And so we march.
We march for the same damn things our forebears have marched for generations. We make the same signs. We sing the same damn chants. We have the same damn debates and conversations, because equality is somehow perpetually on the table — a thing to be picked over and examined generation by generation, well-actuallied into obscure finer points that ignore the whole: second-class citizenry persists for women just as it has for hundreds of years in the land of the free.
Their bodies: grabbable.
Their healthcare: Voteable.
Their pay, their justice, their visibility, their everyday well-being: debatable.
And so we march.
At the kitchen table the other day, we talked of the signs we’d create. Crayons and poster boards, markers and masking tape.
“Equal rights for women!”
“My body, my choice!”
“No, you can’t grab my pussy.”
What does it say that in hundreds of years of equal rights marches, only one of those signs is new — pressed into service by the deep misogyny that resounds eternal and is deemed if not perfectly acceptable, still acceptable?
And then there was the old standby.
“Didn’t my grandmother already march for this?”
You could hold that sign Saturday during the Women’s March on Washington or 10 years ago, 20, 30, 50, 100, 200 years ago, and it would be just as sour-chuckle-inducing as it ever was — if, that is, it didn’t by now portend a horrorscape of seemingly unending marches for the same damn things.
And so we march.
My head spins this week like a bobbin taking in too many threads to connect, and if I endeavor to connect them here, it is only to maintain a notion of sanity for my own sake, to put down a yardstick for measuring where our society stands today, and to simply try to draw a line through history that says: We’ve been here before, we’ve already done this, and when in god’s name will we be able to stop pretending it’s ok to keep doing it?
So the first thread, which I won’t pretend to fully unravel. This week, I keep coming back to Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech and connecting it to this coming Women’s March on Washington, because so much is tied up in race and feminist movements in America. Among a crowd of white men and women at a suffragist gathering 1851, the emancipated slave and activist asked if her equal rights, as a black woman in America, weren’t also on the table that day.
It’s a question that remains, as some of our best suffragists, feminists, and equal rights proponents were and remain outright, subtly, or ignorantly racist — not a particularly wild or unknown notion in an America where men can offer paeans to freedom for all while quite literally holding many as property.
The march Saturday was initially deemed the Million Woman March — which appropriated the name of the famous 1997 black women’s march in Philadelphia, and I can’t help but hear the same speech echoing across the generations: “Wait, aren’t we women?”
It reminded me of two things: One, former First Lady Michelle Obama saying she could walk around the streets with no big security details because no one would recognize her — the same invisibility felt by Truth and the 1997 marchers today. We’ve not achieved the dream, but are still stumbling toward the mountain.
And two, the appropriation of Truth’s very words — because the thing is, we’re not all that sure she actually gave the “Ain’t I a Woman?” To be sure, she spoke that day. That’s not debated. But the transcript printed three weeks later by her friend in attendance — a transcript said to have been approved by Truth herself — was in fact different from what has become the mythologized version of her speech.
The thing is, “Ain’t I a Woman?” wasn’t added until 13 entire years later, and only when a white lady suffragist tried to make herself look good in the process — writing up in her account that no one wanted a former slave to speak that day, but heavens to betsy I let her anyway and look at what she produced. Truth’s words were, 13 years later, written down by a white woman in stereotypical Southern slave dialect — despite the fact Truth grew up in New York with Dutch as her native language and probably spoke that day in the perfect English she was proud of learning. All I’m saying is there is a sad history of white people ignoring equal rights for all and petting themselves on the heads for doing it.
We march because we see, and we’re ashamed it took so damn long.
The march organizers, I feel, made it right after an ignorant start, a start cloaked in the same cultural invisibility we have been hearing about and ignoring for generations, the same invisibility that allowed white women to cheer on the potential first woman president since voting rights were achieved in 1920, while women of color were clearing their throats, reminding us, “Um, you mean 1965.” Out of this mess came the guiding unity document for what is now the Women’s March on Washington, a clarion call for intersectionality, and I hope there is no going back.
“Our liberation is bound in each other’s.”
Let no one from this day ask if she is woman enough. It’s easy, believe me, for a white guy to say let’s just go forward, but what choice do we have but to do it with open eyes and ears? We know the sad history. We must work to correct it, beginning today if you haven’t already.
And so we march.
The second thread I can’t quite get my head around involves people who look like me: white men.
A man who said he likes to sexually assault women — literally bragged about it moments after saying he tried his best to have an affair — was sworn in as president of the United States in the same week the majority of men from his party said they felt it was a better time today to be a woman than a man.
