On Saturday I got mom-shamed.
To clarify, I am not a mother. What I am is a journalist who focuses on women’s issues. So on Jan. 21, I got up with hundreds of thousands of women and men to head into downtown Washington, D.C., for the Women’s March. My team gathered our press passes, backpacks, cameras and chargers, and headed off to the (insanely crowded) metro station. On our way down, we ran into two 13-year-old girls, Taylor and Abigail Ray, heading to the march with Taylor’s parents.
We spoke briefly, and I snapped a photo of them. They were cousins, and they told me that they were going to the march in order to “not let this slide” and “to kick ass.” I posted the photo on Twitter and Instagram, and didn’t look at it again until a couple hours later when we were in the thick of the pre-march rally.
I quickly realized that some people (mostly white men, and a few white women) on the internet weren’t happy that two young women were attending a march centered around equality, intersectionality, women’s rights and racial justice. And many of these people believed these two incredible young women were my daughters.
“Way to go dragging your daughters into a march for freedoms and rights that nobody is trying to take away,” tweeted one man.
Another man called my photo evidence of “brainwashing at its finest!”, a third commented that “the poor children have been ruined,” and a fourth actually said he wished “they got tear gassed and pepper sprayed.” One lovely woman even took the chance to tweet about how “vile” all women who marched are.
From these charming responses I took away two things: People have very little faith in young women’s ability to make independent decisions and hold fully realized beliefs, and that it has never been more important for young women to stand in those beliefs and in their own power.
I grew up in the D.C. area as part of a politically engaged family, so growing up I attended my fair share of marches. The first march I remember was a march for LGBTQ rights in the early ‘90s. I went with my parents, newborn brother and grandparents. I may not have fully grasped the point, but I knew that love was love was love, and that rainbow flags were pretty cool, and that for some reason shirtless women decided to put stickers on their nipples.
But once I reached my tween and teen years, when I marched it was certainly not because my parents told me I should. I hadn’t been brainwashed ― I simply cared deeply about certain issues, and had learned that peaceful protest was both a democratic right and a productive way to express solidarity with like-minded people on a public stage. This is exactly what Taylor, Abigail Ray and all the many other young women and men I met at the Women’s March on Washington were doing: expressing their own beliefs in a safe, public space, often with the full support of their parents, teachers and peers.
Creighton Abrams, Taylor’s father, told me over email that Taylor and his other daughter, who wasn’t in the photo, demanded to attend the Women’s March of their own accord, and that if and when they disagree with his opinions on an issue, they don’t hesitate to disagree. He also said that he felt as though he had learned more from the march perhaps than his daughters and niece had.
“My daughters felt energized by the crowd, the message, and the sense that history was being made (in a big way),” said Abrams. “They express strong views around the house, but I don’t think they do it as much with their friends or in public. The march let them share their positions in the most democratic of all activities short of voting ― protesting.”
These strong-willed, opinionated teenagers and their peers are the new voters of 2020, 2022 and 2024. The values they learn now, both from their families and from their own life experiences, will determine their civic engagement moving forward. To witness democracy at its finest is a gift, not a form of “vile” “brainwashing.”
Vox’s Liz Plank interviewed a handful of young women who attended the march (watch below). They are brilliant. They are our future leaders.
Abrams told me that Taylor often speaks about the possibility of becoming president. A world where young women believe that they can be president of the United States is a world I want to live in. So if Taylor is ever going to crack that highest, hardest glass ceiling, there’s no better time to start than the present.