I dragged all three kids to the local Women's March this weekend. As we were driving, passing uterus hats by the dozen and searching for a parking space like it was Christmas time at the mall, I tried to explain why we were there.
The best I could muster was that women deserve equal pay, should be able to do what they’d like to with their bodies and sometimes are the victims of men doing things to them that are unwanted. While articulating this, all I could think was that we inherently deserve these rights, but don't we already have them? Was I missing something?
Is abortion illegal? More difficult in some states, but still our right.
Sexual harassment. That’s not legal.
Equal pay. Well, you gotta ask for it. And it’s pretty likely you’ll get it if you appropriately self-advocate, cus discrimination n’ stuff.
Maybe my own confusion as to what this march truly represented made for a lame conveyance. The conversation was admittedly puny in comparison to our talks about racism, the Nazis, gender, and sexuality. Those topics garner a lot of questions, but this one fell flat. I could tell the kids weren’t impassioned by my spiel, and neither was I. In all honesty, I didn’t feel the pull to show up for myself. My motivation was purely parental in nature. I want my children to be politically aware and empowered, interested in whatever issues are relevant when they come of voting age.
I had to go home and Google what the hell I was marching for, because I thought maybe I'd left something out, but my search query didn't offer up any new cause I was previously in the dark about.
I felt disappointed that, as a woman, I couldn't drum up more enthusiasm, that the intent of the march felt indefinable. None of it seemed actionable and this left me unsure of my place in it. I needed to know, what next?
The place I've arrived at is that continued progress, on all fronts female, is going to have to be an inside job. The legislation is in our favor, but we've got to utilize it to feel its function. This involves pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and getting a bit uncomfortable. T-shirts, hats, and signs aside- it’s time to do battle. Laws are in place that will offer a veil of protection for our endeavors.
We aren’t going to get raises if we choose to stay in our cubicles and pray for them while stewing about the inequity. We’ve got to march into the boss’s office, make our well-informed arguments, and demand that shit.
We aren’t going to end sexual harassment by all wearing black dresses to the Golden Globes. What the hell was that anyway? Did someone’s third-grader suggest matching outfits? Impact=zero. Cheese factor=off the charts. Thank God Oprah was there to say some real stuff.
The longstanding silence of women (and men) in Hollywood, who were assaulted (or made aware of it), by Harvey Weinstein, etc. (and quite frankly didn’t need the money- Gwyneth, et al.), didn’t help anyone’s cause. It’s going to take a little more grit if we want our rights to work for us. Like, I dunno, maybe all the multi-millionaires could ditch their black gowns and agree to boycott the film industry until leading women are guaranteed equal pay to leading men? It would last about 12 minutes- problem over.
If we’re going to make an actual impact, we need to pick a thing and cause some disquietude. Risks need to be taken. Civil rights didn’t happen without an upheaval and civil disobedience. Women and disobedience? Don’t get all squirmy on me, cus that’s gonna have to happen. Holding hands, carrying quippy signs, wearing pink, naming names, and singing Kumbaya will only get us so far.
It’s all well and good that we are “making men aware” of our plight (and maybe instilling fear, guilt, and confusion as to what is acceptable?), but we don’t need to be rescued. That disempowers us, robs the movement of its efficacy and fundamental message of equality. Ladies, we’ve got to be our own heroes. Isn’t that what Girl Power is all about? Not needing any Prince Charmings to ride in on white horses and save us? Even if there are a lot of men (and women) who don’t “get it,” does it really matter? We live in an incredibly divisive country where people are on vastly different mental planes at all times. If we all wait for each other to agree before we feel supported enough to act, we’ll die unrequited. It’s up to us to teach men how to treat us, or at the least, get used to the new normal. They aren’t going to do this for us, whether we’ve been socialized to surrender or not, because ultimately, it’s not their battle, and let’s not give it over to them, even if, historically, they had a major hand in causing it. We got this. Feminism.
While recognizing that discussion has to happen and explorations must occur to prevent further bigotry, raise awareness, and give voice to victims, I’m pretty weary of hearing about the whys of it all. I’ve never been much for psychoanalysis or empathy in lieu of action, preferring not to waste too much time on disproportionate excavation and fruitless tears or anger. More of a cognitive behavioral fan, I advocate for changing some shit to get the ball rolling and moving forward. The more we hide behind the whys, waiting for apologies and understanding, changes in everyone but ourselves, the longer we stand victims. So, what now?
