Women Just Keep Marching...it's so good, and so bad. Some thoughts (i.e. many thoughts)
I have been reading an enormous narrative non-fiction for the last few months. I never pick up books this big because I always give up halfway and get distracted when my next book arrives in the mail. This is a genuine dysfunction in my life. But someone I respect a great deal recommended this massive book to me so I went to Barns and Nobel to make the purchase. This is a Pulitzer Prize winner by Isabel Wilkerson titled, The Warmth of Other Suns.
Buy it and read it.
Take it in.
Let it order your perspectives on the racial issues we face in a day and age where the media yanks us every which way. Wilkerson writes about the Great Migration of the blacks from the south to the north and west. Life for blacks in the south was cruel and outright evil; the train lines to the north and west, they believed, were the only hope to unlock the chains around their feet. Unfortunately, moving out west or up north didn’t bring the respect they had hoped for.
This essay is not about the book, though I could write many pages on it; I am writing about the Women’s March that took place in Washington, DC a few weeks ago. Millions of women took their stand against the political tone of the present election. My mind gets sideswiped with all the brouhaha as I have seen so many thoughtless people rant boldly, but unintelligently. My heart pumps fiercely for justice like the hearts of so many of these women. I have been face-down over this election. And yet, maybe we define injustice a little differently. Without a doubt, Isabel Wilkerson has helped me define it with more accuracy. To understand the mistreatment of humans, we must look at past events and even the present tyranny both in the US and other countries. Otherwise, we sound entitled, immature, and spoiled. We should not ignore areas of injustice, or let them twist a rope around us one wrap at a time until we finally choke. But we must keep mistreatment in perspective. Likewise, it is imperative to recognize our pattern as a nation; we react to the extremes we have endorsed by swinging so far in the opposite direction that we make a mess on the other side of the line.
The first women’s march was held in Washington, DC in 1913. This particular march took place before Woodrow Wilson came into office. The original program encouraged women to “march in the spirit of protest against the present political organization of society, from which woman are excluded.” It was formed around women’s suffrage: the right to vote. This was a worthy march. Women being refused a ballot was wrong. Truthfully, women have had valid reason to react to the subjugation going on for years. Sometimes it is difficult to even comprehend what we have come from. Our voices have been smothered, but with persistence we have slowly found the mic. Women have been relegated to domestic responsibilities believing that is the extent to which they would impact the world. Being a mom and running a household is a privilege, but women cannot be pigeonholed into this role. Women were not allowed to vote until 1920. Even so, it was not until 1984 that a woman was chosen by a major party to run, Geraldine Ferraro from NY for Vice President. It was not until 1981 that Sandra O’Connor was appointed as the first woman to be on the Supreme Court. Education has been another battle. Harvard opened its doors in 1636 but it was in 1980 that women were attending in equal numbers to men. Until 1978 with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act women could be fired from their jobs if they got pregnant. Women were not able to have a credit card until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed in 1974. The examples go on and on. The more we consider these realities, the more we can understand and even celebrate women marching for the rights that have been hard fought for.
Yet for every good thing to be passionate about, a separate issue arises. Even at this first march there were contradictions and confusion. These ladies were fighting for a voice, for respect, to not be dismissed. Valid things. However, these same ladies threatened to boycott the march if women of color attended. The inconsistency is glaring. We get sideways, driven by the euphoric passion of a mission and soon enough come face to face with how our own ideas break down, or even surface our own participation in corruption. The moment we feel entitled, a leak erupts in our philosophy. The right to vote was a virtuous fight. To have an education, a credit card, a voice, to have a say, for our opinions and thoughts to matter. This is upstanding. However, to turn around and look another group of women in the eye and tell them they should not have a voice, they should not have a say, and their opinions and thoughts do not matter, is a hypocritical stance.
On January 21, 2017, women across the country grabbed their jackets, hats, gloves, and signs and gathered in Washington DC to rally, to listen to speakers, writers, celebrities and political advocates. Every issue represented. Millions of women all over the country followed suit with all their voices, all their anger, all their passion, all their gratitude, all their ideas, all their fears, all their hopes, all their celebrations. The election of President Trump incited this movement. A man who has degraded women, people with disabilities, minorities and has boldly offended other candidates to their faces, will not be received well. Likewise, anyone taking a stance against abortion is going to endure some fire.
