This past Sunday in Denver, I had the good fortune of winding up at a red light behind the vehicle that bears this “vanity” plate: WOMANUP
What an inspiring message of consolation and hope, especially in the midst of that dreary weekend—the effects of which, I’m sure, still feel like they’re weighing heavily on many of us. This little message of female empowerment was a ray of sunlight poking through the clouds of despair. I almost immediately thought of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the thousands of female victims of misogyny and assault who are gaining the strength to end their silence and courageously speak their chilling truth.
I thought about the horrible culture of machismo that perpetuates demeaning gender stereotypes (which would be ridiculous if they weren’t so disgusting) through phrases like “man up,” and the opportunity—and perhaps responsibility—of turning that culture on its head; not to “reverse the power dynamic” (only a foolish paranoia guides the fear-mongering claims that women are in or seek to be in a position to threaten men or their safety, ruin their lives, or perpetrate gender-based discrimination or injustice), but to set it right.
I thought about the upward movement of women in our society—from positions of limited opportunity, from feeling put down, from being literally or figuratively mounted, subjugated, smothered, objectified, silenced, disempowered. And I thought about the refusal on the part of so many men in power to recognize this reality, their (our) complicity in fostering it and perpetuating it, and the need for those of us who have known privilege and power to step back and listen, to allow women to rise up to their rightful place as human equals and tell their stories. I thought about the ongoing need for women to rise up from those low, dark places and I also thought about how that rising is indeed happening.
And I thought about all the ways men can learn from women’s process of rising up, how we all, as feminists (regardless of our gender identity), can incorporate models of female empowerment, leadership, and self-actualizing—and can also embrace aspects of the feminine—all for the betterment of humanity (which, after all, possesses a Divinity that is beyond any single gender: “Masculine and feminine God created them.”)
Of course, there was also the fascinating fact that this message of hope and empowerment was literally framed by a celebration of someone’s connection to West Point. I needed to shift lanes after the stop and saw that the driver was indeed a woman. No way to know, of course, if she (or another woman in her family) is the West Point alum or if being a proud, empowered woman and having someone in the family who attended USMA are separate (yet complementary) parts of her reality. Regardless, it felt to me even more encouraging that this message might be emerging in some way from within an experience of an institution that signifies power in so many traditional or stereotypical manifestations—which are so easily associated with toxic masculinity.
As women continue to break through barriers in the military and in so many other fields, may they continue to demonstrate a wider range of what it means to rise up, to claim and hold power, and to wield it for noble and compassionate ends for a greater good—and may we of all gender identities learn and grow from their modeling. Thank you to the woman who chose to put this message on her Colorado license plate. I am also grateful to the indeterminate “hand” that placed me in the right place at the right time—behind this woman’s car on that particular Sunday: so that I might receive the blessing of hope that this empowering message offered at a moment of despair, so that I might embrace the charge—and spread it, too—to “woman up!”