Faces in the Crowd: The Women’s Marches

With history being made a month ago, the impact of the women’s marches lingers heavily


Just prior to about half a million people converging upon Washington, D.C. for what would soon after be verified as the largest single-day demonstration in U.S. history, Taylor Phillips trekked from New York City to the nation’s capital on the heels of the Women’s March’s impetus:  The inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th president of the country.

Plenty of the president’s supporters lingered from the inaugural festivities, which Phillips, 26, did not have to strain to notice.

 “I accidentally timed my arrival in D.C. with the end of the inauguration (Jan. 20). I took the Metro and it seemed to only have Trump supporters in the car. It was there on the car that a man told his teenage son not to make eye contact with me. While meeting a friend for lunch, I ran into another young woman in a unisex bathroom that contained a urinal and a stall and she mockingly referred to it as a ‘transgendered’ bathroom. After she and I sat back at our respective tables, a group of protesters came in for a drink. They were an older group and carried signs from their protesting. A woman in her sixties carried a sign that said “Nasty Woman.” This young woman from the bathroom started angrily shouting at her, ‘Excuse me, what does your sign say? What is a nasty woman? Could you please explain to me what a nasty woman is?’ until the group left. My friend and I felt hopeless and surrounded by hate.”

In the eyes of Phillips and many others, an overarching sense of rage and ignorance has permeated the fabric of America in coalescence with Trump’s rise to power. With some claiming this to be the end of  “political correctness,” others see it as a threat to basic moral decency.

What it actually represents has yet to fully materialize, but four women from different backgrounds who attended three separate marches – Washington, New York and San Diego – have come forward to discuss what the marches meant to them and how they feel about the various politics and criticisms surrounding the collective effort to fight for equal gender rights.


Taking this feminist pilgrimage served as a beginning for Phillips.

She described facing down the crashing wave of the current political tenor as “overwhelming.”  Whether such conditions have been brewing for years or been recently concocted by Trump, Phillips said she believes the first step in halting the current trends is simply standing up.

In doing so, she says she found herself enveloped in a wave of love, positivity and hopefulness, a complete 180-degree turn from the day prior. Phillips described the scene as the epitome of a peaceful protest, free of physical outbursts. (There were no reported arrests made during any of the largest protests, which took place in Washington, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle, among other places.)

“There was no pushing or crowding each other,” she said. “Everyone was very accommodating, letting people in and out of the crowd and giving each other space. People were even calling out to be careful of curbs and steps so no one would get hurt.

“We couldn’t believe the number of people that came out for the protest. We felt a part of history, and it felt incredible that the positivity lasted hours (we were there for maybe about six or seven hours), especially once we started marching.”

The collective effervescence  pertained to her homestead, New York City, as well.

Sporting a makeshift cardboard sign reading “Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History,” a quote dubbed by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Mikayla Orrson marched with approximately 250,000 others in downtown Manhattan.

“The purpose for me was about community,” Orrson said. “It was overwhelming to feel the mutual love and respect the marchers had for each other. I know my stance on women’s rights and civil rights, but it’s powerful to see your opinion supported by others. It’s empowering. Empowerment and hope, that’s what the march was about.”

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Mikayla Orrson, 22, poses with her sign as she takes part in the women’s march in downtown Manhattan on Jan. 21.  (submitted photo)

 

As Phillips and Orrson marched in tow with their fellow activists on the eastern seaboard, Katie Gunning watched videos and flipped through pictures of the events before taking part in a march more than 2,500 miles away in California.

A San Diego native who attended college in Pennsylvania, Gunning, 22, was an active presence in feminist causes throughout her time at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

“It was incredibly uplifting to see that many people out there to support so many different causes, almost all of which were about human rights,” she said of the San Diego march, which drew approximately 40,000 people. “There were people there of every age, race, gender, sexuality, etc.”

Like New York and Washington, grave overtones and violence were largely omitted.

“For me the march felt, like, exciting,” Gunning said. “I could tell that people were ready to make a stand and protect each other and to really just be there and support each other. There was no violence or anything, we just marched and chanted and danced.

“People had some really creative signs and everyone was commenting on each other’s signs and giving compliments.”

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A collection of signs from the San Diego march, which drew approximately 40,000 people (submitted photos)

 

For the three aforementioned women, tales of hope and liveliness ruled the day on Jan. 21. However, more than a fair share of opponents still criticized the marches as nothing more than sore losers pouting over the defeat of their “preferred” presidential candidate, Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton.

If not that accusation, then perhaps the next most popular claim was that women in the United States are well-off and do not know true hardship, like those in other countries who endure strict and at-times abusive treatment.

More simply put, much ado about nothing.


Alex Salyers is angry.

A graphic designer from Pittsburgh, Salyers, 23, also marched with her friends down in Washington, D.C. She sees Trump’s administration as a threat not just women, but to education and the environment as well.

Not only is she prepared to spar with any of Trump’s potentially harmful policies, but also with those who attempt to discredit the goals marchers are striving to achieve.

“Being a defender of women’s rights does not mean being a defender of American women’s rights only,” she asserted. “It means defending the rights of women all over the globe. I would challenge those people (who criticize) to be more proactive, just as the marchers were, and do something to help the cause instead of just posting (on social media) about it.”

And even though she is outspoken about the advocacy of all women, she feels perturbed by the apparent hypocrisy of those attempting to squash the American marchers through referencing situations from other parts of the globe.

