Faced with a perceived assault on basic issues of respect and equality, women across the world took to the streets to make their concerns and sisterhood known.
Story By Donna Lugo Images by Paul Mowry
When I was in the first grade, I remember at recess, the boys and girls were divided into two groups. The boys played with these cool mailman and cowboy costumes and the girls were corralled into this dilapidated Playskool kitchenette set with toy pots and pans and dirty plastic groceries. Whenever I tried to put on the mailman getup and deliver the neighborhoods’ imaginary bills and periodicals, the portly teacher’s aide who supervised us would always make me take off the costume and drag me back to the kitchen. “You stay here and play with the other girls,” I recall her chastising me. “Young ladies do not play like boys.”
Even within the context of this imaginary neighborhood, I knew that I didn’t want to be confined to the four plastic walls of that kitchen. In protest, I refused to participate at all and sat on a bench under a tree alone watching the others. This went on for weeks. Eventually, a second, younger, teacher’s aide took notice and inquired as to my self-imposed isolation. I explained to her my displeasure with being told what my role in playtime should be. Right away, this angel of women’s liberation told me, “That’s silly! You can go wherever you want. If you want to be the mailman, you be the mailman. No one should stop you.” With her blessing, I was out playing “evil sheriff versus Power Rangers” with the boys that same afternoon. This was my earliest memory of what I would describe now as a feminist experience.
When the Women’s March on Washington happened earlier this year, the people in attendance were there for a multitude of reasons, such as abortion rights, rape culture, LGBT discrimination and the offense they took in the results of the presidential election, as well as the rhetoric emanating from the new administration. With a new occupant in the White House who appeared openly disdainful of civil and gender rights issues, there was a justifiable concern that it would mean legislative and social strides made by previous administrations, and society generally, were in serious jeopardy. Travel bans and other anti-immigrant policies would be implemented. Transgender rights would be repealed. Basic notions of equality and respect, that were previously believed settled, seemed under assault. The aftermath would initiate some uncomfortable, yet long overdue, conversations about race, class and gender.
The day of the march, what caught my attention standing out among the ubiquitous pink hats, was the diverse, and wildly creative signage. Signs like: “We the People, Are Greater Than Fear”, “Nasty as We Want to Be”, and my personal favorite, “A Woman’s Place is in the Revolution”. The art lover in me was immediately impressed by the creativity and execution, while the feminist in me was empowered by their impactful messages. Long dormant feelings of commonality with my fellow women were reawakened. Though these marches drew criticism for being incoherent or unfocused, that seemed the opposite of the spirit on display.
Given that an estimated 2.6 million people around the world joined the Women’s March on January 21, detractors, as is the case with most social movements, are inevitable. The marches had mostly been noted for their “civility, peacefulness and cheerful atmosphere.” Nevertheless “hypocrisy” and “exclusionary” were words that were also tossed around. Those in opposition expressed their belief that although the event’s singular focus was to “join in diversity”, the organizers went on to freeze out pro-life and pro-Trump groups from participating.
Furthermore, many women have expressed feelings of indignation that one group would presume to speak on behalf of all women. Some believe that the protest and others like it perpetuate the notion that if you are a woman, you can’t be a Trump supporter. And among many marchers themselves the distinction was not always clear: Was this a march for women or against Trump? The president has never minced words when it comes to openly ridiculing his critics and political opponents in very personal and insulting ways. And many marchers were happy to return the favor, though this sometimes blurred the line between pro-women and anti-Trump messages.
Regardless of the inevitable backlash, this massive mobilization of women demonstrated an inspiring solidarity with the idea that society will not easily retreat from the gains in human dignity and equality that have so far been made. While it was certainly inspiring to see all of this unfold, “Why do we still have to protest this?” was a bit of signage that did have me thinking of that long ago play kitchen. Nevertheless, from whichever side of the political street you viewed them from, the Women’s March on Washington and the over 280 sister marches in cities across the country that took place the same day represented a truly remarkable display of sincerity of purpose, concern for the future and unity of voice.