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A little respect (just a little bit)

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.” Those words rang out in 1967 as the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin’s song quickly became a rallying cry, spreading the message of equality for all. It was purposefully designed to empower those who felt they had no voice. Thankfully, progress has been made throughout the decades, but regretfully, we still have a long way to go. I am not only referring to society in general, but also right here in our community.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a pair of local female business owners and was disappointed to learn that discrimination and gender bias are still being dished out right here in our community. These women expressed experiencing feelings of belittlement and demoralization in their businesses. They shared similar stories relaying to me what it feels like to be overlooked by vendors or customers, who when approached for assistance, replied that they would rather speak to their male counterparts. They are all too familiar with phrases like, “hey where’s the boss.” Each stated that they have felt disrespected when, after identifying themselves as co-owner, individuals use words and phrases such as “you are too cute to be the owner,” or “too young,” or are addressed as “sweetie” or “hun” rather than by their given names.

Another female employee joined in our discussion adding that on numerous occasions she has been on the receiving end of suggestive innuendos and inappropriate comments. A woman in the workplace should never have to remind others to speak to her in a professional manner, and yet I was told in these instances that was indeed the case. I fear these examples are just a small spattering on a much larger canvas.

On a personal note, I too know what it feels like to be demeaned and in tears over a flippantly thrown, inappropriate comment delivered by an insensitive colleague, though most interactions have been respectful and positive.

The situation has become even more concerning as we see the toll the current pandemic has taken on women in the workforce, pushing back much of the forward progress they had gained. Statistics show that four times as many women as men have been forced to drop out of the workforce to care for their children. Some articles claim it has set women in the workforce back a generation.

We MUST do better! I wish to add that disrespect and discrimination can come in many forms and affect every walk of life. We have a moral obligation to teach our sons and daughters, and remind ourselves and others, to be respectful of EVERYONE no matter their age, gender identity, race, disability, political choice, socio-economic class, religion, or any other identifying factor found as an excuse to discriminate.

It is time to break down the barriers of inequality and expect and demand respect for ourselves and those around us. As stated by Aretha Franklin, “It needs to be given and received in equal measure.” Even though the words were penned over 50 years ago, the relevance of her song lives on. I will close with another phrase from the song; “I got to have (just a little bit) a little respect (just a little bit).”

¯¯¯

Rhonda Moore is executive director of the Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce.

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