Written by: Melania Klemowits, Exploit No More's Executive Coordinator
Today is International Women’s Day. A day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This year’s theme, Press for Progress, is a call to motivate and unite the community - everyone alike - to think, act, and be gender inclusive.
I write this on a Monday evening curled up on my clearance couch with my dog half on my writing arm, half on the cushions. When I move her aside, she gravitates back to me.
Tonight, my little and I watched The Great Gilly Hopkins (thank you Netflix!) a sweet tale of a girl shuffled around foster care until she finally finds her family.
Those type of stories always make me cry. Not the sniffles but the crying that takes my breath away.
My daughter, knowing I was crying because I kept adjusting my glasses and my fingertips were dirty with mascara, patted my head without taking her eyes off the show. “Oh Mommy. Don’t cry. It’s a good story.”
Somehow, I managed to nod.
“Mommy, stop worrying. You always worry. That girl,” pointing to our glowing tv, “is strong. She is good Mommy.”
“Good stories always make me cry.”
“Because they are becoming rare”
Not knowing what I meant, she blinked at me, no longer watching the tv.
“Sometimes my word makes me very sad, so when I watch good movies with happy endings, I cry. That’s just how I am.”
She nods, understanding. We watch the rest of the movie, me crying, her patting my head.
I was raised by a strong woman, not knowing her strength until I became a mom myself.
My first three years of motherhood were rough; I was healing from an abusive relationship, trying to find my footing in college and a career, and figuring out what this motherhood thing was all about. My mom stepped in. Her non-judgmental wisdom saved me from breakdown after breakdown. She would say things like: failure makes you human, without it, you would be a fruitcake or listen to some music without words while you process or let’s go grab a chai and not talk about what’s bothering you.
I clung to her.
Last year was the first year that I felt grounded, secure in myself, my motherhood, my career, my home. I was talking to my cousin about well, everything, and she said, “You don’t know all that your Mom’s done, do you?”
I shook my head.
“Your mom supported our cousin in her teen pregnancy when you were a little girl, just like she did with you these past years. I’ve never seen anyone be so open to helping someone else. Others in the family weren’t as willing but your mom never hesitated, questioned, or judged.” She continued to tell me story after story of my mom showing up for others.
It made sense. Of course it did! My mom has always been this person defined by love and acceptance. What took me a few moments to get is that my mom – my quiet, reserved, non-judgmental mom – was, and is, progressive in her actions.
Even though she is quiet, she isn’t silent. Even though she’s reserved, she offers a place of refuge for whoever needs it.
I raise my daughter in her shadow because that’s a great shadow to have a childhood in – and that’s how she recognized the strength in The Great Gilly Hopkins.
And that’s how I know she will press for progress – the strength within her summons her to.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is Press for Progress.
A friend of mine said, “well that doesn’t apply to me because I don’t do marches.”
Hold up girl, there isn’t a definition of how people should honor this day or theme. It means anything you want it to mean.
Press for Progress for me means doing my job to my best ability until I see justice because every who is being forced to sell her body for sex are worthy of living in freedom.
It means being a voice for the defenseless and passing the mic to those who speak in whispers.
It means advocating for every single woman who is trapped in the life, exiting the life, survivors of the life.
It means showing up, just like my mom did for me, for others.
It means leading my daughter by example in strength and compassion.
It means giving my daughter tools to be her own advocate and to advocate for people around her.
It means pressing on in courage to see progress.
Today is your day to define what Press for Progress means to you. Today is your day to commit to that manifesto for all the days to come. Today is your moment to hold the mic.
Here, I just handed it to you. Use it for good. Use it for progression.