When I was in Oxford in December, I joined a group of colleagues at local pub. They were there for a conference on providing women in developing countries appropriate sanitary care. I had not seen some of them in a very long time, though having done research in this area bonds me to this cause forever.
As I went to the bar to order, I passed a blackboard featuring the night’s special beer, “First World Problems.” I laughed and went back for my phone so I could take a picture. Still reeling from the shock of the Trump win, I thought to myself, “Yes, First World Problems are exactly what we have.” When I got to the bar, I saw the beer cans sitting there. The image printed on them was one of those crying comic book girls, with a balloon saying “I forgot to pack spare clothes.” My heart sank.
For years, I have been focused mostly on women’s problems in the developing world. I admit that I have often felt grateful for the relative freedoms that “First World women” have and also somewhat sheepish for how trivial my own problems seemed by comparison to those I was studying. But now it is pretty clear that the First World Problems for women are not only pretty real and pretty serious, but are likely to negatively affect women everywhere during the next four years. (Please, let it be only four years.)
We have not taken ourselves seriously enough. I think of all the paper wasted during the past fifty years with feminists ranting over things like fashion advertising. Those diatribes, in the end, really trivialized the movement by offering up a silly First World Problem at the top of our list. A “spare clothes” kind of problem.
In its 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, the World Economic Forum shows North America as the only region in the world that is actually going backward. By their definitions, that means the United States and Canada. Has anyone out there besides me read The Handmaid’s Tale? It is coming to television this year. Not a minute too soon. In that chilling novel, the religious right starts by taking women’s economic rights away. Only then do they turn to the reproductive ones.
My hope is that this horrible First World moment will be a wakeup call to women everywhere. We have made too much of our differences. There is a significant sameness to what we all suffer. It is time to rise, not as an fragmented assortment of individual cases and alienated groups, but as a Nation of Women. It is pretty clear right now that we can’t count on our own countries.