A Day Without Women
2017

8

MARCH, 2016

Up until 2007, I had lived my entire life in Southwestern, Pennsylvania; an area I love and have strong roots. I also happened to grow up in a particular area where diversity lacked greatly, in terms of race, ethnicity, gender roles, level of education, and socioeconomic status.

In general, I grew up believing the world existed only as I knew it to be: White. Educated. Middle-to-Upper class. Male dominated with women holding mostly secretarial positions, working for their husbands in healthcare, or staying at home with their children (not by their own choice). There were, approximately, five to seven minorities in my high school graduating class. Out of 520 individuals. I proceeded to attend a state college with, mostly, similar individuals.

…Then, I spent eight years in Chicago for graduate school. I was forever changed.

I became a better human: a more understanding, tolerant individual. I grew out of ignorance and into insight. Most importantly, I developed these skills, and many more, to be the competent licensed psychologist I am today. The board examination (EPPP) doesn’t teach us these skills and while the academic rigor was intense and necessary, you do not learn human skills in books. You learn them on the South side of Chicago at an Evening Reporting Center. Or at Cook County Jail. Or assisting underserved severely mentally ill populations who don’t have health insurance. Becoming a psychologist challenges and changes you in ways you did not see coming – when you’re ready to put in the time of engaging in self-reflection.

I went through challenging personal times – having nothing to do with my background and preconceived notions. I also experienced challenging professional times – having everything to do with my background and preconceived notions. What is most important is I became a better advocate for individuals who experience adversity. Chicago led me to forensic work. I truly will never work another day in my life; it’s not a cliché for me and for that, I am grateful.

 

“What is most important is I became a better advocate for individuals who experience adversity.”

It’s important to know where we came from in order to know where we are going and why we lead. Today, on #ADayWithoutWomen, I decided to close my private practice. The neurotic side of me panics thinking all of the attorneys with whom I work closely will obviously choose another [male] expert because, well, the field is dominated by men. Particularly in Pittsburgh and particularly in this specialty area. Men also are typically more respected, overall. I cannot express how many times it’s, “Shannon” or “Ms.” when there are also other male psychologists in the room and they are, “Dr.” Despite that I am the only licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania with 8 years of academic training in forensic psychology. Add that I’m an attractive, assertive, confident female? Then you better believe I’ve been called a bitch, had to defend my opinions twice as hard, and been metaphorically patted on the head [“pretty girl”], especially if I’m originally brought to the table by a powerful male figure.

It’s not for my purposes of grandeur. It’s degrading. It’s unacceptable. And it happens frequently to most of the professional women I interact with on a daily basis. Not just psychologists. Successful and confident women. Who still are paid less than men for the same job; sometimes, men in similar positions have less experience and education. We are still silenced in large forums when speaking out, even when acting constructively and are well educated on the topic. We are still questioned if we are the nurse, instead of the physician. If we are the paralegal, instead of the attorney. The secretary, instead of the CEO.  

My good friend, President, and Chief Executive Officer of the Republican Main Street Partnership, Sarah Chamberlain is the only woman in the country who currently leads a major republican organization. She is the creator and facilitator of the Women2Women conversations Tour, and calls for women to be informed, as well as become involved in the political process. Aside from her many accomplishments as a woman leader, Sarah taught me an important message, which I’ve attempted to carry on to others: “…there are no longer “women’s issues,” everything is a woman’s issue.”

That is why the practice is closed today. Every issue is a woman’s issue. And a girl’s issue. We cannot raise strong, confident, women and girls in a world dominated by men who have no consequences for their actions. Who are able to take advantage of systems, individuals, power, and money simply because of their gender, race, or ethnicity. This is not a partisan issue. This is a human issue. This is not applicable to every man; just as there were men who marched alongside women on January 21st, there are men in the trenches with us on a daily basis. While they support our efforts and ideas, they could not and will not, experience our difficulties in the same way. Yet we appreciate them and their solidarity along the journey.

As a country and free nation, we are in a unique position to utilize our respective skills, voice, and constitutional rights to effect change. We cannot effect change by exchanging hateful words, actions, or harmful behavior. Change is effected with education. Advocacy. The message, when positively transmitted by professionals, by women who choose to stay at home with their children and instill positive moral, or by women lawmakers, can educate our colleagues, friends, partners, daughters, sisters, and whoever else is listening that when utilized effectively – strength and change happens in numbers. And no matter who you are – positive humans are a force to be reckoned with.