Recently, Women’s Caucus held a consciousness-raising meeting, where a group of women gathered to share their gripes about sexist experiences they had undergone at work, in the classroom or in any other aspect of their lives.

According to Wikipedia, “Consciousness raising (often abbreviated c.r.) is a form of political activism pioneered by United States radical feminists in the late 1960s. It often takes the form of a group of people attempting to focus the attention of a wider group of people on some cause or condition. It is the first half of the adage ‘Admitting the problem is half the battle.'” In other words, by talking about their experiences, early feminists were able to pinpoint problem areas on which they needed to focus, such as fighting sexism in the workplace. This enabled them to better tackle these problems.

In this particular meeting, it was disconcerting to see many of these age-old problems trotted out for a new round of battle-stories that told of the lewd comments made by men about waitresses, professors who only acknowledge the comments made by their male students, the fact that women don’t feel they can say no to creepy guys who try to dance with them at the Fraternity Quad – and the list goes on.

Yet, sitting in the meeting, I had this unsettled feeling that we were only addressing half the problem; we didn’t yet have the whole picture. After all, the only contributions that sprang to my mind were stories about my obsessively anal boss, who yelled at me in front of customers about being a screw up, or about a friend who liked punching, slapping and pinching me despite my protestations. Yet, both my stories were about women. And, over the course of the day, I had heard several other angry women stories as well, from a project team leader who was spewing forth negative energies onto other teammates to a woman who felt constantly put-down and unaccepted by a friend. Strangely enough, I was finding that there were just as many gripes about conditions imposed on women by other women as there were about conditions imposed by men.

For some reason, these stories were remaining untold; no one felt comfortable raising issues about other women in the c.r. meeting. I propose this reluctance to tackle such issues is exemplary of the larger problem at hand: after so many years of fighting the good fight and making so much progress toward equal rights, we women still have an incredible amount of difficulty when it comes to setting boundaries. In my experience, we often take on more than we can handle or say yes even when we want to say no; it is incredibly difficult for us to know our own limits and to give a firm “no” when they are being crossed. This is especially true when it comes to setting boundaries with other women, mainly because it feels like a sacrilege against the sisterhood if we want to say no.

I feel like a huge part of the problem is that we have not yet started acting like our sex is equal with men. It is as though we are still trying to prove we are worthy by pushing ourselves to super-woman limits. We need to take on as many tasks and accomplish as many achievements as possible to feel good about ourselves. Yet, not only is there no longer any need to prove our worth (we’ve already been there and done that a thousand times over!), but at this point, the behavior has become harmful for us. Not only are we harming our own physical health and sanity, but those around us are forced to pay the price as well, as it is often easier to take out our resentment on other women. But this can change.

Ladies, it’s time to accept ourselves for who we are. We are doing so many incredible things, making such a huge difference in our world. We no longer need to do that at the high cost we have been paying. We can set boundaries, not only with men, but with ourselves and one another; it is okay to say no, for example, when a boss is repeatedly assigning us too many hours at work, regardless of the sex of that individual.

I see this as the next challenge for the feminist movement: learning to say no when we want to so that we are no longer draining ourselves of precious energy needed to keep ourselves happy and healthy. We need to learn to say no so that we avoid placing ourselves in situations that fill us with resentment and anger that, in the end, will only harm ourselves. I know we are up to the challenge.

Velchoff is a member of the class of 2007.

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