Being a woman in the South is challenging. Want to know what is even more challenging? Being a woman in the South and working in politics- specifically reproductive and sexual rights
Cosmopolitan Magazine had published an article yesterday with the title “What It’s Like to Be an Activist When your State is Hostile to Reproductive Rights”. Naturally I quickly identified with the title and clicked on the link.
The testimonies came from 4 different states- Missouri, Kansas, Texas and Minnesota. I had a connection with all of these testimonies, but the article was lacking one thing- a testimony from the good old Bible Belt. I decided the world should hear from us too.
I am a New Jersey native and proud of it. I was born and raised in a big beach town in central New Jersey. I moved to South Carolina to pursue my Undergraduate Degree in Public Health. This was the best decision I have ever made. Not just because I had advanced my education, but because I found my passion here.
I am currently a Fellow for New Morning Foundation and Tell Them - a state wide reproductive health-focused foundation. We are the leading advocates for improving sexual health policies in South Carolina. We campaign for and against various bills every legislative session and I am very proud to be working here.
Before I go on, you should know a little more about South Carolina and its long battle with reproductive rights. Some South Carolina facts for you:
Truth be told, I live in a state that is ashamed of its own anatomy and even more important I live in a state that has a historical and cultural problem with powerful women.
There is only one woman in the South Carolina Senate. As if this isn’t an obvious problem, let’s look a little deeper into the daily sexism Senator Katrina Shealy has to face.
Tell Them has been working with the support of Senator Shealy on a Domestic Violence bill that would make domestic violence offenders unable to purchase a gun. Why? Well South Carolina is the 2nd leading state in domestic violence and with a substantial amount resulting in deaths. More than 70% of these deaths result from firearms. About two weeks ago, Senator Shealy was discussing our bill with Senator Corbin when he hit below the belt. He so ignorantly told Senator Shealy that God made man first, and then used the rib of the man to make women, so women are the lesser cut of the meat.
Not that I consider myself powerful, but I myself have had my fair share of the disgusting sexism while working in politics. Just yesterday I was at the South Carolina State House on my way to perform an independent assignment my supervisor had given me. I was on my way to my first committee hearing where our two bills were being discussed and had the unfortunate displeasure of riding up in an elevator with four older gentlemen.
I was wearing my glasses which had become foggy due to the change in temperature. One of the men beside me so generously pointed that out - as if I couldn’t see. I responded that it tends to happen from time to time. His friend corrected me saying “it tends to happen to pretty young women when Mike* (name change) walks into a room.”
Aaaaand here we go. Excuse me? I am a 21 year old professional at the State House, the political center-piece to our states legislation, and I was disrespected because I am a woman. I took my glasses off and got off at the next floor, though it was not my destination. I took the stairs the rest of the way to avoid any more asinine comments because I was afraid I may actually explode and have to be removed from the State House grounds.
I have been cursed, I have been slut shamed, I have received hate mail (seriously I have)and I have been called names I wouldn’t want my children to hear, and yet- I am never discouraged. I never think to myself “why bother” or maybe I should live in a liberal state that understands me. I work in the South for this cause for one simple reason- because they need me. The reality is that state sovereignty isn’t ideal. I love South Carolina and have been lucky to call it my home for the past four years. My family is moving Charleston, one of the most amazing cities I have ever been to. The culture and the history of this rich state are undeniable. I love South Carolina, but can’t seem to get on board with its infringements on our human rights. But that is why I continue to work in South Carolina, in hopes to change that.
Human rights are non-negotiable. After being a woman and working in Southern politics fighting for a taboo cause, I can promise you, there is nothing that I can’t do.