By Marsha Owens
I didn’t march in the January 2017 Women’s March on Washington because I started my march in the 1960s and I’m tired. My she-roes were Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Jane Fonda—all vilified for the audacity of being “women’s libbers.” They followed in the footsteps of Susan B. Anthony, who was not allowed to speak at rallies; and Alice Paul, the “iron-jawed angel” who first introduced the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to Congress in 1923, and was later imprisoned and tortured for her defiance. So when my turn came, I, too, marched for my generation, believing surely the time for change had arrived.
I marched for the ERA, which in 1973—50 years after Alice Paul introduced it—was not ratified in my home state of Virginia because “men take care of their women and you don’t need it,” as a white, privileged male, also an elected official, told me. (Code for “Sit down and shut up.”) The ERA states that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” What is so hard to understand—or so threatening—about those few words? Still, three states need to pass the ERA before it can be ratified and added to the Constitution, in this, the 21st century.
I marched for my right to sign a deed to a house or a contract on a car, using my own name: my married name, because I had already given up my birth name. The truth is, unless she makes it up, a woman never has a name entirely her own. Otherwise, her identity is tied to the name of her father, his father, and so on—until it becomes tied to the name of her husband. You may need a minute to think about this, in the 21st century.
I marched in the 70s for my right to keep my teaching job while pregnant.
I marched for the opportunity to choose a career outside the three paths available to me and my female contemporaries: teacher, nurse, or secretary.
I marched for my right to earn equal pay for equal work.
I marched for my right to use birth control whether married or single, and the right to have a safe abortion because my woman’s body belongs to me, and to no one else. Yet men still, still think they’re entitled to make these decisions for women. And guess what? They’re doing it.
I marched for the right to serve on a jury.
I marched for the right to sue for sexual harassment. Those whistles and cat calls and too-close snuggles? “You’re lucky you’re cute, honey. Be flattered.”
I marched for the right to pay a man’s rate for health insurance.
And today I am angry that Virginia still has NOT ratified the ERA, that mansplaining about why women marched in 2017 was splashed all over the media following the march, that my daughter still has to fight these battles, that the man-child president has been rewarded for defiling women, that he will continue to do so without consequence, that when my mom advised me as a young girl to be quiet, saying “It’s a man’s world, honey,” she was right, dammit, she was right.
I’m really tired of this.
Yet I’m grateful that the 2017 march, organized and led by women, was a beacon for peace, that violence was not a part of the event, here or anywhere in the world. That headline went missing somehow.
And I’m sad that my generation of women, once idealistic and hopeful like so many are today, may not live to see justice for women in America.
I’m still hopeful that those who knit will keep making pink hats, those who sing will use their voices, those who paint will beautify the space around them, those who mother will teach their sons and daughters about love, those who dance will tap out their heart’s rhythm, those who write will tell their stories, those who are lonely will find their community, and that those who are angry will speak, no—yell, scream, stomp, and demand that all girls and women in America must finally, finally be able to claim their birthright as equal citizens under the Constitution, not in 10 or 20 years from now, but now.
But it’s seventeen years into the 21st century now. Others must hit the streets. Again. I wish you Godspeed.
I hope you’re comfortable saying the word “politics.” It’s not a bad word, even though some will say, “Oh, I don’t talk politics.” Why the hell not? A democracy invites discourse. Elected officials (mostly men) write laws that govern your life. So talk about it.
I hope you have guts. This is not for weak-hearted.
I hope you can persevere. Understand that you will not wake up tomorrow or next month—maybe not even ten years from now—and find that everything has changed. You’re in this for the long haul.
I hope you read, a lot. Immerse yourself in the stories of the feminist movement. Let the names of all those brave women roll off your tongue in conversation, in emails, in tweets.
I hope you call out discrimination when you hear it or see it. When it goes unchallenged, we lose our voice.
I hope you teach your daughters and sons about the struggle. The next generation will be tested, too.
Susan, Alice, Betty, Gloria, Jane, and many other brave and brilliant women, including the indefatigable Hillary Clinton who have gone before stand with you now. All of us who have marched. We meander through the crowd, sometimes nudging you forward, even though you see no one. We’re all there with you.
Previously published as ‘Carrie Fisher Sent Me: Feminism Marches On’ in The Wild Word magazine. thewildword.com
For more great Wild Word essays see:
Why as a Christian Leader I am Choosing Resistance by Reverend Rachel Kessler
The Beginning of the End of Donald Trump by Maria Behan