For the most part, growing up I was told I can become whatever I wanted if I set goals and worked hard to achieve them. There were, however, a few times I was told I couldn’t be this or that simply because I’m a female.
Of course, this mindset of women not being able to accomplish certain goals or hold certain careers is an abhorrent and antiquated belief. As a woman serving in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, I can debate just as well as the men.
My path to the House was likely a familiar one for most legislators, including my male colleagues. I worked hard early in my life learning about the issues facing our state and I learned how state government operates. As the chief of staff for former state Rep. Will Gabig, I was constantly in the throes of ever-changing issues and policy development. When I decided to run for office, I faced two men in the primary. I didn’t ask for special treatment because I’m a woman, and, believe me, I sure didn’t receive preferential treatment from my opponents. In fact, I believe I fought harder because of my gender.
Throughout my life, I never believed I was entitled to anything simply because of my gender. Many women who have blazed their own trails in their respective careers have said the same thing. However, many of these brave women were also discriminated against and were believed to be unfit for certain professions simply because of their genders.
Take former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman nominated and to serve on our country’s highest court. Though O’Connor was at the top of her law class, when she entered the legal profession, she couldn’t find a job merely because of her gender. So she worked for free. That’s right, a well-educated attorney worked for free. Instead of giving up, she worked harder, impressed her male colleagues and secured a paid position. The rest, as they say, is history.
During the 1950s, when O’Connor was at Stanford Law School, only about 2 percent of all law students were women. When she was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1981, 36 percent of law school students were women. By the time she retired from the court in 2006 that percentage was up to 48 percent.
O’Connor, and other first women, have more than a few things in common. One that sticks out in my mind is these women all wanted one thing in their pursuit of their goals: To be treated equally. Equally means the same, not to receive special treatment based on one’s gender.
Though I don’t consider myself a “first woman,” I do hold the belief that women must strive to be treated equally, not with exceptions. We, as women, cannot demand equal treatment and, at the same time, ask for special exceptions and recognition.
During a recent debate on the House floor about House Bill 2060
, which would require firearm owners subject to final Protection From Abuse (PFA) orders to relinquish guns to law enforcement, a male representative apologized to women for those who planned to vote against the bill for failing to protect them.
This condescending statement absolutely incensed me. I am not a victim! His assumption that all women are somehow feeble victims is insulting. If someone wants to apologize to me, and all women, for something, apologize for taking our rights, for further compromising due process and for disregarding the Constitution, but do not offer me an apology for my gender under an assumption that being a female renders me weak. Allowing this victim status to stick is disempowering women everywhere.
Too many women before me have worked too hard and too long to be marginalized into a class of weak-willed victims. Moreover, we, as women, are undermining the trails they’ve already blazed by constantly forcing our gender as a special circumstance in every challenge we face. Government leaders perpetually break us up into special classes of victims in need of some type of justice. It makes sense, as it solidifies the government’s role as the almighty protector of these “special classes.” I refuse to participate in this fabricated dialogue, and more importantly, I will not stand by and allow someone’s perceived desire for justice undermine the significant progress women have made both socially and professionally.