Last weekend, I spent a chilly, overcast day with several hundred thousand other women and men of all ages, colors and creeds on the Mall in Washington DC. Several things compelled me to go to the Women’s March on Washington, but one of my goals was to capture some of the stories of women who would be attending with me – stories that also compelled them to travel to the nation’s capital to make their voices heard.
As I was traveling, several friends contacted me to wish me well and tell me that I was marching for them because they couldn’t attend a march at home. I cannot put into words how humbled I was by their sincere gratitude for my willingness to do something that I was not at all hesitant to do. It felt a little silly to say “you’re welcome” when I would have gone for the sheer enjoyment of traveling, seeing my brother and his family, eating amazing Lebanese food, and getting to hang out with the friends who flew out with me. Standing up for women’s rights was kind of the cherry on top.
At some point, I realized that if each of the 200,000 attendees that march organizers were anticipating in DC were marching for others, we would be representing an amazing number of women across the country. To our astonishment, the total estimate announced Sunday was around 500,000. Considering how many friends I was representing, there were around 5 million people represented by marchers in DC alone.
Extrapolate that out for the total number of people marching in the entire U.S. – estimated at 3 million – and 30 MILLION people were represented by the women and men who marched last Saturday. Even if you cut that in half to account for people who weren’t representing as many as I was, 15 million is not paltry. Obviously, a lot of people felt strongly about the mission and vision of the event.
But Monday, social media started looking sad. Friends of mine were sharing status updates they found online – some were pretty hateful – about the Women’s March. These posts didn’t just communicate a lack of information about the purpose of the women’s march or ask genuine questions to learn why women marched, they directly questioned the need for the event at all, and in some cases, harshly criticized marchers with personal attacks and name-calling.
Now, I and others like me could simply scroll past these posts and move on, choosing to “go high” when others “go low” (thanks Michelle!). For these situations, I am particularly fond of the “unfollow” feature on Facebook. On the other hand, I strongly believe I have a responsibility to respond. Because, while I most definitely marched for women of color (who have been marching a hell of a lot longer than I have), and my LGBTQIA friends and family, immigrant women raising children my son attends school with, women with disabilities, victims of sexual violence, women who worship in mosques and temples, and the rights of my daughters to be in control of their own reproductive health and earn what they deserve in the workplace, I also marched for women who aren’t aware their rights are being threatened, and who lash out against things they don’t understand with criticism and disdain. To those women, I say “It’s okay if you don’t understand why I chose to march (or even oppose the stated reasons for the march online) – I marched for you anyway.”
All the freedoms women enjoy today – our freedom to make our own decisions about our healthcare, the ability to take out a loan in our own name, the right to vote, the ability of our daughters to play sports just like your sons, the right to speak out against sexual harassment and demand equal pay in the workplace – ALL of those freedoms were won in part by women who were willing to march. Some of them may were probably told they don’t speak for their peers, but they still marched. I am grateful for those women. And last Saturday, I was proud to take my place in line with those women to keep those freedoms from disappearing.
At the very root of everything Tribe of Women stands for is the desire to create a culture of women supporting women. We have more similarities than differences – we must remember that. I spoke to dozens of women at the march about our mission last Saturday. I watched eyes light up and smiles break across faces when I proposed the idea that we can come from different backgrounds and have different lives and goals, and STILL STAND TOGETHER.
I think I can safely say that we have all been the victim of the normalization of “mean girl” culture in our society: the judgement and criticism that transpires among women, directed toward women they disagree with. The belief that women are inherently mean to each other. We have witnessed useless debates over breast vs. bottle, work outside the home vs. staying home, judging the size of one’s family, are leggings pants or pajamas (yes, some debates are this silly)… the list seems endless.
But in the end, we are all women. We should be demanding the right to decide for ourselves what is right for us, as individuals, based on our own personal life-choices and beliefs. We should be encouraging each other to make those decisions even if they are not the decisions we would make for ourselves. And we should be able to make those personal decisions without suffering the backlash of other women questioning the decisions we have made for ourselves.
It’s simple, really: If you want to understand why I marched, I am happy to share. If you don’t want to march, you don’t have to. But every day, whether or not you know why, I’m still marching for you.
— Laurie Marshall