Marching For Our Rights And Leaving Evidence Behind

On Saturday, my wife and I put on our boots and trudged through two feet of snow to meet with thousands of other people at Flagstaff City Hall. There were signs, chants, and, yes, Pussy Hats to go around, and there were babies and children and men, and a number of my students who I hugged and high-fived as we passed one another in the streets.

Meanwhile, my sister, and my mother were marching in my native Chicago. Mom suffers from a pair of bad knees, she had a respiratory infection, and has never cared for crowds; still she got on the crammed Blue Line and headed downtown to join in the protest. (She even texted me pictures.) Mom is nearly seventy. She lived through Vietnam War protests and the second-wave women's marches, but this, in 2017, was the first demonstration she had ever attended. I was incredibly proud of her.

When my wife and I arrived home that evening, we felt energized and hopeful and clear. It's always reassuring to know one is not alone in their sorrow and despair, and it's even better when one is given the sense that democracy can work, will work, does work if people are energized and determined.

As I relaxed with a bottle of beer, I did what most of us do these days to commemorate: I posted to Facebook.

Long ago, I scrubbed my FB Friends list of people who routinely posted misogynist memes, who embraced and celebrated the mean-spirited rhetoric of Trump, who espoused racist convictions. I know those people exist; I just don't want to be inundated with their ugliness every time I check my Facebook account.

Alas, no sooner had the marches ended, then the appallingly misogynist memes and status updates and article shares began populating my feed. And this was from people I deemed reasonable, rational, and fundamentally good - if not right leaning.

There was much feigned outrage about how "offensive" the protester's signs were (never mind the outrage was coming from men and women who seemed to have zero problem with Donald Trump's brand of offensiveness), and much feigned outrage over the signs women left outside the White House gates. The implication was that "these nasty women littered."

I noticed that a former colleague had posted a photo of the signs marchers had left behind for Trump, asking, "What's this all about?"

He's a smart man. He knew what "it" was "all about."

His post received 95 replies. 99% of those respondents were white, presumably heterosexual, men.

Maybe I shouldn't have read the replies. Maybe I should have simply deleted my former colleague from my feed, but I didn't.

What I read, in this particular thread, was gut-wrenching, sickening, was - even for a jaded forty-year-old woman like me - shocking.

Men bemoaned the fact that they should ever have to pay into (much less care about) women's birth control and reproductive healthcare. Men suggested that feminists "want more and more rights but no responsibility." Men even lamented that women have the vote - one arguing in his best academese that women "legislate morality" and are perhaps too emotional to vote sensibly. These were (or so I thought) arguments from a former century.

And these were educated, articulate men, men with rhetorical prowess, the kind of men who, when they ascribe to these antiquated beliefs, and when they hold office, pose the greatest threat to women's liberation and rights.

Reading the thread further confirmed what I know, but what some part of me doesn't really want to believe: lots of men don't see women as human.

For many men, women themselves are an issue, a problem to be solved, an abstraction, a collection of bewildering otherness with strange and frightening body parts.

I want the exception - the good, decent, kind men I know - to be the rule. But they're not.

Of the few women who chimed in on the post, all were quick to say, "I don't agree with these women [the protesters], but..." or "did you know that feminists are fighting for men, too?" - they had to apologize to the men for agreeing with "those women" or prioritize men and their feelings before expressing their own thoughts. So much of our lives, as women, are spent apologizing, spent assuring men we are really but an addendum. I understand why we do this - we do this because of female socialization, we do this for our own safety. We also do this, as my wife observed, because we get "patriarchy points" when we, as women, side with men and say, "Oh, no. I don't agree with those women."

I try not to engage on Facebook in political disagreements. The act is likely never productive. No hearts and minds are changed by a comment on a status, but there was something so starkly horrifying, so insidious about the nature of this particular thread that I couldn't help myself. I replied. This is what I said:

1) The abandoned signs were not litter, and you know this. They were left as messages for the incoming president and his administration. They were left as evidence that "we were here" - in spite of all "alternative facts" to the contrary. Protesters have done this sort of thing many times before. (The most moving example I can think of is when AIDS Activists launched the ashes of their loved ones over the White House fence and onto the lawn as a way to "force" Ronald Reagan to at least acknowledge people were dying.)

2) These were not marches "about abortion" or "about gaining more rights" -- rather, they were about creating/sustaining awareness of the tenuousness of the rights women do have. I know for most straight, white men the notion of "losing rights" is beyond their grasp. This makes sense. Straight white men are in no danger of losing any rights. As a class of people, women are often in danger of having the rights they've tirelessly fought for casually and callously stripped away by white men who don't care because they don't see women as fully formed human beings, but rather as irrational collections of fallopian tubes and ovaries (which, as at least one person in this thread suggested, women should be fiscally punished for possessing).

3) This was also a protest calling attention to the systemic violence and misogyny women face. Misogyny can't be legislated out of existence. If you don't believe misogyny and sex-based violence exists, I'd suggest talking to a woman. Any woman. (However, given the tone many men have taken here in re: the status of women, I doubt there are many women who'd be willing to tell you the truth.) The fact that the man who now holds the highest office in the land openly boasted about sexually assaulting women is deeply troubling, and also evidence of male supremacy -- i.e. when it comes to women and girls, men can do/say whatever they want to with impunity.

4) I see in this thread men, white (I'm presuming) and heterosexual (I'm presuming) pontificating on everything from "What more do women want?" to "Should women have gotten the vote?" (and to that commenter: yes, you're right; many women believed -- and still do -- that women shouldn't have the vote; women often participate in their own oppression, that's how patriarchy works best!), and minimizing the protests by joking about "women leaving messes" and putting forth stereotypes about women as though they were facts. But here's something that may BLOW YOUR MIND: Women are actually human beings. Did you know that women are actual human beings with thoughts and feelings and hopes and ambitions and skills and talents and varying perspectives? Did you know they're not mere philosophical abstractions or reproductive organs floating in space? Did you know they're human beings who are allowed (for now) to organize around ideas, principles, and causes that don't center men? It's amazing! We're actually human. Once men understand that basic fact (and it is a fact), they might be less bewildered by our outrage.

The man in the thread who - yes, really - questioned whether women should have gotten voting rights, and the man in the thread who - yes, really - suggested women should have to pay more for healthcare because our reproductive systems are "more complicated" were predictably silent. Other men responded with gratitude. Many women, even those who had commented in the thread that they "didn't agree with the protesters, but," clicked "like" in a show of soft solidarity, I suppose.

Here's the thing, though: I don't really care.

Sometimes speaking out isn't about persuasion, isn't about getting people to "come to your side" or change their own hard held perspectives. There are some perspectives that, however hateful and hurtful and outmoded, will never be altered.

Did Donald Trump read any of the signs left at his doorstep? Did it even register in his heart that women (and men) came out in droves to assert their presence, to give voice to their lives and their legitimate fears that the new administration may be willing to strip us, as a class, of so many important, essential gains? Likely not. Does this mean we stop speaking out? We stop marching? We stop fighting? Hell no.

The fight isn't about Trump singularly any more than my lengthy Facebook comment was about the men on the thread who giddily asserted that women were silly and hysterical and maybe shouldn't even have the vote.

Sometimes the fight is about the fighters, and about leaving signs, and words, behind as evidence to those in power that you exist, that you are here, that you, also, are human.