Inequality is not just about one race or sex. It affects all people at different times in their life whether or not they realize it.
As a young girl, I quickly learned about inequality from my mother. She was hard of hearing in both ears and lived a very hard life. Due to her disability, she was not allowed to go to past the 5th grade because she was “too stupid” and considered “retarded” by adults. (It still angers me to this day to think of how stupid THOSE adults were. Could no one really figure out the child could not hear?) Having endured endless struggles and years of being looked down upon, she insisted different for her daughters. She would constantly tell my sisters and me to fight for what we wanted and needed. We had “to be survivors” in life. No one would take care of us if we did not fight for ourselves and demand respect.
Later in life, I learned about inequality at work. I have had many jobs that were in predominately-male environments: tool departments, fishing stores and now, the Army. Being ignored has always been part of the game. Oh, she is just a girl, what does she know? Well, let me tell you that when I was able to rattle off that there were standard and metric sockets as well as 6-point, 8-point and 12-point ones as well, men stopped to listen. I just had to prove that I knew what I was talking about. I had to show them I could speak their language. (And frankly, I didn’t have a clue before getting the jobs.)
As an Army Reservist, I still feel inequality. Sometimes it is because I am female. Other times it is because I am public affairs. Then yet another day, I miss the mark because I am not active duty. There is always someone looking down or sideways on you because you have not been in their exact shoes. You cannot know what I went through because you are not Infantry. Sure, you deployed, but you have not deployed to WHERE I was. Or, your three deployments are not as valid because you are just a Reservist or all you did was public relations (because that makes mortars go around us ‘weekend warriors’).
Whatever the case, there will always be someone who has done something bigger, faster, better or stronger. Many times, it is not outright sexism, racism or whatever other ism may exist though. (Yes, I know some of that actually does still exist sadly, but that is not they type I am discussing here.) I think, more often than not, the inequality I have felt is simply that people feel more comfortable relating to someone they know is similar to them. If you know tools, you can help me with what I need. If you have survived a firefight, you can understand the look in my eyes and I can talk to you about my fears.
It seems to be more about what you know and have experienced than who you are. Outside of the Army Reserve, I work as a government civilian in the regular Army. I interact with a number of combat infantrymen. I have noticed a distinct difference in how they speak to me before and after they know I to am a soldier, a veteran. I don’t think they were treating the government civilian female me with a level of sexism or inequality, but it is clearly different than how they speak to the Army Reserve officer me. It is like they can let their guard down and relax more around me because I have shared an experience like theirs. I can relate to them and understand their language. Before they new I wore the uniform, I was just a civilian who worked there.
Therefore, for me, the best way to fight inequality has been through being a survivor like my mom taught me. I had to learn about tools, fish, weapons. I read regulations. I have to refrain from my inner silly girl at times to present myself in a way that says: I belong here; I know what I am talking about; Listen to me.
In Designer Sophisticate’s blog, they summarized it perfectly with a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
So I say, I will not allow someone to treat me differently. I will show them that I deserve a seat at the table. I will earn respect while humbly learning. None of us are better than the another overall. We are just different people with different skills. But together, those varying skills build an equal team, a force to be reckoned with.