“Why did you attend the women’s march? What are women lacking that we need to march for?”
This was a Facebook message I received from a friend a few days after I attended the 2018 Orange County Women’s March.
I stared at the message on my phone for a while, shocked at why this would even be a question. How can I possibly begin to respond? I really thought it was rather obvious why women were marching, so I couldn’t help but feel as if I were being judged for having attended. I took some deep breaths and tried my best to answer without losing my cool.
I explained to her that the main reason I attended was because I stand firmly against President Trump’s policies. I explained that the Women’s March movement was not just about promoting women’s rights but taking a stand against the new administration. It was an act of resistance. The first Women’s March on January 21, 2017 was the largest single-day demonstration in modern U.S. history. It was kind of a big deal. I did not get to attend that first march, so this year I was determined to make it out. I wanted to show my daughter the importance of standing up for what you believe in. I also desperately wanted to meet other people who felt just as frustrated as I feel about our president and know that I was not alone.
Under Trump’s leadership we are bombarded with messages of xenophobia, racism, sexism, and plain ignorance on a daily basis and these messages are being translated into dangerous, unjust policies. As a Christian, feminist, immigrant, woman, I feel morally obligated to respond.
One of the issues I am very passionate about is the threatened status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The Trump administration is trying to end this program, potentially separating families and deporting hard working individuals who have contributed to our economy.
The theme for this year’s march was “power to the polls.” A major focus was encouraging women to run for government leadership positions and bolstering voter participation, since 2018 is a midterm election year. I had an extremely positive experience at the march. Sure, there were some signs that did not resonate completely with me but the overwhelming majority of messages that people in attendance were sharing were ones of unity, anti-discrimination, equality, female empowerment, and social justice. Overall it was an amazing experience that gave me a renewed admiration for democracy. Women, men, young and old, all joined together to make a statement of resistance and hope for the future.
Talk or Action?
After sharing why I attended, my friend shared her stance and we discussed further. We agreed on several issues like the importance of defending immigrant rights, the value of the unborn human life, and the need to address racism. Yet, we realized there was one question that we approached very differently, namely: How should women address sexism?
In her personal experience, she found that doing rather than talking went a long way towards reducing sexism in her workplace. So in her view, discussing inequality and the value of women’s voices doesn’t do much to help the cause. What’s more effective is women going forth and excelling in their professions. She felt that women could use some more encouragement to go for higher paying positions as well. And she was more interested in seeing qualified individuals being elected and did not consider one’s sex as an important factor.
In my opinion, talking about sexism is VITAL to addressing the issue. Policies change when we stand up and speak, not when we accept the way it is and try to prove ourselves within the patriarchal system. Keeping silent is not going to fix the gender pay gap or empower victims of sexual assault, or get more women elected into office. The #TimesUp and #MeToo campaigns have demonstrated that women are standing up for their rights and trying to create a better, safer world for all. We are talking because people need to listen. No social movement has ever happened without organizing and activism. Coming together to act for change is what makes change happen.
Do I want to see qualified individuals in office? Yes! It would be even better, however, to see qualified individuals who reflect the needs and diversity of the communities they serve. We need representation that reflects the beautiful diversity of our country and a balance of female and male perspectives. So to that end, pushing for women in leadership is not just about getting women in positions of power. It is also about getting fair and balanced representation for our communities, which is sadly not the case today. So to me, a person’s sex IS a huge factor. We need more women in leadership and I’m not afraid to say that.
A new sense of purpose
After muddling through this lengthy discussion with my friend, I realized it was helpful to be challenged and see another perspective. It caused me to reflect more deeply about why I attended the march and what it really meant to me. It is easier to not have these tough conversations of course. Many of us tend to stay away from politics and controversial topics. But I say, keep having those conversations. Keep talking and and working towards common ground. This friend was not the only person I know of to criticize the Women’s March and what it stands for. And in many of these cases, these individuals had misconceptions about what the march was for. Work needs to be done to educate and inform the public about feminism and the positive change it can create in our society. And so much of that includes a healthy dialogue about sexism and patriarchy.
Feminism is for everybody
I can’t help but think back now to an eye opening sociology class I took back in college. It was titled “Feminist Theory.” It was in that class that I first learned about Bell Hooks, an African American activist, educator, writer, and inspiring feminist. I think this quote helps summarize how I feel about the importance of continuing to protest and discussing how sexism affects our lives today:
“Most people have no understanding of the myriad ways feminism has positively changed all our lives. Sharing feminist thought and practice sustains feminist movement. Feminist knowledge is for everybody.”
― Bell Hooks, Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics
There is so much more work to be done to achieve equality. We shouldn’t stop talking or protesting. Our voices should be louder than ever. After all, it is feminist activism that has brought us so many of the rights we have today as modern women.
A Work in Progress
Something I have been learning about since getting involved in the Women’s March is the great need for intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in a powerful paper she composed in 1989 where she talked about the way black women were excluded from both mainstream anti-racist theory and feminist theory. At the start, organizers of the women’s march were almost all white. Slowly but surely more diverse groups of women were encouraged to join in. There were definitely shortcomings in how it was organized. On that note, one of my favorite signs I saw after the first march was the one below. It really got me thinking! We need unity to see these movements grow. It is sad to see the Black Lives Matter movement being overshadowed by the Women’s March. So clearly, it is all a work in progress.
I think involving people of faith in feminist activism is another way to improve on the intersectionality of the feminist movement. Being a progressive Christian sometimes feels like living in a wasteland. Sadly because I am a Christian, I am put in a box by so many friends, family members, and even strangers. People assume that because I am a Christian, I am not progressive or that I do not identify with feminism. As a Christian, I believe that we are all called to respect and love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, to recognize that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. Christianity and feminism are not mutually exclusive. Sadly, many pro-life Christians felt excluded by the Women’s March but that is a topic for another blog entirely.
Speaking out shouldn’t be dismissed. Talking about what needs to change is crucial. It helps build a framework for action. Women are doing that right now and it is an exciting time! Feminism liberates us all from discrimination and inequality but it can’t do that if we try to silence it. So let’s keep talking and working together to be more inclusive, stronger, and louder.
“I raise up my voice not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” (Malala Yousafzai)