Over the past week-end I had the extreme honor of marching in the Women’s March on Washington. A bus of 51 people drove from Saint Cloud, Minnesota to Washington D.C. and back all in 58 hours. It was truly one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I have notes jotted on the corners of my notebook, quotes that I ferociously tried to type during the day on my phone, and a tornado of feelings within me that I knew I needed to share with all of you.
That fact alone reminded me that I was not alone. The last few months have tested my faith in humanity but the connections I made on Saturday rekindled my passion. After 10 hours of marching and rallying I got back on the bus feeling stronger than ever. It reminded me why I fight and reminded me that we have so much to do.
Because we are not done. For so many reasons we are not done.
This became clear as I was on my way home to Minnesota, coming down from my marcher’s high I was struck with the discontent coming from all corners of social media. Women talking about why they did not march, how wearing a pussy hat was disgusting, how women in other countries have it worse, how all the marches did was pollute our world, or asking why did these women not care about any of these issues before.
Let’s start with critiques of pussy hats, pussy signs, and the use of menstrual pads for demonstrations.
We have a president who said,
“I did try and fuck her. She was married. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look. I’ve gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
In case you missed it, what he is describing is assault. Sexual contact without consent = assault. There is no other way to spin it. He is excused for this; he is elected despite this and all the other allegations but people choose to criticize a pussy hat. Criticisms of pussy hats wondered what point they proved or why even talk about pussies at a women’s march?
Because we are taking the power back. The Pussy Hat Project, the group that helped form this movement of solidarity, states that:
“We love the clever wordplay of “pussyhat” and “pussycat,” but yes, “pussy” is also a derogatory term for female genitalia. We chose this loaded word for our project because we want to reclaim the term as a means of empowerment. In this day and age, if we have pussies we are assigned the gender of “woman.” Women, whether transgender of cisgender, are mistreated in this society. In order to get fair treatment, the answer is not to take away our pussies, the answer is not to deny our femaleness and femininity, the answer is to demand fair treatment. A woman’s body is her own. We are honoring this truth and standing up for our rights”.
A similar argument can subsequently be made about the use of the word “pussy” in signs at the march. One side of my sign read, Pussy Fights Back!, in bold blue letters. I debated on what messages I wanted to convey and I kept thinking of the survivors I work with every day. I thought about how they hear a president that exhibits the same behavior as their abusers, rapists, and torturers. And then I thought of how hard they fight to overcome that. So ya pussies fight back.
Another argument in the realm of questioning vulgarity came with pictures of menstrual pads stuck to the outside of buildings with messages about female empowerment. The point was to shock and to make people look, and as the judgmental comments on social media proved they did just that. Why are we still so afraid to talk about menstruation? We need to talk about why in our country there are many states that still tax tampons and pads as a luxury item but do not tax the drug that helps men get better boners. News flash, once a month I bleed and so do many other women, and until that is treated with the respect it deserves women will continue to bring attention to it.
You know what every single woman who posted one of these articles had in common? They were white.
This point leads into the next set of arguments circulating, calling into question why women in the United States should even be protesting? Do we not have all the same rights as men?
Dina Leygerman summed it up perfectly in her article when she said, “You are not equal. I’m sorry.”
Please, I beg of you, do your homework. Start with Leygerman’s article. It is so crucial to know the politics surrounding women’s bodies before making these great sweeping arguments. For example, “the United States ranks at 45 for women’s equality. Behind Rwanda, Cuba, Philippines, Jamaica.”
Many criticisms of the march have been magnificent, for me as a white woman with a tremendous amount of privilege to read. It has reminded me that just because my experience as a white woman has allowed me to avoid many pitfalls of society that does not mean I am done. In our country, we often hear the statistic that women make $.78 to a white man’s $1.00. But this statistic erases the difference that women of color experience. For example, African-American women make an average of $.64 and for Latina or Hispanic women that number drops to $.54. Piecing apart data in this way often shows the differences that women of color face in a myriad of different experience. Women of color on average also experience higher rates of sexual violence compared to their white counterparts. Check out this post showcasing posters from marches around the globe about justice for women of color, I need to see them and so do my white sisters.
