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Are Words Enough?

Ed. Note--Jen Simon is co-founder of Wyoming Women's Action Network and Senior Policy Advisor to the Equality State Policy Center. Throughout the next year, she'll be traveling around Wyoming talking about women's economic security, well-being, and representation.

So, the project that I'm working on right now with Equality State Policy Center is about changing the conversation around women's roles in and contributions to Wyoming.

It takes as its foundational premise that women are, currently, left out of the conversation: about economic development, about job security and advancement, about policy.

We are left out for myriad reasons: because the state's labor force has always been sex-segregated with the higher paying jobs generally going to men, because women comprise only 15% of all elected officials in the state legislature, because the last time a woman was governor was the beginning of the last century.

And we are left out in myriad ways: when the legislature passes progressive legislation--like the Bootcamp statute in 1987 that offered an alternative for first time offenders under the age of 25--the Department of Corrections failed to create Bootcamps for both men and women, we are overlooked in all discussions of minimum wage in spite of the fact that women make up 7 of 10 of all minimum wage workers in Wyoming.

For all these reasons--and more--I am collaborating with the amazing team at ESPC to build a project that will change the conversation about women in Wyoming. We are beyond excited about the possibilities. About the early support. And we're humbled by the shifts we're already seeing.

And then came Jia Tolentino's fantastic new book, Trick Mirror: reflections on self-delusion.

She writes about life on the internet, in the echo chamber, in the post #MeToo world. She says this:

“People wrote about women ‘speaking out’ with prayerful reverence, as if speech itself could bring women freedom—as if better policies and economic redistribution and true investment from men weren’t necessary, too.”

As if better policies and economic redistribution and true investment from men weren't necessary, too.

I could write that sentence for the rest of this piece.

As if better policies and economic redistribution and true investment from men weren't necessary.

As if.

And it cuts to the core of the project. Lays bare the realities of our life here. As women. In Wyoming.

We are not, currently, part of the conversation.

And, as such, "speaking out" is entirely necessary. Our words are not performative, they are necessary. Because without first drawing attention to the space that we do not occupy, without first drawing attention to the ways in which we are *left out* of the conversation, without first drawing attention to the fact that we are *absent* from policy decisions, we will not be able to move toward the engagement of men that will make equality a reality.

Those words are, in and of themselves, action.

Ultimately, Tolentino is right: If equity is what we're working toward, men will have to participate for women to realize that fully. But the path between here and there is not entirely clear.

And, right now, the path is marked by words.

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