What the ERA Means to Me: When “We Can Do It” becomes Reality

By Lisa Sendrow, Policy Intern

Rosie the Riveter has long been a symbol of the feminist movement. Exposing muscular arms and wearing a determined look on her face, Rosie’s slogan is “We Can Do It!” But that’s not what many women are told. The reality is that not enough women hear “You can do it” enough times in their lives. And I like to believe that the ERA might change that a little bit.

In high school, my parents and I met with my college counselor to go through the list of schools I wanted to apply to. We talked about my grades and activities; I had a solid resume. Of course, attending an ultra-competitive high school, my list went more or less like this: Ivy, Ivy, more Ivies, Swarthmore, Amherst, safety, safety. Basically, I had 10 competitive schools and two safety schools.

The college counselor totally burst my bubble when he said, “I think you would be better at this school,” mentioning a school I didn’t want to attend. His reason? I wasn’t good enough for the top schools. I left, downtrodden. Maybe he was being realistic, hinting that I should at least apply to more safeties — but not good enough? I didn’t listen to him, but I still believe I would have been more sure of my potential and abilities if he told me, “Yes, you are great, but let’s make sure you’ll at least get into college.”

My physics teacher told me I was “stupid” because I didn’t understand a basic concept of physics. I think he turned me away from science and mathematics more than any other influence in my life. Now that I think about it, it’s not so strange that I was successful in science classes where the teacher was a woman who told me that I could do it, but struggled in male-driven classes where teachers questioned my abilities.

Although I persevered, and I’m setting goals and doing things that have surprised many people (except for my supportive family and friends who promise to run my future presidential campaign), I know the struggle of feeling like you can’t do something, feeling put down by the rest of the world. Sometimes I still feel that way — when I’m not sure I did something right or I know I could do better. Many women suffer from this same feeling. The ERA won’t change everything, but hopefully it will motivate more women to do big things that no one ever told them they could do.

For now, we need to tell girls and women that they can succeed and accomplish their dreams. It means a lot to hear: “Yes, if you want to be a senator, you will become a senator,” or “Don’t give up; never give up,” or “The world really needs women like you!”

In my 20-year-old, idealist mind, it almost seems silly to have such big dreams and goals. But after getting positive feedback from Women’s Campaign Forum President Sam Bennett, whose energy and enthusiasm are inspiring, I know that I can do it.

For those of you reading this, this applies to you, too. You can do it. And we will do it together.

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