Our Voices Combined: A Community Arises
Growing up, I remember reading about various women’s movements, about the Suffragettes, about the feminism of the 60s and 70s, about the women who fought the hard battles so I could live in the level of semi-equality I do today. I was always intrigued, and inspired by their passion, and understood the importance of their fight and their sacrifice. It was because of them that I knew I could be anything, do anything I dreamed. But somehow, I still didn’t really understand the true power of women yet.
Years later, I stumbled across the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.” This documentary tells the story of the women of Liberia who stood up in the face of violence in their country and said, “enough!” They came out unarmed, peacefully, and stood up not only to their government, but to men holding machine guns. They said, in the name of peace put those guns down. These women came from different backgrounds, from Christian communities, Muslim communities, but they stood together in their common belief that as one they could change their country for the better. They could stand together in peace, and in song, and defeat violent warlords, and save the children of their country. This is the power of women.
It’s hard to explain, or to put it into words, but there is just something powerful that happens when women come together and raise their voices for a common cause. I was moved by it when I saw it in Liberia, and now I see it in these large movements sweeping across the U.S.—from the Women’s March to the #MeToo movement—when women come together for a cause, the community of women comes together. The small voices of a few are amplified when the few become a community, pushing for the same change, the same progress in their world.
Plain and simple: it has been a rough year to be a woman in America. From the Donald Trump presidency, to the assault on women’s rights, to the continuous revelations of sexual assault, the battles just seem unending. And let’s not overlook that in the election of Trump, the opportunity to elect our first female president slipped through our fingers. In short, us ladies are exhausted.
I was recently reading Hillary Clinton’s new book, What Happened, and found myself on the subway in New York crying unexpectedly into its pages. It’s funny because I was never a huge rah! rah! Hillary fan. I had, and still have, huge policy disagreements with her. I would like to think that someday she and I could sit down over beers and hash out our foreign policy disagreements. (Maybe then can tell me why she continues to value her friendship with Henry Kissinger.) But we lost something more than the opportunity for a Democratic president on Election Day. There was something about that representation, about having a powerful and extremely capable woman in that office, and then watching that opportunity fade away that was initially devastating, and then galvanized a powerful movement.
We were going to have such a huge voice in the most powerful office for the first time. It was a voice and a level of representation women had never had in America. Yet, in our mourning the loss of that representation, we found our voice…and we amplified it. We came together, and became a community of voices working to fight against whatever came our way. Women came out to fight the Muslim ban, they came out to fight for women’s rights, they came out to fight for the Dreamers, for Black Lives Matter. We came out to fight. Period.
Women have been fighting in the trenches for centuries. We are a force to be reckoned with, and watch out when we bind our voices together for a common cause. Many have noted that a number of the issues that have come to the forefront over the past year or two—police violence, racism, income inequality, etc.—are issues that women of color have been fighting against for years. And this is true. You will find women of color at the center of many major movements from the Women's March, obviously, with Linda Sarsour, Tamika D. Mallory, Carmen Perez, but also movements like Black Lives Matter with its founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. Women always seem to find them in community organizing positions, and apparently now, protest organizing positions.
One of the things the election of Donald Trump did was awaken those women who had not been paying attention, who had not been involved. Those who believed those issues didn’t affect them, weren’t their concern, that it wasn’t their place to speak up about them. It brought those who believed they were “safe” and didn’t need to fight into the movement. It reminded us all that even safety is fleeting, and that someone else's insecurity is our insecurity. As the Women's March evolved, and it continues to evolve, the intersectionality of these voices has been a continued focus.
Breaking Into the Conversation
Women have been kept out of the conversation for so long—in politics, in business—that the desire to be heard, to have a voice was sure to burst out at some point. At 50.8 percent of the population, you would think we would be close to making up half of leadership positions at this point. You would, however, be sorely mistaken. Women are still massively underrepresented in leadership positions, with women only making up 6 percent of partners in venture capital firms, 31 percent of full professors, and the list goes on. Further, women still make 80 cents on the dollar in comparison to men. This number gets even worse when you take things such as race, and even region of the country into consideration.