-Ask for what you want, again and again. That’s what men do, and it works. Yeah, I know, society has sculpted us into appeasers. How’s that working for us? As a whole, we’re going to have to take some major responsibility here and muster up some big ole’ guts.
-Teach our daughters about sex, relationships, their bodies (which don’t exist solely for male pleasure and objectification) and all of the confusing stuff that comes along with that, through open conversation AND personal demonstration. (Read: Your Daughter's Bedroom by Joyce McFadden). Teach them how to say no, how to ask for what they want, and that our personal power comes from choosing our responses to the shitty things that happen in our lives. Let’s show our girls that anger isn’t enough. It is the oft-born agency that anger breeds which institutes progress. Don't donate your power to your oppressor by embracing paralyzing enmity or fear. Keep moving, be better. If someone tries to pull rank on you at work, take a stand, file the complaint. Quit the job, be broke, keep your dignity. Fight. Not for the faint of heart, I know, but if enough of us do it…..
And if enough of us don’t, then nothing changes, even if we keep wearing our uterus hats.
-As a privileged, white, educated, American (I can't even scratch the surface of the injustices occurring to women outside of our country) female, I am better off than many of my sisters. The responsibility, therefore, falls upon me and those in a similar position, to stand even taller when given the opportunity, because there are many among us that cannot afford to do battle. They are hanging on by a thread, and we can ask no more of them. For those women, we fight.
Your day in the sun may never present itself (we're fortunate to have had many courageous predecessors do the dirty work). You don’t even have to go out in search of it. Just be ready. If we’re all prepared to rally ourselves or our friends and daughters, change will come.
-Let’s march for improved maternity coverage and subsidized child care. Then we can be better mothers with less worry. We can reduce our work hours and spend more time parenting our future voters. Many of us won’t need to get those abortions we’ve had to fight so hard for the right to. How many days do you think we’d have to strike to pull that off? According to the Department of Labor, we account for 47% of the workforce. Even if just the people who marched on Saturday, nationwide, went on strike, the impact would be so grand as to be almost inconceivable. It would send a message to government officials pretty quick.
-Acknowledge our differences from men. We aren’t biological equals. We make babies and require time off from work to do so. That may result in climbing the corporate ladder at a slower rate. That may also result in some hard choices about whether to continue doggedly pursuing career aspirations or to reel it in for the sake of quality parenting. This is a fact inherent to being a woman, and it’s not going to change. Men will always be at an advantage on that front, unless we choose to be childless, or Dad stays home. But, we do have the choice, and cheers to that!
-Recognize that we can’t end rape or domestic abuse. The curse of our smaller stature will always leave us preyed upon. We cannot stop it any more than I can keep my 8-year-old from wrestling my 5-year-old to the ground to confiscate the LEGO that probably wasn’t rightfully his. Walking alone at night will never stop being scary.
-Keep marching. Teach our daughters that women are proud and worthy and can yell just as loud as men. That we can gather en masse, creating an inspiring energy, but remind them that is only the beginning of change. We must carry that inspiration with us and use it when needed to plead our case, to take what’s due to us. My tirade isn’t about whether or not these problems exist. They’re undeniable. This is about self-empowerment and the courage to elicit real change. It’s about breaking from stereotypical female responses to find our inner heroines if and when the opportunities present themselves.
It may feel like my sentiment lacks compassion, but I submit that the greatest gift one can give to self and others is belief in the capacity to move forward.
Commentary and disagreement are welcome. This is a personal subject as much as it’s a national issue. School me- discussion grows us. Unrest from recent events has opened up this rich dialogue, and I have absolute deference to that process and the unfolding thereof. I hope the ephemeral nature of humanity doesn’t fan the flames too quickly.
Included below is the inspiring biography of Jo Ann Robinson, a real-life heroine who changed the face of civil rights with one courageous, uncomfortable decision.
Jo Ann Robinson
Rebecca Woodham, Wallace Community College, Dothan
Although not as well-known as Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr., Jo Ann Robinson (1912-1992) was perhaps the individual most instrumental in planning and publicizing the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, proposing the idea more than a year before it was implemented. Robinson was also active in the Montgomery Improvement Association and the Women's Political Council and was an English professor at Alabama State College (ASC, now Alabama State University).
