Emily Articulated: Legacy and imagination

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

If I’m being honest, I haven’t spent that much time throughout my life considering with depth the role of gender equality on my unique experience navigating the world around me. Because in my little world, it had never felt as though there were barriers in front of what I could accomplish, or caps on what I could achieve. I didn’t feel pressured into living one kind of life over another, and the plights of the feminist cause always felt distant; too far away, too far removed, or too long ago to affect me personally. And although little granules of understanding would seep into my experience, the collective weight of them never seemed to quite register in a clear enough way.

Emily Erickson.

As a girl, I’d tighten the laces of my well-worn soccer cleats, pull the stretchy fabric of a basketball jersey over my head, and ratchet the spikes into my cross country flats, all while my mom watched on the sidelines wondering what sports she would have played if there had been a women’s athletics program at her school. And when I laughed at her poor attempts at dribbling a ball, I couldn’t quite draw the conclusion that her lack of proficiency was because she had never had the opportunity to learn.

As a teenager, I filled out college applications, filtering my choices by which schools had the highest scholarship potential and academic and athletic programs that aligned with my goals. I wrote essays, crammed for exams and touted my extracurriculars while my grandma quietly whispered that she would have liked to attend college, but “it wasn’t really something girls like her did back then.” As I showed her my acceptance letter, I couldn’t quite grasp that, to her, it was something exceptional.

As a young adult, I applied for my first line of bank credit, fumbling with my paycheck stubs and highlighted year-end statements, rehearsing how I’d describe that I was hoping to use the money to consolidate the remainder of my student loan debt, all while my aunt beside me was remembering the day she was able to open a credit card in her own name. And when she shared with me the pride that comes from financial independence, I couldn’t quite recognize that it hadn’t always been this way.

Throughout my life, I’d been categorizing women’s rights as something worth championing, but mostly for the benefit of women whose experiences were different from, or more challenging, than my own.  

But this past week, after the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the incredible mark on the timeline of gender equality in the United States she’s left behind, I dug deeper into her legacy, and reflected more honestly upon my personal experience with women’s rights.

I listened to audio clips from RBG’s early court cases while she worked for the ACLU, hearing her speak to the importance of breaking the stereotype that men and women were fundamentally different, and formally recognizing that gender-based break under the law. Case after case, she chiseled away at societal perceptions, set on expanding the breadth of the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing that “all citizens equal protection under the law,” also applied to women.

I read more about the cases she presided over as a Supreme Court justice, taking note of the timeswhen she addressed the public from her stand, intentionally encouraging people to pay attention to the positive ways our society, and gender roles within that society, were changing.

After spending time putting the milestones of RBG and other champions of gender equality into the context of recent decades, I was finally able to recognize with newfound clarity the feat those collective accomplishments achieved. With each equally-granted right fought for by these amazing women, there was a consequential shift in the perception of young girls on their own capacity for accomplishment.

With each barrier these leaders worked to break down, the imaginations of girls and women like me were cleared, free to explore the endless possibilities of achievement, without the roles of gender narrowing our vision for our own futures. By continually seeing women in positions of power and as catalysts for change, we’ve had no problem understanding that we’re capable of doing the same.

My ignorance of the incredible privileges I carry as the direct result of the women who came before me was a gift; a boundless ability to picture myself as becoming anything I wanted to become. And while I can recognize all the work left to be done, and that the privileges I enjoy don’t apply to every woman, everywhere, I want to reflect with gratitude on the legacy of the women who came before me, with excited anticipation for all that the girls following after will most certainly achieve.

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