There are always valid concerns at the root of events such as this one. Strong voices to raise awareness. But similar to the march in 1913, irony shrouds the program. There were a few anti-abortion groups who signed up to march. They were welcomed and their attendance was named in The Atlantic. Soon after the publication came out, organizers had the pro-life groups removed from the list of partners. Backwards: the women who work to protect the unborn were slighted. This reaches farther than the march. If one were to search the New Wave Feminists on Wikipedia, they will see a tag, “This article is being considered for deletion…The neutrality of this article is being disputed.” It seems if a woman has a pro-life stance she is not welcome to a movement of women who are supposedly fighting injustice. This surfaces hypocrisy. A break down in the movement. Every woman should have a voice except those who are pro-life.
The tone of this march was that of persecution and the dire need to protect our freedom as women. When I consider the discrimination Martin Luther King, Jr. opposed, I can see how he was willing to give up his heartbeat for the freedom of his people. Isabel Wilkerson tracks the insidious evil of racism in her book. This was far more than just the stories we are most familiar with from history class of segregation on the bus or separate water fountains. A man almost beaten to death because he asked the clerk at the store for a receipt . A black person driving their car behind a white person and not allowed to pass regardless of how slow the white individual drove. Blacks in NYC and Chicago having to pay twice as much for an apartment two times smaller than that of white people. White people in the south fining $20,000 to anyone from the north recruiting a black person in the south to work for better wages. Black individuals trying to work out a deal with funeral homes to escape across country in a coffin. And many did it. A group of white men forcing a black man into the woods to torture and beat him to the point of near death before a scheduled hanging. Black people having a “colored Bible” in the courtrooms. Historical landmarks such as the Cicero Riot in Chicago in 1951 where a “college-educated, well-mannered, and looked like movie stars…” black family found a perfect apartment to meet their needs. But this was an all-white neighborhood which led to protests, rage and eventually 4000 people gathering to throw rocks and bricks and fire-bombing the entire building. “The rioters overturned police cars and threw stones at the firefighters who were trying to put the blaze out.”
THIS is oppression. THIS is injustice. THIS is hate and cruelty. Women today, me included, have no true sense of this level of societal abuse. We have exploitation we face for sure. And individually, many women have severe abuse going on in their homes. But the passion to march now, with such rage, must be tempered with perspective. And this is what seems off. We should always act with wisdom concerning what we fight about and how we execute our cause.
At this recent march in Washington, DC, Madonna called this “an age of tyranny.” Ashley Judd said she “feel[s] Hitler in these streets.” To anyone who has survived the torture and starvation of the Holocaust, I am wondering if they would disagree. Outrage was voiced regarding taxes that women pay on feminine products and the validation of the LGBTQ community. But the anger seemed to be directed mostly at the threat on women’s rights concerning abortion. For years I have observed our nation rise up on this topic. After careful inspection the argument breaks down with inconsistencies. If we look closely, we can spot it. One scenario refers to a fetus a “baby.” In another scenario, a fetus is called a “tissue.” Roe v. Wade protects the rights of women to have an abortion. However, another law conflicts. In 2004 the government passed The Unborn Victims of Violence Act. This was established to assure the rights of a child in utero. The law states that if someone causes harm or death to a baby in utero, it would be considered an entirely separate offense from the offense to the mother. Two crimes. Likewise, when certain medications are suggested, a doctor must be completely sure a woman is not pregnant before signing off on the prescription since taking it can harm the child. This is confusing. When a woman walks into an abortion clinic, why would this procedure not be considered “a danger to the child” in utero? The question of if a woman desires to have a baby or if she does not want to have a baby, seems to then determine the justification of the action. If she does, we must take all precaution to keep this growing child safe and healthy. We must protect it. If a woman does not want to have the child, we must defend her right to abort it. There is a mass call to ignore basic contradictions such as these. And most of the time, we willing do so. Mark Twain warned us, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.”
