Choosing Discomfort: Time to March

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Recently my husband complained about the weather. “I’m done with winter,” he said, glancing out our kitchen window at the muted gray sky. All the snow had melted leaving behind the messier side of the season.

I agreed. Winter without snow looks, and feels, especially dreary. But I know the monotony of these cold spare months will eventually turn into spring, and the contrast between the two will be a gift.

I’ve always felt this way about seasons, about life. How we need the light and the dark, grief and joy, to feel fully alive. If we want to taste all the flavors, we must drink out of every cup, even the less appetizing ones.

Choosing the cup of discomfort, for example, instead of ignoring it. This has been on the periphery of my mind for years, but it rose swiftly to the surface after my country’s recent presidential election result.

What a wake up call that was, to many people I know, in particular, white people. Getting more particular, white women. Even more so: Myself.

Women of color, people of color, were not surprised. There was a scathing and funny Saturday Night Live sketch about this “phenomenon.” A group of white liberal city dwellers (in a neighborhood that looked suspiciously like my old one in Brooklyn) choked on their glasses of wine watching the election results while their two black friends rolled their eyes and howled in laughter at their ignorance.

It’s uncomfortable being called out as a rube, even more so as a perpetrator, but that’s what you are when you stand by and do nothing. When you’re even a little surprised by the widespread virulent and rampant racism that has been around for decades, centuries, that people of color live with every single day.

A writing friend wrote a short and fiery post entitled, MLK Isn’t A Holiday. “It is a call to action,” she said. But more often than not, for white people especially, it’s a day where many Instagram and Facebook feeds are rife with hopeful images and love filled quotes, mine included. Then, nothing. Until next year, Dr. King.

I squirmed in recognition. I have been that person. I am that person in some ways, but I’m changing. It’s a daily practice. It takes effort, and often, it’s uncomfortable.

This Saturday I’ll be attending the Women’s March on Washington. I signed up in November, a week after the election. Early on there were rumblings of discontent. About leadership, about the proposed name (The Million Woman March, which had been an African American women’s protest in Philadelphia in 1997).

Some white women couldn’t understand why there was a controversy at all. Why they were being asked to “check their privilege” and let women of color lead the way (literally and figuratively).

But the women who sowed the seeds of this march knew why. As momentum gathered, it was clear that after an election where 53% of white women voted for Trump, they alone could absolutely not lead this march.

I was relieved when minority activists took the helm and the march was renamed. The Women’s March on Washington is a respectful nod to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous March on Washington in 1963, and came with a blessing from his daughter, Bernice King.

Racism within feminism has been a sticking point for decades. Transferring the bulk of leadership to minority activists was a chance for this march, and feminism, to go broader and deeper than the core concepts of equal pay and reproductive freedom. Those rights are vital, of course, but they are not the only ones that matter.

This quote from a recent Vogue article explores the layers of meaning behind the march:

“Where past waves of feminism, led principally by white women, have focused predominantly on a few familiar concerns—equal pay, reproductive rights—this movement, led by a majority of women of color, aspires to be truly intersectional. So though the Women’s March has partnered with organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America—and though second-wave feminist icon Gloria Steinem is now an honorary co-chair [along with Harry Belafonte] —the march’s purview is far more sweeping. Women are not a monolith, solely defined by gender; we are diverse, we represent half of this country, and any social justice movement—for the rights of immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, the LGBTQ community, for law enforcement accountability, for gun control, for environmental justice—should count as a “women’s issue.”” 

Women’s rights are human rights, to quote Hillary Clinton, and on Saturday, January 21st 2017, the day after the presidential inauguration, women and men are coming together to raise their voices and their fists in protest.

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Can’t make it to Washington DC? Check out this incredible list of sister marches across the country – wait, let me amend this – across the globe.

https://www.womensmarch.com/sisters

My Feminism is Political

Today I voted in what I believe is the most important election of my lifetime.

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I voted with butterflies in my stomach, but instead of the thick suffocating fear that has been weighing me down these past few months, I felt a lightness. I felt hopeful.

My husband and I waited in a long, but quickly moving line after dropping off the kids at school. Despite all my reading material, I didn’t crack open one book. We ended up standing behind some new friends from our daughter’s school. While chatting with them, a poll worker came over to write down our names. The friend spelled out his last name and then said something like, my wife’s is the same.

The older woman with the pen and paper asked, “Should I put wife as your name?” The husband looked aghast. “Oh, no, that would not go over well.” My husband agreed, saying, “Especially in this election,” and I quickly added, “Or any election.” We all laughed a little. I’m still unsure if the woman was being sincere or not. It’s hard to tell these days.