Jo Ann Robinson
Jo Ann Gibson was born on April 17, 1912, in Culloden, Georgia, the youngest of 12 children of Owen Boston Gibson and Dollie Webb Gibson. Unusually well-educated at a time when educational opportunities for African American women were limited, Gibson was valedictorian of her high school graduating class and became the first person in her family to graduate from college, earning a bachelor's degree from Fort Valley State College (now Fort Valley State University) in Fort Valley, Georgia. Robinson then took a teaching position in Macon, Georgia. While there, she was married for a short time to Wilbur Robinson and had one child who died in infancy, prompting her to end the marriage. After teaching for five years in the Macon public school system, Robinson earned a master's degree in English from Atlanta University (now Clark-Atlanta University) and later completed a year of doctoral study in English at Columbia University in New York City. In 1949, Robinson accepted a teaching position in the English Department at Alabama State College and moved to Montgomery, where she joined Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, later pastored by Martin Luther King Jr. At ASC, Robinson befriended professor Mary Fair Burks, who had founded the Women's Political Council (WPC) in 1946 to inspire African American women to become more politically active.
Robinson's awakening to the realities of racial segregation occurred in 1949, at the end of her first semester at ASC. Preparing to leave Montgomery for Christmas vacation, Robinson boarded a city bus carrying only two other passengers and sat in a section reserved for whites. Lost in thought, Robinson was startled to find that the driver had stopped the bus and was standing over her, yelling at her to get up from her seat. She left the bus in tears. Robinson had shown little interest in the WPC prior to her ill-treatment on the bus. When she returned to Montgomery and discussed the event with other WPC members, however, she was shocked to find that they considered the incident unremarkable and commonplace in segregated Montgomery. In response, Robinson resolved to improve the treatment of African Americans in Montgomery. She met with attorney Fred Gray, who was also eager to challenge the city's segregated bus system. As she came to know Gray and his wife, Bernice, Robinson began to think more about ending segregation in Montgomery. Robinson became president of the WPC in 1950 and began urging women of the organization into more activist roles.
In the early 1950s, Robinson and other members of the WPC met with Montgomery mayor William A. Gayle and several of his staff. The WPC members found the mayor and his staff responsive to their request for dialogue on various issues affecting African Americans in Montgomery until the subject of integrating the buses arose. Robinson and others wanted drivers to be more courteous, to stop more frequently in black neighborhoods, to allow blacks to pay and board the bus at the front, and to reserve more seats for black patrons. With little cooperation from the mayor's office, and few African Americans able to vote in the city, Robinson came to envision a boycott by the city's many African Americans, which would severely affect the bus company's finances and perhaps prompt integration.
After Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955, Robinson and others saw their opportunity to take action. She authored the text of a flyer calling for African Americans to boycott city buses, and she and friend John Cannon, who was chair of the Business Department at ASC, in addition to two of her students, mimeographed thousands of flyers calling for a one-day boycott to start the following Monday, December 5, and distributed them throughout the city.
The success of the boycott convinced local civil rights leaders that it should continue until conditions improved, and that evening local civil rights leaders formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) to oversee the boycott, with Martin Luther King serving as its president. Robinson did not take an official position in the MIA for fear that doing so would endanger her job. She was, however, appointed to the executive board and, at the behest of King, wrote and edited the weekly MIA newsletter. She also participated in the carpool system that made the boycott possible.
Despite Robinson's efforts to maintain a discreet role in the boycott and the MIA, she was arrested as one of the boycott's leaders (but never stood trial) and targeted with violence. In early 1956, a police officer threw a rock through her window, and shortly afterward, acid was poured on her car. In the late 1950s, Robinson and other instructors at ASC who were rumored to have participated in the boycott were reportedly investigated by a special state committee, and state evaluators routinely attended classes and observed instructors to intimidate faculty. In 1960, when ASC students staged a sit-in at a segregated snack bar downtown, Robinson resigned her position rather than face the continued tensions at the institution, later accepting a position at Grambling College (now Grambling State University) in Grambling, Louisiana. After teaching there for a year, she moved to Los Angeles and worked in the public school system until her retirement in 1976. In 1987, Robinson's memoir, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It, was published by the University of Tennessee Press. She remained actively involved in her community and in local politics until her death on August 29, 1992.
Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson. The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson. Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 1987.
Walker, Robert J. Let My People Go! Lanham, Md.: Hamilton Books, 2007.
Williams, Donnie, and Wayne Greenhaw. The Thunder of Angels: The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the People Who Broke the Back of Jim Crow. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2006.