“It doesn’t take courage. All it takes is standing up for what you believe in.”
— Jesse Lopez de la Cruz
There are many who believe that within every woman there lies an inner knowing, an innate passion, a wild woman waiting for the right time to step forth. And for centuries, despite the odds, women have fought against oppression and injustice.
Consider Joan of Arc, who saved France only to be burned at the stake for her beliefs while still a teen. Harriet Tubman, who at only 13 refused to beat a fugitive slave on the order of her overseer and was viciously beaten herself. Or Benazir Bhutto, the first woman to serve as prime minister in an Islamic country who was assassinated when she tried to fight corruption in Pakistan.
Even closer to home, there was Washington County teacher Susan B. Anthony, who believed that freedom for women began with women being able to vote. And 45 years before women got to vote in New York, Anthony, along with her sisters and a handful of other women, convinced voting officials in Rochester to register them to vote in 1872.
Nonetheless, after Anthony voted that November, she was arrested and, following her trial, fined $100 plus court costs.
“Yes, your honor, I have many things to say; for in your ordered verdict of guilty, you have trampled underfoot every vital principle of our government,” Anthony said to the judge at sentencing. “My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored.”
Anthony told the judge she would never pay her fine, and she didn’t.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of “Women Who Run with the Wolves,” calls this inner force in women the “El rio debajo del rio,” the river that runs beneath the river.
Over the course of history, women like Rosa Parks — who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man — have changed conditions for the better.
And because of the efforts of so many, women have made strides in work and education, with more women than men now likely to graduate from college.
Still, despite the path set forth by Anthony, Parks and others, there remains a long and turbulent road for women seeking equality. Women are still fighting for equal pay and leadership positions. Today, according to a Russell Sage Foundation study, women are paid about 20 percent less than men for the same work and it’s still difficult to achieve the highest-ranking leadership roles.
In 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the anticipated winner of the U.S. presidential election, but in a surprise turn of events, despite winning 48 percent of the popular vote, Donald Trump was elected president by the Electoral College with only 46 percent of the popular vote.
Outraged by President Trump’s recorded comments about women and his previous sexual exploits, women and men reacted, with hundreds of thousands protesting around the world the day after the president took office.
“Misogyny thrives under Trump,” said Rebecca Krefting, a Skidmore College associate professor and gender studies scholar. “He is introducing acceptance of overt misogyny … right now I am afraid for women in my life and in our country. To me, with Trump taking office, so many things are in peril, like reproductive rights.”
In Glens Falls, a Women’s March in January drew nearly 1,500 women and men carrying signs that called for respect, continued access to reproductive services and denouncing the president’s earlier remarks.
In Washington, D.C., the park service estimated that the crowd was triple that of the previous day’s inauguration.
“It was really exciting,” said Skidmore College student Louise Sullivan, who went to the march in New York City. “All the energy. I thought, ‘This is so cool. So many have done this before us.’ “
So what is a disorderly woman?
“It’s a really complex term; often the connotation is that it is a bad thing,” said Skidmore College Senior Zia O’Neill. “It can just be a woman going about every day and she happens to be making more of a splash and she thinks independently from the status quo.”
“It depends on if she is a woman of color, Muslim, from a poor family — every woman’s experience is vastly different,” she said. “We have made a lot of progress, but we have so much further to go.”
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The way O’Neill and fellow student Sullivan see it, a disorderly woman can make changes or express herself in small ways or by being an activist her whole life.
As part of an American Studies course at the Saratoga Springs college called “Disorderly Women,” the students had an opportunity to explore the lives of women who changed the world in some way and to explore how they viewed themselves as women in the world.
By looking at women’s lives and actions from the mid-1800s to the present — Ida B. Wells, an African American journalist who led anti-lynching campaigns in the late 1800s and early 1900s; Angela Davis, a feminist and civil rights activist who in the 1970s spent 18 months in a women’s detention center before being acquitted of all charges; Malala Yousafzai, who at the age of 11 was shot in the head after writing a blog about the Taliban regime’s view on a girl’s education; and Jesse Lopez de la Cruz, a Chicano-American who was the first woman to organize farm workers for the United Farm Workers — the students began to understand the many faces of being disorderly.
And their time working together showed them that standing up for what you believe in often comes with big consequences, both good and bad, they said, adding that some women paid a heavy price for stepping out from the norm.
Take Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the face for standing up to the Taliban and saying she believed girls needed an education. Yousafzai survived her assault and founded a school in Lebanon for Syrian refugee girls. She is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize.
“There’s still a lot to be done. And we have to remember what people have been doing for a long time, especially in the women’s movement,” said Sullivan. “(In the course) we looked at what we each did well and taking that into account. It was very empowering to say, ‘I am good at this.’ ”
The students cautioned about defining a disorderly woman, because that definition then attempts to fit the woman into a predefined role. A disorderly woman could be someone who chooses to stay home and have children or a woman who chooses to risk imprisonment for her beliefs.
“Women are always subject to being defined,” said Krefting, the Skidmore professor who has been teaching the course for the past three years. “Which aspect do you claim for yourself?”
Both students marched in the post-Trump inauguration marches. O’Neill was in Washington, D.C., while Sullivan was in New York City.
“What I noticed was that there was a strongly white element, that all the people had the privilege and funds for housing and travel,” said O’Neill. “After the course, I was very attuned to that.”
As part of the course, Krefting said that she wants there to be a service-learning component so the students go beyond the classroom walls and apply what they learned.
In a previous class, students created a film that asked, “What can we thank our bodies for?”
“Instead of focusing on beauty, they focused on how their bodies are used,” Krefting said, explaining that women are often defined by their bodies.
In the film, women expressed their feelings.
“I’m thankful for my wrists because they help me bake bread, which is practice for when I become a chef.”
“I am thankful for my mouth and voice so that I can sing and express myself the best way I know how and so that I can bring joy to others with music.”
“I am thankful for my eyes because I can see colors.”
“I am thankful for my hands because I am an artist and I love creating.”
The same year, those students wrote grants for a women’s reproductive health project in Texas called Jane’s Due Process for underage girls.
According to Krefting, they secured $7,500 to support the nonprofit.
“It’s amazing to see what they did and how it has a real impact on the world and on young women’s lives,” she said. “You can’t put a price on that.”