This weekend my three daughters and I marched in the Women’s March on Washington in our city. I was initially hesitant about taking three kids to a rally that could be overwhelming over the lunch hour. Sometimes you need to get off the couch and make a stand. My partner and I decided it was important to be there and while she couldn’t go, I could. So I packed a bag of food, bundled up the kids and off we went.
Why the Women’s March was important
Women are not equal
I believe women are equal. I believe we are all equal. That said, we are not all equal, not before the law, not in our treatment by governments, businesses, institutions, religions or even by individuals. I am a straight, white man and as such I am accorded a status in most things that is not available to most women or people of colour. I do not worry about being pulled over while I am driving because of the colour of my skin. I can trust that the police will not likely shoot me if I do get pulled over. I am generally paid what I am worth for the work that I do. Legislatures do not debate my right to access health care or make decisions about my own body. I do not have to worry that I will be beaten or arrested because of who I love or how I identify. Basically I am safe and I do not face significant barriers to doing what I want to do in my life.
Dina Leygerman wrote an excellent piece outlining all the ways in which women are not equal and the reasons that we all need to keep fighting.
Donald Trump (and the Republicans) do not trust women
In less than a week since Trump’s inauguration he and the Republicans have issued an executive order banning funding any international organizations that mention abortion as a part of discussions on family planning. He signed this order affecting the reproductive rights of millions of women around the world surrounded by seven men.
The Republicans in the House of Representatives have passed legislation that will, if passed by the Republican-controlled Senate and signed by Trump, reduce the numbers of private insurers willing or able to pay for abortions, even if it is a privately funded insurance plan.
Donald Trump is going to appoint an anti-choice justice to the Supreme Court. This is what he committed to during the campaign and all signs point to him fulfilling this commitment.
Add to these actions the plans to scrap the affordable care act and the provisions that protect pregnant and breast-feeding women, reduce the cost of birth control and the plan to defund Planned Parenthood, Donald Trump is clearly demonstrating that he doesn’t think women or their health is important.
National media don’t value the voices of women
On the day of the Women’s March on Washington, which according to some, was the largest single day protest in the world; CNN convened a panel of eight men and one woman to comment on the women’s march. This panel aired at ten pm. Surely they could have found an equal number of women to participate in this panel to discuss the demonstration and news of the day. They clearly demonstrated that they didn’t feel it was important to include perspectives from more women or women of colour.
Media think women are the only capable parents
New York Times ran an article on the horrible suffering of men left behind to parent when their partners left town to demonstrate for equality. They later apologized for this article. This article is not representative of all media or even everything the New York Times produces. The fact that it was written and published does however demonstrate that there is work to be done. The writer and editors clearly thought this was an ok story to run at the time.
There are multiple problems with this article. 1. It continues the stereotype that men are incompetent parents without the women around. 2. It continues the stereotype that women’s place is in the home, or at Starbucks drinking coffee after they do yoga. 3. The article is focused on men on a day that should have been all about women and the reasons for marching. 4. It was about dads being parents and there is no way that counts as news. It happens everyday and there would never be a comparable story written about mothers parenting when the dads leave town for a demonstration. This article is straight-up sexist in every way.
I am not going to provide any examples of this because I don’t want to inadvertently subject anyone to additional attacks.
We have all heard stories and/or know (primarily) women who have been attacked online for stating their opinions. Mostly typically these attacks come as a result of making a comment or writing an article that challenges patriarchy. Sometimes – as was the case this week with a fellow Ottawa writer – it starts with the inclusion of the word feminism in a tweet. In this case she was called fat, bitch and terrorist within minutes by men online. Sadly this is not a rare or isolated situation.
Female politician and public figures are regularly subjected to attacks of this nature. Our Premier in Ontario happens to be a lesbian and she is regularly subjected to homophobic and sexist abuse that has nothing to do with the policies of her government.
I have had guys come after me on twitter a few times, but I can generally swat them away because the attacks are stupid, ignorant and they have not so far been personal attacks. I know of writers who have had to shut their sites down, deactivate their social media accounts and call the police due to the threats they have received.