I laugh when I hear myself say, “When I was a kid…” Pre-internet days seem like another lifetime. We all agree that life is moving in a fast-forward pace. Some things have dramatically changed. The manner of women is one metamorphosis for each of us to reflect on. In many ways, this is much-needed growth. Women have needed a voice. Men have needed our voices and they still do, especially in the church. There is a quality women bring that man do not have. But like everything, there is a flip side to the positive. Women have reacted by shoving anything aside to get to the front of the line. Whenever any of us are driven by our rights, we can lose perspective of the greater good for society. We will compromise many things for this goal. It is in our nature. Women used to be known as the protectors and defenders of children. The rights of children always took priority over our own. Adrenaline would rush through a woman’s veins and she would perform heroic responses on behalf of a child. In fact, women were known to risk their own lives to save the life of a child. The priority of children looks oddly different today; it has taken a different shape. Too often a child is an accessory to highlight the identity of a woman. She forgets who she is if not for her children. Kids feel this pressure and grow to resent it. Sadly, this priority is not about the children, it is subtly about an image. If children are useful, they matter. But if they aren’t, they are an option. The tension is always between making too much of them, or too little of them. In one post Instagram will have a picture of a woman 8 months pregnant in celebration of the ensuing birth, and a two second scroll down will flash a woman promoting “women’s choice” on a homemade sign. We want what works in the moment and we can find a valid reason to jump from side to side if the circumstance changes. At the root, we don’t want to be told “no.” It is a violation. And yet, in that, we assume our thinking on issues is always fair and trustworthy. Never to be challenged. The bulk of our society has accepted the mass carnage of children and now, refugees. This is how the Holocaust becomes a reality.
Oh, I could raise a little whoop-whoop with some of the speeches. Those at the march who stood up and confronted men on the objectification of women and the exchange of intimacy for sexual advances, caused many to cheer and the dignity rising up in their blood. In an over-sexualized society, this message should be broadcasted on and on. Sexual assault is a result of this objectification and is grossly dismissed. This is a worthy message as the very dignity of women is attacked by such crimes. We must be careful to dignify ourselves as well. Too often we want attention from men so badly that we will compromise our self-respect. The answer is always going to require us to accept some of our own responsibility in what has gone wrong (I am not speaking about sexual aggression or rape, rather using sex for power). We are not innocent. None of us. A lack of self-reflection can blind us and our society as a whole, much like what we are seeing today.
From the standpoint of one who follows Jesus of Nazareth, I hear his call to love humanity by placing my own “rights” behind the rights of others, especially those who cannot defend themselves. Children, refugees, those who are disabled. He has even gone so far as to say I am to love those who are enemies. This is not self-hatred, but rather a global awareness of our neighbor. We get confused about self-respect. Personal dignity is not about getting what I want, or doing what I want at the expense of everything else. It’s not about “no one telling me what to do,” or rigorous self-protection. Many of us who fight for women’s rights have been guilty of this mentality. Dignity is living with purpose, humility, sacrifice and integrity. It’s admitting when I’m wrong and believing my wrongs don’t define me. It means that when I respect others, I actually respect myself. It means I value my body and consider my femininity both sacred and meaningful. Some of us have cried out against the objectification of women when all the while we are objectifying ourselves. To deny my own rights is not easy for me. I am single and 45 years old. Most often I think of myself above anything: “It’s my money, it’s my time and it’s my choice to do with all of it what I want.” Slowly, this self-absorption turns on me. My anger rises when someone or something gets in my way. Impatience surfaces when my plans are hindered. I resent people who land on a different side of the political fence. Envy gnaws at my bones when I watch others get what I think I deserve. Comparison starts to discolor my kind demeanor and a competitive spirit causes tension in my relationships. But, putting others first…this leads to personal flourishing and the flourishing of those around me. Holding my money harms me and those in need around me. But generosity makes me less greedy and provides for someone else in need. Exploiting myself degrades me and those around me. But dignity leaves me at peace and respects those I’m in relationship with. Promoting only my opinion and disregarding the thoughts of others, makes me narrow and disrespectful. I do not have to agree with everyone, but in order to flourish, I will esteem them as a human. And when I am disagreed with, I can learn to accept that maybe, just maybe, someone on the other side has valid point to for me to consider.
We are all seeking a different kind of world than the one we live in. Many of these women brilliantly spoke to that. Strong education, influence in government and defending the least of these. We want to walk out our door and down the streets looking one another in the eye with kindness and respect. We can’t demand it and we can’t be disrespectful in order to try and obtain it. What would it look like if we began to march for those who are oppressed? What if we cared about fighting justice whether it impacted us directly or not. Where loving the marginalized is not a fight, but a service? Where we quietly step back and simply walk down the street doing our duty to the human race.
The secret is, if we believe in the gospel, we are already fought for and defended. Though undeserving, we have received favor. We have been given a voice and a say-so. We have been dignified, and every dark stain over us has been tossed into the deepest depth of the sea. I don’t have to fight for myself because I already have a place secured in a New Kingdom. It is VERY hard to believe this and allow it to settle me down. But it is true none the less. Strong and thick as slate.