If you were marking points in history when women burst their way into the conversation, 2017 would be a good place to put a pin. With the election of Donald Trump, the women of America said, enough!
I remember arriving at the metro station in Washington, DC and barely being able to step foot out of the train onto the platform, the sea of pink hats flowing in every direction. My friends and I looked at each other both in shock and excitement. Perhaps this was just congestion though, and things would clear out when we got above ground? We were, of course, wrong. As we attempted to walk toward the march, we never actually made it to our intended destination, the hundreds of thousands of protesters making it impossible. The women of America came out last January, and they came out big.
The march was just the beginning. It awoke in those women who had not previously been politically active, a desire and passion to use their voices to change the course of history. To move our country in the direction they wanted to see it go, not in the direction it seemed to be headed. What we saw post march, was an outgrowth of activism, in women becoming involved in local and national politics on the ground level, and further, a huge surge in women running for office. There are currently 390 women running for the House of Representatives alone. Women took the momentum from January 21, and placed it directly into campaigns, into direct action, and into tangible results.
According to Daily Action, an organization that encourages citizens to call members of Congress to fight against Trump’s policies, 86 percent of their participants are women. These women are holding their representatives accountable for issues ranging from women’s reproductive health, to DACA, to the Muslim Ban, to whatever other insane thing comes their way. They’re calling, they’re writing, and they're organizing to make their voices heard.
They are also showing up to vote. In the most recent governor’s race in Virginia, women voted 61 percent for the Democratic candidate Ralph Northam, moving away from the Republican who was a Trump supporter. Black women made an even larger statement, voting for Northam at a rate of 91 percent. Again in Alabama, women voted 57 percent for the Democratic candidate Doug Jones. And while white women didn’t vote in as high of numbers, black women again came out 98 percent for the Democratic candidate, making a strong anti-Trump statement. This is not to say that all women vote Democratic—clearly this has not been the case for white women—but in this age of Trump, the resistance to him and his policies is strongly female, and often strongly women of color.
Beyond politics, this year saw the emergence of the #MeToo movement, which has actually been around for years (created by Tarana Burke), but has just this year experienced a surge with the hashtag campaign and the deluge of accounts of sexual assault that have been shared. This movement opened the doors for a broader discussion of the power dynamics not simply in sexual relationships, but in the workplace, and in the world at large for women. The community of women stood up to say, look, we are still struggling to find equal footing here, and no one has been paying attention.
Within the #MeToo movement, we have seen an empowered women’s movement. One that is not afraid to take charge of the storyline, to decide how their stories are told and used. When debates are had within the movement, women are stepping in to lead them, asking others simply, “listen to women.” They have shown there is space to have complicated discussions about layered issues of oppression, assault, and gender power dynamics. That we don’t need to fear these conversations, but can have the strength to walk directly toward them. While some would like to sweep the #MeToo discussions under the rug, women continue to push them back to the forefront.
Looking to the Future
It is clear at this point that this current women’s movement is not backing down anytime soon. These women are on fire, and ready to fight the good fight. As time goes on, I look forward to two things in this movement – greater global involvement, and evolving goals.
First, the global involvement. The New York Times released photos of this past weekend’s Women’s March, with pictures from marches on every continent. Women (and men) from New York to Paris, San Francisco to London, took to the streets to protest this Administration, it’s disgregard for women’s rights, human rights, environmental rights, and the list goes on. The Women’s March has truly become a global movement. And while many are focused on the policies of the Trump Administration, concerns move beyond that. Women's Marches are used as a platform for women to make their voices heard when historically they have been silenced. I was thrilled last month when I saw video of the South Sudan Women’s March. It’s amazing how movements spread. They’re fighting different battles than American women, much more dangerous to be exact, but they come together under the banner of a Women’s March to bring peace to their country.
