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Feminism faces further obstacles

THIS IS for all the sweaty half-shaven men who like to sit around gas stations and gawk at young girls: Get a life, because we are.

In Arizona, women hold the top five elected offices in the state. Elizabeth Dole is making a serious bid for the presidency. The women of the United States soccer team not only just won the World Cup in front of 90,000 adoring fans, but also made the covers of Time and Newsweek, and are shooting at the biggest honor of all: the cover of the Wheaties cereal box. They would follow the U.S. women's hockey team cover girls, honored last year after their gold medal win in Nagano. Women's sports are claiming equal time, women are ascending the rungs of government, and women are breaking through the gender gap in business. So why can't we walk through a gas station?

I love hot weather and I'm too cheap to fix my car's air conditioning. I also have way too many friends that live far away, so I spend lots of time driving in as little clothing as possible without giving up decency. I look forward to road trips. I do not look forward to pit stops.

Pit stops mean gas stations. Pit stops mean I have to get out of my car to pump gas in front of whoever else may be at that gas station. Pit stops mean that suddenly my gym shorts and tank tops feel barer than a string bikini, and that every overly hormonal male within eyesight gets to pretend I am wearing a string bikini, if that. I know the look. Their jaws drop but the corners of their mouths curl upwards like the Grinch before Hooville enlightenment or a half-starved scruffy cartoon wolf grinning at a juicy cut of meat.

I know I'm not alone. The comments and the drooling happen many places, not only in the streets and gas stations. It happens in Sports Illustrated every year with the swimsuit edition and whenever they call the women's soccer team "booters with hooters." It happens every time a woman's ideas are taken less than seriously or passed over just because she's the one wearing the skirt. It even happens unknowingly among friends.

Recently, I had a discussion with three men, two of which I love very much and greatly respect. The third lost any and all respect I might have given him by the end of the conversation. We were talking about the recent boom of the stock market--a subject I'm very interested in--and I noticed something very quickly.

Whenever it came time to explain a concept, the comments of this particular gentleman--and I use that term lightly--were directed to the only female of the group--me. But whenever he began to brag about earning potential or passed on an inside tip, his focus immediately turned to one of the other men. And when I attempted to express an opinion, he quickly interrupted to tell me I looked pretty that day. I noticed something else, too--this particular gentleman's hand reaching out to grab my thigh as I stood up. Apparently it didn't matter that his wife was standing nearby.

If I asked this man about the rights of women, he probably would recite all the right answers. He probably would say, "of course women are equals, yes they should get equal pay for equal work, yes their ideas should be respected 'even though' or 'despite the fact that' they are women."

Intellectually, or at least in public, we all know the right answers. But the facts are clear: women make 75 cents for every dollar men make. Studies show that Americans as a whole are offended by the "Rodham" in Hillary's full name. Only one of the 1,100 U.S. Representatives Virginia has ever elected to Congress was a woman, Leslie Larkin Byrne from Fairfax County. We may have come a long way, baby, but we still have so far to go.

For now, I'll take my cues from women like my mother, who has shown others how to walk the line between femininity and professionalism since 1970. I'll look up to my aunt who asked for a chainsaw for Christmas and can fix any sink, any time, anywhere. I'll pay attention to the many female professors here at the University who prove that women can excel in the world of academia, and when I walk through a gas station, I'll stand up straight in my tank top, pump my own gas and check my own oil.

(Emily Harding is a rising third-year College student.)


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