As long as these idiots continue to feel it is safe for them to personally attack, demean and threaten women (and men) who challenge their misguided notions of masculinity, we need to stand up. The strength of community demonstrated at the women’s marches needs to also exist online to respond to and shut down these trolls.
Outdated ideas of work
Governments and employers don’t provide flexible work environments or parental leave for both parents. A man was fired in New Hampshire for taking time to be present at the time of his child’s birth. Outdated notions of work and gender mean that in most workplaces it is only women who are allowed time off to care for their child after the child is born and often in the US, the time off allowed is minimal. In Canada we have a relatively generous parental leave program in terms of time. While our system theoretically is available for both parents to share, it is most often the mother (who gave birth) who takes the majority of the time.
Fathers, regardless of whether they are same sex or opposite sex parents, are given less lee-way to take parental leave due to gendered expectations and norms of women as primary parents. Both Josh Levs and Anne-Marie Slaughter do a great job of documenting this issue as well as addressing the opportunities for creating more flexible work environments for parents and caregivers, which also benefit employers through worker satisfaction and productivity.
Feminism needs to include all women
This is something I have only learned about this year or perhaps only come to understand this year. As I mentioned above, I am a straight white guy. I identify as a feminist because I believe women are equal to men. My believing it doesn’t make it true. Most women are not treated equally to men. I have heard the term ‘intersectional feminism’ previously and I have seen, although not participated in, discussions (amongst women) about the nature of feminism and the need to ensure that women of colour are included.
This year I left a Facebook group that I was a part of because the discussion there often deteriorated into fighting between white women and women of colour. I left partly because I felt the conversation was getting too academic for me – I am a practical person and not an academic by any means. I also left in part because I didn’t feel there was space for me there. In retrospect I think I also left because I was uncomfortable. I felt like I was getting yelled at all the time even though I didn’t often comment.
Since that point I have come to realize that maybe I just wasn’t listening. In my day-to-day life I don’t interact with many people of colour. I work in a very white office environment. I have some friends of colour, but we aren’t close friends and race and their experiences with racism have not been part of the conversation. One of those friends has been sharing stories this year and combined with some of the discussion around Black Lives Matter I have come to realize that in my attempt to be colour-blind in how I treat people I have put on blinders to the everyday racism and experiences faced by people of colour in my life and beyond.
I still don’t know where my place is when it comes to discussions of racism, or how I contribute to addressing the problem beyond calling out racist behaviour and speech when I encounter it. I am however listening more carefully and thinking more about and recognizing my privileges as compared to people of colour.
One of the things I noticed about the march I participated in was that it was mostly white women. I am not sure why that was the case. I could not hear any of the speakers at the event and I don’t know if there were any issues that came up during the organizing of the event in our city that led women of colour to feel excluded. I know why I marched, but don’t know why others chose not to participate. I do know that there are many movements within feminism and that women of colour have long felt excluded from the feminist movement as a whole.
That doesn’t mean that this march wasn’t important; on the contrary, it was important to help point out that women of colour are not having their issues heard or addressed and we all need to do a better job of hearing their voices and acting.
Rape and rape culture is still a thing
There is no better example of this than the case of Brock Turner, the rapist who decided it would be ok to rape an unconscious woman. He was then sentenced to six months in prison and released after three months. His father felt that was a steep punishment for “20 minutes of action.”
Turner was portrayed as an athlete who had sex with a girl he met at a party and as the wronged party in the case because of the impact the charges were having on his swimming career. His dad backed him up and no one admitted any guilt or responsibility.
The Turner case is only one of thousands, probably tens of thousands every year. That doesn’t even begin to touch on all the cases that don’t make it to trial and all the sexual assaults and every day harassment that women face that is not reported to police.
The women’s march is important because women are still blamed for getting raped while drunk, or getting raped while wearing clothes that someone felt were sexy. As long as there are men who feel entitled to women’s bodies and as long as there are women who are blamed for the actions of their attackers and harassers, there is a need for a women’s march.
This is a whole of society issue that needs to be addressed by governments, legal systems, employers, co-workers, schools, parents, athletes, media, women and men.