We have also seen the #MeToo movement spread beyond America, with the hashtag #WoYeShi in China, #BalanceTonPorc in France, #QuellaVoltaChe in Italy, #YoTambien in Spain, and so on. The struggles of oppression, sexual harassment, and sexual assault are not uniquely American, and thus the desire for their abolishment rings universal. I hope we continue to see more hashtags, and greater, deeper discussions of what it means to exist as a female in this world, how we keep each other safe, and how we address the issue of those impinging on our rights to live in safety.
Finally, as we move forward, I believe women have made great strides in taking control of the conversation, and wielding their power in order to push for change. The fight that still awaits us, and that we’ve been fighting for centuries, is for trust. What we’ve accomplished within these current movements is “listen to women.” What I hope we can accomplish next is “trust women.” Trust our stories, trust our voices, trust our leadership. That, my friends, is our next battle.
Each of these essays has touched on ways in which women have been able to amplify their voices, especially over the past year. What do you see as the barriers women still face, the systems or people still silencing their voices?
One of the barriers I’ve noticed, especially post-march this year, is the serious lack of news coverage of the women’s movement. The #MeToo movement has received coverage, but that has the flair of scandal to draw in the media. But not a single Sunday show outside of Joy Ann Reid had on a woman to talk about the march on January 21. Numbers were minimized when people did discuss the march, and I don't know about you, but I haven’t seen the New York Times doing in-depth reporting on women in the resistance. It’s as if the movement is not happening according the news media, and it’s so blatant one can’t help but wonder if it is intentional.
What lessons do you think Americans—or the world at large—can take away from the women’s movement over the past year?
Persistence. I think this movement is perpetually underestimated, but these women are undeterred, continue on, and are making great strides. Further, I think what we've learned is how to take our outrage, and channel that into tangible, daily actions focused on our larger goals. The leaders of the Women's March last year made sure to focus each marcher on the idea that they should join a local group, to create an organizing community in their home. I'd love to see the numbers on how many little activism clubs sprung up around the globe after that. Personally, I can't remember ever making as many phone calls to Congress, or writing letters to my Senator, but post-Women's March I made sure to do those things regularly. To continue taking small actions each day, slowly building those small actions into my ongoing civic duty.
It is quite apparent that each of us has been doing a lot of reading on these topics. What are some books, essays, or articles you think are “must reads” for folks interested in learning more about women in the resistance?
Ok, I actually really did like Hillary’s book What Happened. It’s raw and personal, and she talks a lot about what it was like to be a woman in the midst of that election. I also enjoy reading Lauren Duca, who first hit the scene with her essay last year, "Donald Trump is Gaslighting America." The thing I like about Duca is not only does she write generally smart political commentary, but her goal is also to bring teen girls into the discussion. She's writing trending political pieces for Teen Vogue, which is not something I thought I'd see, and I love it.
And lastly, if you haven’t already, it's important to take some time to look back to some of our best feminist theorists. I finally got my copy of bell hooks’ Feminist Theory back from my mother, so I shall add that one to the list. But there are many, many more. I encourage you to go and explore.
Lastly, I know each of us marched last year in the Women’s March, and then also attended this year. What reflections, if any do you have on where we were last January, and where we are now?
I think last year there was a newness to this broad activism. Long-time activists perhaps found this old hat, but there were many out at last year’s march who had never been to a protest before, who I think didn’t quite understand it was going to take more commitment than that one day. I recall confusion in the crowd as folks tried to learn the standard protest chants, and weren’t sure how or where to move. After a year of the Trump presidency, we’re all seasoned activists. I think previously we were all a bit naive about what this was going to take, and now, at this point, we are no longer naive. We are determined, committed, and strategizing.
Overall, I would say the message of the march last year felt along the lines of "this can't happen here!" Where as the message this year was more along the lines of, "this is enough, and we're here to put a stop to it." It will take America a long time to heal from the Trump presidency, if we ever do. But I do like to look for the small glimmers of hope, the upside in things, and I do think there is something beautiful in the rising of the resistance. There is something exciting and powerful in the level of activism, commitment, and damnit, lady power in America right now.