As the sun gradually woke citizen’s across the Earth, on 21st January 2017, the global #WomensMarch got underway. There were 673 marches from the cities of Washington, Rome and Sydney to continents and countries as diverse as Antarctica, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Tanzania, Portugal, Mexico and Ecuador.
Attending was a complicated question for some women, for example, Jamilah Lemieux wrote about how she wasn’t ready for sisterhood with white women (WW), while Linda Rowles wished the focus had remained only on women’s issues:
You might even be mad at me, but no angrier than I am at the organizers for making this into a socialist protest for wealth redistribution, regulation of business and other economic goals that were promoted by Sanders and rejected by America.
There were various political complications, like Lemieux’s point that 53% of white women voted for Trump. In the New York Times, Asra Q, Nomanie reported on the event’s links to wealthy activist George Soros. Some conservative men were indignant that women were not marching to protest Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women:
However, the event didn’t start with George Soros, it started with Hawaiian grandmother Theresa Shook posting a event on Facebook one evening thinking it might get a handful of people together. Overnight, 300,000 people signed up.
The event snow-balled from there. The fact that it was so widely attended says something… The crowd numbers say something which is beyond Trump and bigger than Soros; something which may not have much to do with either of these men as individuals.
But what does it say?
I propose that it represents a new point of view that has been building for some time now. Fancy folk might call it a new ‘narrative’. But what to call it? Plain old ‘women’s empowerment movement?’ A Pink Spring?’ The emergence of a new sort of ideology and set of values? A new consciousness? A new form of alliance?
This ‘movement’ – for want of a better word – is reflected in millions of stories of millions of women around the world, and those women recognizing that – despite their different cultures and politics – they had something in common. They wished to draw a line about fairness and dignity for women. That was the key message.
There are too many background stories to list here, but you know them all: domestic violence; the lack of equal pay, opportunity and representation; rape culture and so on. Every woman has her own perspective on these issues and no one can speak for all, as no ‘man’ could claim to speak for all men.
So let me just speak for myself. I remember first feeling a distinct sense that change was needed, and was coming, in 2008-9, when two women emerged from horrific imprisonment in basements:
- Elisabeth Fritzl was freed from 24 years stuck in her father’s basement in Austria, where she was raped over 3,000 times
- Jaycee Lee Dugard was freed from a similar 18 year imprisonment in California.
As these women emerged, somehow still alive, I was in awe of their strength. Not only did they survive incredible cruelty, but they had also been mentally strong enough to put aside their own pain and focus upon caring for the children they bore while in captivity. But I was also shocked, to my core, about how brutally these women had been treated.
I came to see them as being a symbol of women’s strength and spirit, which had been locked away from the world for too long. At the same time, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo film premiered and we saw again, depravity and injustice, but also this time, a woman fighting back.
Since then, such moments and images have become more frequent. They’ve been like a slow drum-beat, gradually growing louder. Slap-in-your-face malicious cruelty towards women, such as the Delhi bus gang-rape in 2012, has been repeatedly unearthed and called out. It seemed that energetically, these types of stories, from around the world, were calling out to each other…
Was it that the women of this era were finding their voice? Was it that they faced very different sorts of challenges to the women before them? Challenges that were more hidden and insidious? Some very dark, like the subtle cultural influence of violent pornography. But perhaps now these women were starting to speak up, tell their stories and be seen.
Women’s brains and talents – ready to blossom…?
Similarly, statistics and investigations have revealed that some of our smartest women, like those working in STEM or training to become surgeons, still face great barriers and ludicrous injustices; like being expected to give out sexual favours in order to progress in their careers. Too many of our cleverest women are shackled, which hinders their ability to contribute to society. How much talent is blocked? A picture tells a thousand words. The below graph of Nobel Prize winners tells of past social/cultural structures, but also, of massive, latent, unrealized human potential.
Why did people march?
People turned out in big numbers today not because of Trump, but because of what was represented during the US campaign. Fiona will relate to being body shamed, while Karen flinched at seeing female journalists talked down to. Phillip will be dismayed at the messages sent to boys about what manhood is and isn’t. Lin will have experienced sexual assault and she knows that in real life, it isn’t funny, rather it can leave people haunted and debilitated. Sarah’s perspective will have been ignored once too often; while Jenny is bitter at not being able to meaningfully influence politics. Tricia will have listened to rhetoric about improving childcare for decades only to have seen funding cut and her hardworking workers paid frightfully low salaries. Robert did the statistical analysis on the employment of black women, and bristles at the truth of prejudice revealed.
For many women, the marches today reflected a new mind-set, forged over years by innumerable events and stories. There is a sharper awareness now that women cannot just sit back and expect institutions, policies and attitudes to spontaneously and naturally shift, out of a spirit of fairness. Rather, women now realise they need to speak-up, step-up, get organised and make change happen themselves. In or around various established institutions or practices, it doesn’t matter. Like water, actions will flow where practical. There is also a sense of excitement, that of good change in the air. Stay tuned world. Women’s talent, ideas and style are coming out from the world’s basements.