Let’s be clear where our society stands today. Going forward, let’s get on the same page.
Girls and women make up 51 percent of the population and hold:
Just 20 percent of the seats in the House, just 20 percent in the Senate, with women of color making up 6 percent. Last year, there were six women governors — 6 of 50, with two being women of color.
In those 50 states, women make up 24 percent of state legislators, and hold an equal number of executive positions.
And so we march.
In cities with a population of 30,000 or more, women make up 18 percent of mayors.
That’s our government alone, and so we march.
In movies, the cultural stories we tell ourselves for entertainment, women are outnumbered 2 to 1 among movie lead characters, 8 to 1 for movie directors. Women make up 15 percent of screenwriters and, on average, earn 90 cents for every dollar a male screenwriter earns.
In media, men generate 62 percent of stories in the print press and on TV, with most political stories going to men while women focus more on education, style and fashion, rather than politics — the domain of men.
And so we march.
In sports, women’s events are covered just 4 percent of the time in major sports shows and TV markets.
In business, women make up roughly 46 percent of the workforce. On a bright note, they make up 51 percent of management and professional positions, yet just 20 CEO positions at the S&P 500 companies, and about 20 percent of board representation at those companies.
In tech, women make up 30 percent of the rank and file workforce at giants tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter, with the gap in executive positions even larger.
Across these fields, women earn 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. Women of color earn less.
In America, there’s a 20 percent chance a woman will be raped, 33 percent for Native American women — and 3 percent for men.
While just 2-8 percent of rape accusations are considered false, the cultural mythology of “bitches be lyin'” persists to the point that just 3 percent of rapists ever face prison time.
I hope you get the picture.
Women and girls make up more than half of our population, and yet are under-represented, underpaid, underserved, and undervalued in nearly every segment of society.
So let’s dispense with the pity party for penises, the “men’s rights” nonsense, and remember that we march not to create inequality but to actually achieve equality. We’re not there yet and your whining about the journey with so many steps to go is unseemly, vile, sad, fragile, and disgusting.
And in the final thread, what of men and masculinity in the age of Trump.
It cannot be overstated how deeply sexist a culture we live in when a candidate who admitted he sexually assaulted women is defended by men who claim he was lying, making it up, bullshitting — and then in the very next breath go on to rail against his female opponent as an unforgivable liar. Or by men and women alike excuse it away as “locker room talk” — as if talking about your enjoyment of rape is fine depending on the location of the conversation.
Let’s be clear: I understand the reasons why you voted for him, or even against her. I can read. I can listen. I try my best to stay informed. But that you had compelling reasons to do so doesn’t dismiss the fundamental truth that you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he likes to sexually assault women — that he bragged it — and you were OK with that. You put it in your moral pro-con list under other things that were more important to you.
So where to we go from here, when half the voting public — 65 million out of a country of 330 million — throw the safety and well-being of girls and women under the bus to achieve other ends? And by no means is that a far-fetched notion, considering a man was arrested this week for doing the same damn the our president said he likes to do. You opened the box and defined new mores that looked the same as the old ones, and these are the real consequences of it.
For starters, we can achieve so much for both sexes by simply dismissing the notion of “real men.” That idea alone holds down so many.
Most of the visions of “real men” are predicated on some John Wayne version of cinematic swagger that simply doesn’t live up to the many ways we do gender in America. What do I mean? Think of an alpha male in New York City. What do you imagine? A shark skin suit, a bright watch, a corner office and power tie? Now think of an alpha male in big country Texas. In the Pacific Northwest. In Motor City.
Do they look the same?
Surely each has reached the pinnacle of his male tribes in his respective fields and locations, but surely they all have different outfits, different mannerisms, different outlooks, and beliefs of what it means to be a “real man.” And each would be correct within his tribe.
Sociologists tell us we all do gender differently — depending on geography, peer groups, employment, parenting, you name it. So let’s just dismiss the notion going forward that there is a right way to be a man.
Because honestly, we’ve been sold a bill of goods — a bill of goods that to this day makes women and girls second class, wary in ways we can’t comprehend of simple trips to the car or certain outfits or in the cultural acceptance of the everyday objectification of their appearance; and what’s more, it traps boys and men in corners of emotional vacancy and leads to incredible mental health problems, not the least of which is the unenviable mindfuck of enjoying the greatest privilege known to history and complaining about how bad you have it. We have failed to reach equality among the sexes because of the childlike fragility of those who claim the loudest that they are the strongest.
And so we march.
We march because we can see across the great wash of history and find that the threads connecting then and now remain, and we’ve had enough.