One day, there will be a cool documentary about feminism, women’s rights, and the international fight for female equality and it will garner praise and recognition at a fancy black-tie occasion. There will be a beautifully subtle fictional movie about an American girl who struggled to fight for her own identity, perhaps casting off the myth of the American Dream, or ideals of the model immigrant her parents so desperately clung. Soon to come, a compelling documentary of extraordinary length about how systemic misogyny ruined a famous woman’s life or career (hmm I can’t think of an example, kidding). Or we, as women, will have our own “James Baldwin-like” prophetess come forth and rip apart the obvious bias we face each and every day through our debates, careers, family life, and institutions. She is out there, not everyone is listening right now, her words are still shrill and unappealing to those whose ears aren’t tuned into strong women voices. We will realize her legacy years too late and post-mortem there will be a glossy movie about her personal story, laced with the backdrop of our feminine struggle. We will all proclaim that we knew sexism existed in 2017 we just didn’t know how to deal with its obvious power, and we ignored the voices in the wilderness. We will cry.
I’ve tried to discuss the importance of women rising up together, that the movement requires our support for each other, not us ripping apart messages and symbols. The image of a group of women fighting for self-determination has been seared in my mind, 1917 in Russia, suffragettes in America and England, Indian women fighting rape culture, Liberian and Icelandic all gathering en masse, saying enough is enough. Standing together, shoulder to shoulder they say go ahead, rip our bodies to shreds this is an emergency, you must listen now. But to have deep discussions with fellow women, of every stripe, class, color and creed, to ask women to truly dig into internalized misogyny usually winds as some of the most fraught conversations and I fear my passion comes off as judgemental, but it’s not. I notice that in my circles we can talk about racial bias all day long now, this is a new development, but gender bias, norms, and identities are still tricky. Why? I must continue to poke at this obvious tender spot. For one we lack tools, language, movies, short videos, a pithy slogan, and leadership. Try searching for a very well made video about feminism, or a bit of inspiration for an 8-year-old girl, they border on overly comic or are an ad for a technology company, or large corporate conglomerate trying to sell snake oil feminism. Secondly, we don’t want to admit we still make decisions for ourselves that are rooted in sexism, some apparent and others buried under layers of bias and outdated narratives. Many women still live under the shadow of a man or haven’t seen how we play into gender roles that still hamper our growth. It’s harder to admit in this day and age of supposed surface-level equality that deep down we’re still holding back, feel insecure, less than, ugly, unable to speak out freely, and enslaved. And all women know the truth of the matter that we’re still vulnerable to every range of sexism, violence, physical and mental abuse. We think to change our culture entrenched with masculine violence would mean to attack the men we love, or rip apart our own comforts, become an ugly feminist, cast asunder with no sexuality, berated and alone. And frankly, there may be some truth to this because every activist is often alone in the woods for a while until critical mass erupts and solidarity becomes more than just a word. Instead of facing this hardship, we convince ourselves that everything is fine, we have it all, and those women who are out pushing our buttons should shut-up because they’re going to topple what little protection we think we’ve built up in this male-dominated world. We can barely square our own ambivalence about being a woman in 2017 and so we stomp out words like feminism, equal rights, and intersectionality because it brings so much to light the problems we want to shove behind sofas and under carpets. We’d have to admit that past women’s movements were focused on white female empowerment and left behind black and brown women by design. Just as today, back then, women in the movement felt it was important to stick to one topic, adding racial and economic inequality concerns to the march made it hard for the establishment to understand the movement, so they thought. They said, it would water down the message, it would be too confusing, too many topics is not a good strategy, and this sounds all too familiar today. I just read an article about this idea yesterday and I stand firm that to focus on a single issue, like reproductive rights, does more harm to that issue and does little for the progress of full equality for economic empowerment, religious freedom, migration, and safety. It’s also interesting that many of my white liberal women friends have come around to the idea that Black Lives Matter but still find it