because America chose a sexual predator over a woman for its highest office.
Brown Snake Day was a turning point for me. While I have always championed women’s issues, those topics represent only part of what I focus on in my writing and editing work. Gender is on equal footing with climate change, human rights, education, race, conservation, and myriad other social and environmental issues that I think matter.
But the U.S. election woke me up. Before that, I honestly thought I wouldn’t have to talk to my kids about gender equality because the women’s movement had happened, thank god, and my daughter and son would reap the benefits. But after the election, I decided to pay closer attention to gender equality. I wanted to learn about the issues and make changes in my life and work that would contribute to positive change.
So this past year I engaged in a little experiment. To focus more of my work on efforts that advance women and girls, I offered an incentive to clients: Hire me for gender-focused projects, and I’ll give you a 25 percent discount. Pay me my full rate, and I’ll donate that 25 percent to organizations that advance women and girls.
Over the past year, I have taken on eight projects with a gender focus, ranging from women’s economic empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa to women’s leadership for sustainable development to financial inclusion for women. I have been fortunate to work with organizations and companies—including BSR’s HERproject, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, and Gap Inc.—that apply a gender lens to their work.
I have also made an intentional effort to examine things in my own life through the lens of gender—as a mother, a wife, a daughter, a freelance writer and editor, and as an American who recently moved from urban Oakland, California, to a country town in Victoria, Australia.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing what I learned here, and I’ll finish this series with a post on the questions I’m still grappling with. I welcome your feedback. More than anything, this year has taught me that changing systems and culture are massive undertakings that require time and patience. But every individual can make small changes that collectively matter. We can all be more aware and intentional. We can call out inequality, demand respect for ourselves and others, and support individual women. We can have conversations at home and at work about power, equality, and feminism. We can teach our kids to question the gender roles they see on TV and in the movies.
Here's a snapshot of what I learned during my year as a feminist:
- Girls need a strong body and a strong voice.
- Gender equality starts at home.
- We need to reconsider the language of gender equality.
- Women and girls are key to solving the world’s biggest challenges.