Some of my friends and family are probably (and others definitely) voting for Trump. We currently live in rural Pennsylvania, on the eastern border of the state, close to Philadelphia, but still. This is not the liberal Brooklyn where I lived for 13 years.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been wearing my feminist gold tank top as often as possible, including to the polls today.

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I wore a cardigan sweater over it, because it was chilly this morning, but I deliberately left it open. I’m proud of who I am, who I’ve been since I was old enough to know the definition of the word, feminist. It has always baffled me when smart, strong, intelligent women deny this part of their identities. How can they, when the definition of equality is so simple and clear?

I love writer Elissa Schappell’s off the cuff definition during her fantastic interview with Mary Louise Parker who seemed to waffle at the word. Here’s a brief excerpt from Salon.com:

MLP: What’s a feminist again? I feel like it’s an elastic term, isn’t it?

ES: I suppose the simplest definition would be believing that women are entitled to the same rights, opportunities and protections under the law as men. Equal pay for equal work, complete sovereignty over their bodies …

MLP: As opposed to being a sociopath? You can’t argue with those points.

ES: But people do. In this day and age, calling yourself feminist, whether you are a man or woman, has become a political statement.

Yes. Yes, it has. That’s why I wore my shirt today, and yesterday, and all the days earlier. After chatting with the woman in front of me, whose political affiliation I wasn’t sure of, I decided to take a chance and flash her my shirt. Her eyes lit up. I love it, she said.

Then we talked about reading books to our daughters about influential and powerful women, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton who fought for the right we were about to exercise, and Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston marathon, who had to hide in bushes before leaping out into a pack of all male runners.

Like Hillary, who is (hopefully) about to step into what was formerly a man’s domain. The Presidency of the United States. For years I felt a kind of ambivalence toward Hillary, no doubt in part because of the media’s negative spin and certain family members’ less than stellar opinions, but during this election cycle my ambivalence has transformed into deep admiration.

Her eloquence, strength, and poise in the face of misogyny and abject hatred is awe-inspiring. I honestly don’t know how any woman could watch that second town hall debate and not feel sickened or at least uneasy at the way Trump stalked her on that stage. He tried to intimidate her, shake her up, as men do when they hover and physically insert themselves into a woman’s personal space, but Hillary DID NOT FLINCH.

After I told my daughter a highly edited version about that night’s debate, she wondered if maybe Hillary didn’t see him. “Oh, she saw him alright,” I told her. “She knew he was there, but she didn’t let that stop her. She is tremendously strong,” I said, “and brave.”

And now, after weeks of mudslinging and false accusations, after what is already being called one of the ugliest and cutthroat of presidential races (from both sides), here we are. Election day. This is it. The end of the line.

Somehow, I’m not afraid anymore. I was inspired by this post from Canadian author Kerry Clare, who baked a victory cake yesterday and then wrote about it.

At first the confidence of her title concerned me. I’ve remained on high alert throughout these past weeks, tempering my excitement with caution. The idea of assuming victory and then being wrong, was too devastating. I chose to remain pessimistically optimistic, if that makes any sense. Until I read her post. It wasn’t about confidence or assumption at all. It was about faith. A word I have a tricky history with, but have been coming around to in recent years.

Faith. A belief in goodness, a belief that no matter the outcome, everything will be alright.

The other day I told my husband that we have to prepare our daughter, who suffers from paralyzing anxiety, that Hillary may not win. We’ve been careful to edit and shield her from the ugliest moments of this campaign, but she knows enough to sense our concern and misgivings. She knows enough to feel afraid.

“We have to tell her everything will be okay no matter what.”

“You mean, lie to her?” my husband said.

“Yeah, kind of.” Because at the time I didn’t believe my words.

Honestly, I’m still not sure I do, but I’m going to have faith that everything will be okay.

My father said these words to me on Sunday, after I expressed disbelief that the next time we saw each other we’d have a new president. This is my father, who I love dearly, who I assumed would be voting for Trump since despite being a registered Democrat (from his younger days) usually votes Republican.

When my daughter asked him who he was voting for, I cringed, but then he shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said, looking genuinely confused. “Maybe I’ll vote for myself.”

I laughed, with amusement and relief.

Then later when we hugged goodbye, he said these words to me: Everything is going to be okay, which I know he meant not only about the election, but life in general.

So, I decided to go for it. I’m choosing faith and love over fear and anger.

Either way, the fight for equality, freedom, love, and compassion is far from over. In some ways, it’s just beginning.

I’m most concerned now about what might happen after the election. I’m worried about possible violence, civil unrest, hate crimes, retaliation. Whoever is the next president has a shit ton of work to do when it comes to knitting back together the currently divided and divisive country.

And yet, as a wise relative recently said, there is a reason we are called the United States of America. I just hope we can live up to our name and find our way back to one another peacefully.

See you on the other side.

-Dana, xo