hard to accept that women’s rights, feminism, and their own liberation intersect with the powerful movement for racial equality. Women hold the key to toppling the structures that are holding us back due to our race, sexual orientation, gender identity and class. I believe this strongly and don’t treat the burgeoning feminist movement as an isolated issue, it’s all one in the same fight. Instead of white journalists berating us for attending a march, or wearing a certain hat, or what we name marches, their energy could be better served by identifying their own bias towards women of color or their own barriers to achievement as a white woman. Furthermore, to assert that white women marching is some sort of privilege is to admit that white woman have it all and they live some sort of life that precludes them from the fight for equality. Now white women can wring their hands and say, see, I have privilege, it’s not my fight to fight and I feel like I am taking the stage again. But have all white, upper-class women freed themselves from the psychological bondage of sexism? It would be an amazing day if all women could rise up together and discuss all the ways that men still dominate the cultural and political power centers in this world. I mean, we just watched a powerful white woman get hammered in an election by the blunt instrument of misogyny. Are we to believe that the rest of the white women in America are living some life outside this same world? It’d help if white women would admit they may have a slight advantage due to skin color but they too are still subject to sexism and male violence. That would be a show of solidarity, that would go far and I will say we began to hear this when it related pussies being grabbed. For the first time, I’ve heard many women admit that they’ve faced some sort of assault by a man, that this is a common refrain, this is our bond, sadly. We all nodded our heads, and brought up memories and let ourselves become triggered in 2016. Let’s use that energy and remember we’re all in this together!
So, today, on International Women’s Day, I am going to infuse myself with the history, spirit, and solidarity of women who have marched for our freedom as it stands today. In the past 100 years or more women shut down governments or changed policies in Russia, Iceland, Liberia, US, England just to name a few bright spots in history. Look up Leymah Gbowee for some inspiration, her peaceful women’s strike toppled a genocidal dictator in Liberia. They’d want us to continue the movement and the movement must be inclusive and intersectional, don’t reduce these to buzzwords, make it happen, model the behavior as women! When women join forces it’s always one to be reckoned with and without full solidarity, the movement will lose its power. That is what the establishment is hoping will happen. Don’t give in.
I have taken the day off, used my limited paid vacation to spend the day marching in San Francisco and Oakland. I appreciate my friends and co-workers who are with me in spirit, have expressed solidarity, or guilt for not being able to take the day off for understandable reasons. My actions are not about inducing guilt or acting privileged, rather my intention is to deepen my family’s commitment to our values of community activism and progress. I am not taking the day to just sit around my house watching TV, this is not a vacation day, I’m not out soaking in the sun and zoning out. I am tuned in and feeling rather concerned, fearful and anxious about our future. After I finish pounding out this essay I am working all day to meet and connect with women, walking miles on foot. My 8-year-old daughter has chosen to come with me even after my stark warnings that today is not about having a jaunt to the city, or relaxing, we have work to do! We are going to soak in what we can, listen to speeches, feel the energy in close proximity to other women who I hope feel this is the start of a larger movement. The fact that the Woman’s March also joined in and have provided a platform is not a bad thing, it’s a powerful show of force, a reminder that we’re still here. We marched on Jan 21 and are back at it again and we will continue. I find all the sniping back and forth a tad draining, but it fires me to write again, to document where we stand, and frankly it’s kind of a mess but I still go forth. Right now, we are in the midst of extreme discomfort with the idea that our world is misogynistic and racist and these two evils are the ancient foundations for white male supremacy that is literally destroying our world. This is our common cause from Black Lives Matter to the Women’s March and any subsequent movement, we must gain traction, we must gain more freedom, and shatter the false notion that women, especially women of color, have equal opportunities. We don’t and we won’t win unless we stop infighting and join together! At the very least, I hope the energy of critique by women gets turned away from the women’s movement and towards the institutions that hold us all back. There is much to dismantle.