Marching Forward to the Same Beat – Can Women Do It?

Marching Forward to the Same Beat – Can Women Do It?
Source: The Pussyhat Project

I love engaging with my friends and colleagues on social media, it’s typically a very fun and satisfying experience. As of last Saturday, however, things turned sour in many of my online social circles, specifically among my women friends. I’ve always chosen my friends, both online and in real life, based on whether I really liked them as a person, never getting overly concerned with their take on politics or religion or any other potentially divisive topic. Maybe that’s why I never fully realized how varied my women friends are in their beliefs and opinions until last Saturday.

The Women’s March on Washington and it’s numerous sister city marches last Saturday brought out the best -and worst- in some of my friends as they took to social media to make their feelings known. I witnessed some admirable examples of graciousness and class, but unfortunately that’s been far outstripped by the confusion, contempt, disbelief and downright meanness.

Let me say upfront that my friends who attended the marches were not participating primarily to protest, or to spout vulgar, hateful messages, and I saw no evidence of any of them wearing pink “pussy” hats. (Although honestly, I thought the Pussyhat Project was very clever). Most of the women I know who marched were there to celebrate the rights and freedoms women currently share in our country, and send a message to our current leadership that we very much appreciate what we have, don’t want those rights and freedoms to be taken away, and support efforts to make life even better for women, not just in our country but everywhere. They wanted their daughters and granddaughters and sons and grandsons to witness what free speech looks like and to understand that women in our country have not always enjoyed this level of freedom. They were not just teaching their children about history but allowing their children to participate in it, setting an example of how to stand up for what you believe in, and exercise your first amendment rights – peacefully.

Let me also say that my friends who didn’t march didn’t do so out of hate or because they don’t support other women or don’t love the rights and freedoms American women currently enjoy. Some were busy with other activities and couldn’t, or didn’t care to march. But there were many others who simply feel that women have it pretty darned good in the United States and we come off as a bunch of spoiled, elitist whiners if we march in support of women’s rights. They spoke out against the marchers because they feel it sends the message that we don’t appreciate what we have, that there is an unnecessary push to engage in a perceived gender war, or that women in our society feel oppressed, less-than or diminished somehow.  Some were turned off by the faction of marchers who displayed various degrees of crudeness or vulgarity to elevate their message. Others were completely baffled and couldn’t understand why any of these women marched at all.

After the march, I witnessed a social media meltdown among my female friends. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s just one strand of the greater division and turmoil we’re witnessing in our country right now, but we’ve got to find a way to learn something from this and move forward. When I take the emotions out of what I witnessed, I came away with this: we all want what’s best for women and for our country. “What’s best,” or even the best way to do it, is where the conversation clearly goes off the rails. It seems there are many different flavors of feminism at play. But is that a bad thing?

A great example of a feminist who has a very strong concept of what feminism means to her is a lady I’ve known for a number of years, Onnie Shekerjian. Onnie served on our Tempe City Council and always made a point to regularly and publicly remember the Suffragettes, the history of women’s suffrage in the United States and the tumultuous sequence of events that led to our right to vote in 1920.  Although Onnie and I don’t always see eye to eye on everything, I’ve always greatly admired her for her steadfast remembrance of women’s suffrage. People like Onnie keep our history alive. While she considers herself a pro-life feminist who is a strong supporter of women’s rights, she does not agree with putting down men to raise women up or “holding up vulgarity as a virtue” to draw attention. “Important messages should never be crudely delivered,” she asserts. “It discredits the message and allows others to discount you.”  I’m willing to bet that most of my women friends who marched agree with her on that, and were not among those who championed vulgarity for gain. My point is, they all consider themselves feminists, but express it in different ways. In the end, they all want what’s best for women.

I really want to believe we can march forward to the same beat. We each bring our own baggage, personal history, upbringing and social conditioning to the way we see the world, which colors our lens of perception and how we express ourselves. But wouldn’t it be great if we could all just agree on a few simple, unifying concepts to take us forward? Assuming that American women enjoy our current rights and freedoms, how about this: aim for equality, act with integrity and encourage one another with compassion.

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