January 21st, 2017 – I boarded a bus in Queens, NY at 4:30 am. “NASTY” hat on my head, rainbow-painted poster board in-hand and a purse full of granola bars, headed to join hundreds of thousands of women and men at the Women’s March on Washington in DC.
My experience: riveting, gut-wrenching, invigorating – I’m still reeling from the day and probably will be forever (warning to my social media followers). But that’s not what this piece is about.
The next morning I logged onto my social media accounts to see, like I expected, a flood of Instagrams of clever and poignant protest signs, historical headlines and videos of aerial shots of the massive crowds that gathered in over 600 cities across the world.
But sprinkled throughout I saw a few statuses here and there of women (*white women) listing the reasons they actively did not support yesterday’s marches. This piece is for anyone who considers themselves in that category. And also for anyone who did march, who has a friend, parent, roommate, coworker, significant other, classmate, etc. who did not support them, who’s searching for the words to reason with them.
This is not to refute anyone, to tell anyone they’re wrong for feeling the way they do, to pick a fight or even to sway. The beauty of democracy, freedom of speech and belief is that we’re allowed the ability to have our own thoughts and opinions. And we’re allowed to yell them as loudly as we choose. Hence the rasp in my voice today.
I kept coming across a few themes in these statements (which I have paraphrased below) – the common threads many women who were against the marches weaved into their social media statuses.
My goal is not to argue, but to educate. Because issues arise when we misinterpret or don’t understand why the “other side” is acting the way they are, or how they got there in the first place.
The argument: “I am a woman who has felt respected and treated well in America. I don’t feel held back in any way, so I’m not going to stand up and ‘complain’.”
This by far, is the argument I see made most yet I understand the root of this argument because I come from it. It’s called privilege. More specifically, in my case and most others’, white privilege.
I too have felt respected and treated well as a woman in America the majority of my life, and that is due to the circumstance I was born into. White, upper-middle class, with access to healthcare and higher education – yes I’ve worked for a lot, but the fact I even had the opportunity to work to get to some places is because of my position of privilege in this country. It’s not something I should feel bad about, nor should you, but it’s a realization you need to make. You. Are. Privileged.
If you want a larger explanation of privilege I recommend this article. It does an incredible job of breaking it down.
The argument stated also has another theme – “I”.
“I feel treated well.”
“I control my body and choices.”
“I’ve been provided with every opportunity I’ve ever wanted.”
“I can defend myself.”
Well good for you.
And honestly, hundreds of thousands of women and men who stood in those crowds yesterday could probably say the same things for themselves, because they too have come from positions of privilege. But hundreds of thousands of women and men in those crowds could not say that.
Women of color, women who’ve been sexually and physically abused, women who are working harder than their male counterparts and paid less than them, women who have been denied critical healthcare who haven’t been able to control what happens to their bodies, members of the LGBTQ community.
The thing about privilege is that it blinds us if we let it. It makes us believe that just because we’re a woman in America feeling a certain way, that means all women in America feel that way. That ignorance is the root of why so many misunderstand why we protest, why we’re so angry, why we won’t stop “complaining”.
Change will also never be made unless those of us who are in positions of privilege stand up and fight alongside those who aren’t. Why I, a white, straight, educated woman from an upper-middle class family got my ass on a bus yesterday to stand with millions.
The argument: “Women across the world have it much worse. We should be focusing on their issues, not ours.”
I can’t agree more that there are women in dire, life-threatening, horrific situations in other countries. But just because you unite for one cause, does not mean you’re ignoring all the other injustices throughout the world. Ask anyone in those crowds yesterday, and they would echo your argument that women’s rights, and human rights in general, are a worldwide issue.
But that shouldn’t be an argument against women who are fighting for equality in this country – they too are fighting for something that’s just. Yes, women’s issues in this country in comparison might seem trivial to what we see elsewhere, but they’re still issues and still injustices worth standing up for.
If women in the most powerful country in the world still don’t have or experience equality, what is that saying about how women are valued in society? How the hell are we supposed to achieve worldwide equality if women in the most privileged positions can’t even achieve it?
And so many of these women in other countries don’t even have the opportunity to protest. So what does it say if women in America, with our ability of freedom of speech and peaceful protest, don’t exercise that?
The argument: “Speak to me kindly and I will listen. Yell at me through a protest, I won’t listen.”
The way in which a message is brought across affects the way we feel about that message. That’s human nature. So I get that loud, boisterous protesting, and people wearing crazy outfits and holding boldly-emblazoned signs doesn’t always lend itself to opposing parties saying, “please, tell me more”.
But that’s what protesting is – that’s the root of it and the art of it. Yet, most of it is peaceful. Not a single arrest was made in DC yesterday. Not. A. Single. One. Amongst 500,000+ fired-up human beings.
You may hate the manner of delivery of the messages, but the important thing to do is to strip it down to what the messaging is and respect that in our country, we have the freedom to get those messages across in whichever way we choose.
And sure, these marches were loud, and “crude” in some people’s eyes, but they made headlines and made history.
Had the same number of people decided to write letters, or sit down and politely talk to an opposer, or all “wear a pink shirt in quiet solidarity” on the same day, would it have made as much of an impact? Would it have said as much? Would you be opposed to it? Probably not.
But I could almost guarantee that if you find a friend who marched, even just an acquaintance, and ask them to grab a coffee, to sit down with you and have a polite, quiet conversation sans-chanting and signs, I’m sure they would. Hell, if you live in NYC I will. I know some good spots with stellar over-priced lattes.
Don’t expect a whole movement of angered, passionate people, to quietly and politely say their piece. I agree, violence, destruction, hate – that’s not the way to fight for something. But the march, though loud and disruptive, were full of peace, love and restoration. I was there. I saw it.
Believe what you want. Stand for what you believe in. That’s why I, and millions of other Americans, physically stood up for what we believe to be right. You don’t have to believe it’s right as well, I just urge you to try and understand why we did it. And why it’s not going to stop anytime soon.
Welcome to the resistance.
*the Lala recognizes that members of many minority groups chose not to march due to other reasons. The point of this article is to break down the fallacies in the arguments used above, and not to shame women simply for not marching.