And if that were not enough to make you rethink that argument, the women’s march was a GLOBAL event, and has become the largest demonstration of its kind in history. Women all over the world were listening, were sharing, were marching and were standing in solidarity against hate. Solidarity against laws that will kill women by limiting their access to abortions or repeal their healthcare. Solidarity against removing funding from Violence Against Women grants that sustain programs and resources all over the country. Solidarity against pipelines that would poison the lives of many native people. Solidarity against hate.
Another huge argument circulating is that all the people who marched last weekend are people who do not care about our country.
There are improvements to be made, and particularly we white feminists can do better but what these marches symbolized was that recognition. More women are mobilized because for many it is the first time their rights are truly being threatened, whether that be attributed to their race, their class, their age or any other factor that has allowed them to turn a blind eye to injustice. Human rights campaigns in this country have been built on the backs of people of color, do not silence them, but listen and learn to those who have been fighting before you.
My experience in D.C. was one surrounded by love for one another, true attempts to understand and bridge gaps. I spoke to strangers in the crowd, women that told me they have been marching since the 1960s and will never give up. Women who told me stories of their friends dying when they attempted an abortion with a coat hanger and how they are terrified that the clocks have been turned back a century into a time where that again become reality for many. Women on the bus who wept with the feeling of solidarity and finally feeling like they were accepted in a society that taught them to hate themselves. I was surrounded by women who pushed me to think what else is possible? And encouraged us all to live our truths and remind people that you do not get my knowledge without my lived experiences. I was in the company of survivors who spoke of going from a victim to a badass. I spent time with women who validated my being mad as hell but pushed me to think about what I would do with it. I stood among men, whose identities vastly varied, from little boys to war veterans. These men talked of wanting a better future for their children, of wanting to use their voice to better the world. I conversed with women who taught me how to better navigate conversations with people I love that I found out voted against my identity, voted against me having rights, voted against the value of my body.
These marchers care about our country. They have dedicated their lives to caring. Do not confuse critique with disrespect. If you truly love something you are willing to point to its flaws and expect better.
Do not mask your uncomfortableness with criticism you do not understand. It is easier to point to small pieces to distract ourselves from having to confront how we may contribute to hate and discrimination. It is easier to separate ourselves from “those women” then to think of the way we are the same.
Marching and demonstrating has accomplished much in the history of our country and do not let anyone else convince you otherwise. Marching and demonstrating are what got women the right to vote in this past election, the right to the education you enjoy, literally the right to be stepping foot outside of your home for work.
If you wish to engage thoughtfully in conversations about women’s history, strategies for organizing, and the plight of women’s history you must do research outside of a post on social media because trust me, we are quickly running out of room for alternative facts in our society.
And finally, act.
The Women’s March on Washington organization has created “10 Actions, 100 Days” to capitalize on our momentum. Every ten days a new action will be released that we can all take part in to make change. The first action, is writing to your Senators about the issues you care about. They have created handy postcards for you to print out and stick with a stamp. Be involved at all levels. Use your privilege.
Marching was our start. But it cannot be our end.
Push beyond your boundaries and the limits of your identities. Learn about experiences beyond your own. Start to get comfortable with being in uncomfortable conversation. Those are the ones worth having. When we become so individualized and criticize those who want change we begin to wander from our humanity, and without that we are truly lost. As we see the new administration push out new policies, our most recent example being childcare funding, and orders that hide behind a mask of equality. Dig deeper. Who does it benefit? If it is only you then it is not good enough.
Liberation cannot truly be realized until we are all liberated.
My deepest gratitude to all who made this trip possible and to all of those I was fortunate enough to share it with. This post and the woman writing it would not be as complete without having intertwined my life with all of yours.