We still use phrases like “boys will be boys” and “man up“
These are probably the two phrases that irritate me the most. ‘Boys will be boys’ is used to excuse all kinds of bad behaviour by boys and men. Both ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘man up’ are used to form the walls of the man box. They are used to constrain boys and men in their self-expression. The message is given that boys who cry or otherwise show emotions other than anger or happiness will not be boys. They need to ‘man up’ and demonstrate their stoic masculinity. They are part of creating a toxic definition of masculinity that leads to things like rape culture, homophobia, a view of women as second class, domestic violence and male-on-male violence.
Donald Trump is a classic example of this toxic masculinity. He responds to any perceived affront to his ego with bravado and claims designed to bolster both his self-esteem and image of strength. His responses to references to his small hands and the size of the crowds at his inauguration are both good examples of this.
With phrases like ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘man up’ we reinforce the kind of masculinity that impinges on boys’ and men’s emotional and psychological growth and as a result we end up with insecure, dangerous men like Donald Trump. Women are just as guilty as men of using these phrases and we need the help of the women’s movement to help free men from the shackles of the man box if we are to succeed in challenging gender norms and achieving equality.
The march gave me the opportunity to figure out my place
As I was marching with my daughters we passed a number of reporters and videographers reporting on the march. It occurred to me that we might be likely targets for a reporter to interview. A man at a women’s march, cute kids to interview and we were walking along the side of the road where the crowd was thinner so my kids didn’t get overwhelmed by the crowd. As we approached a reporter I started thinking about what I would say if the reporter asked why I was marching.
Then it occurred to me that I shouldn’t say anything at all. I have done lots of media over the years for the various jobs and volunteer positions I have held, some random instances when I was stopped on the street or participating in demonstrations and a few even as a result of this blog. I am comfortable in front of a camera and am ok sticking to my key messages if I plan them out ahead of time.
This time however it occurred to me that the media story should not be about a dad taking his daughters to their first demonstration – well the first one they would remember anyway. The key messages needed to come from all the women all around me.
That led me to my next realization, which I have been moving towards all year without being quite sure where I was heading. I have been trying to sort out how to be a better ally to people who have less privilege than me. How to be as supportive as possible on issues that I don’t know a lot about. Finally the message I have been reading and hearing from Black Lives Matter and from women sunk in. I just need to shut up. Straight White Men like me have taken up enough of the airtime and space on issues that are outside of our experiences. Much like the CNN panel on the march, we get to be experts more often that people of colour and women. It is time for me to shut up, sit back and do a better job listening to other voices. I will continue to use this space to write about what men and dads can do to help make change. Whenever I am in spaces where there are people sharing their lived experiences, whether women, people of colour or indigenous peoples I will keep my mouth shut and listen and only ask questions if invited to do so.
My daughters were amazed!
In my small world, the march was important because my daughters were amazed at how many people were there. They keep talking about how we thought we were at the end of the march after coming out from a bathroom break along the way, only to discover that there were still people behind us as far as we could see.
I hope they absorbed some of the messages of the day that we will continue to speak about with them about over the years. I do think that participating in this march will be a touchpoint that we refer back to and remind them of as a demonstration of the numbers of women and men who are working to make change for girls and women.12 reasons that this dad thinks the Women's March on Washington is important.Click To Tweet
More work to be done
This march was just one day. It made a big impression in the media and on people who participated, especially those who had not demonstrated before or not for a long time. I heard a couple of women standing behind us at the speeches talking about how this was their first demonstration since the 1980’s. It is great that they felt sufficiently motivated to come out. I also hope they continue to be motivated to do the work that follows.
Obviously women have been working to make change for a long time and this march is just a step along the way. Demonstrations and rallies are just one tool in the activist’s toolbox. Sometimes they make a difference in and of themselves. More often it is the daily grind of work being done to push for policy and legislative changes, get more women elected, push employers to make changes and generally raise awareness and change societal norms.
The march was important to reinvigorate those who felt beaten down by Trump’s election and the emboldening of the racists, sexists and bigots. It was an important symbol of the resistance. It was not however the change you seek. There are many more steps in this march and we all need to keep moving and resisting those who would push us backwards.
For those of you who identify as female or any other group of people in the US targeted by Trump and the Republicans in the US, know that we stand with you. You will have a challenging time under this president. Let us know how and when we can help.
For those looking for next steps, the US organizers have put together these suggestions for action.