“These are the people who voted for a man who stood up in front of the whole world and preached the words, ‘From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.’ In summary, he implied that we help ourselves before the needs of other countries,” she said. “His supporters clicking the share button to that ‘check your privilege’ post or the ‘quit your whining, other people have it worse’ post probably won’t go any further in helping the cause, and neither will the man they put into office.”

Gunning stressed that complacency is not a viable route to change.

“I once read a quote that said ‘You do not have to be grateful that it isn’t worse,’ and that really stuck with me. While it is important to understand that we do have a lot of rights in this country that people in other countries don’t, it doesn’t mean we should stop fighting to make it better. At one point, women had basically no rights. If it wasn’t for the feminist movement, we probably wouldn’t have made any progress. If it wasn’t for suffragists who took to the streets to fight for the right to vote, women still wouldn’t be allowed to participate in one of the most basic parts of democracy. And that’s just one example out of so many. Telling someone that they should be happy with limited rights because it could be worse is a way of keeping people down. This march is about raising people up.”

Phillips echoed Gunning’s views.

“I think those who marched are focused on continually moving forward, not moving backward,” she said. “We’re not looking for a consolation prize of ‘Hey, at least we don’t treat you as poorly as they do in other countries!’ We’re looking for real equality. I hope we can recognize the plight of other women does not diminish our own.”

The message of rights for all women clearly disseminated throughout the globe, as political scientist Jeremy Pressman estimated approximately 267,000 people also congregated in international cities like London, Paris, Athens, Dublin and even Erbil, Iraq for marches.


Shrugging off the inherent bias of the word itself, feminism can more or less be defined as the fight for sociopolitical and economic equality across the gender gamut.

Its edifice  has undoubtedly evolved over the course of time. The original prime directive focused on concentrated issues like women’s suffrage – commonly referred to now as the “first wave.” Eventually, feminism also took on property rights and education, growing steadily since the turn of the twentieth century.

When many Americans experienced radical cultural upheaval and introspection in the 1960s, the “second wave” of feminism gained traction. It sought to challenge the politicization of everyday female life and the hegemonic masculine power structure ingrained in the American psyche, a theory popularized by Australian sociologist R.W. Connell.

The second wave brought about action in regards to workplace inequality, domestic violence, marital rape, reproductive rights and a host of other issues.

Despite its positive effects, the wave has also been accused of whitewashing – in other words, failing to better advocate for minorities (other races and LGBTQA).

Such shortcomings bring the conversation into today, the third wave.

As the world becomes further interconnected, feminism, once considered a western movement, has contorted itself to fit a wide set of global and societal parameters. The ideal representation is one described by Gunning:  A crowd of faces varying in gender, race and age, all fighting for equality.

However, as any major ideology endures throughout its lifespan, feminism has splintered into multiple sects due to its diaspora.

Many still hold true to its most popular connotation, but others frequently reconfigure the definition to suit their other preconceived beliefs.

The term is sometimes conflated as the woman’s attempt at establishing control over males and destroying the prototypical family structure (for better or worse, depending on the perspective). Others find the term insular, pertaining strictly to their own demographic.

It has come to the point where a fair question can be directed toward both proponents and detractors. In the world today, what does feminism seek to achieve?


One of the largest issues in today’s political discourse is what to do in regards to a woman’s reproductive rights.

In the eyes of the general public, it largely boils down to a debate of when a fetus comes into its own being:  “pro-life vs. “pro-choice.”

The issue made a notable incision into the fabric of the women’s march, as its organizers made a statement just a few days prior to the event reinforcing their position on the issue.

The reply with the most interactions, as of Feb. 15, read as follows: “So what we hear is: ‘all are not welcome.’ B/c my voice as #prolife #feminist woman matters. I am anti-violence for ALL humans.”

Many prominent members of the pro-choice arena made their thoughts known. Some of whom decided to look past the hot-button topic in the name of solidarity, while others disavowed the march and called it unrepresentative of women in America.

Phillips espoused  her take on the matter.

I don’t feel as if (pro-life groups) were denied the right to protest by the organizers refusing to attach that group’s name to the march. I support the organizers in that choice. Because while your opinion can be that life starts at conception so you would not get an abortion, it cannot be that life starts at conception so I cannot get an abortion. At that point, you have just taken away my right to my own body, and I will never stand for or agree with that. I marched for my right to choose, and theirs. So at a march for the rights of women where we carried signs preaching ownership of our uteruses and ovaries, including people who want to enact laws against our right to bodily autonomy and our right to choose, that is the self-defeating action.

Meanwhile, Gunning re-framed the debate in order provide her own insight on the matter.

“Many of the people who consider themselves part of the pro-life movement, I don’t really consider to be  ‘pro-life,'” she said.  “Restricting access to reproductive healthcare isn’t pro-life, it is anti-choice. It is pro-birth, not pro-life. It’s an important distinction because there are plenty of people who feel that abortion is morally wrong, but understand that taking away access to reproductive healthcare is dangerous.”

Even after drawing those important distinctions, however, Gunning felt conflicted on the subject of exclusion.

“It’s hard for me to give a strong answer on whether it was right to try and exclude people who are anti-choice,” she said. “On the one hand, women’s reproductive rights are being attacked, and I understand trying to keep out that negative, anti-woman ideology. But I also think that the march was about being inclusive. It’s hard to say which way is right.”

It is important to note that Planned Parenthood, one of the march’s largest sponsors, is ostensibly the crux of the current debate. The nonprofit reproductive healthcare provider has come under fire largely for its performance of abortions, which opponents believe come at the expense of the taxpayer’s dollar.

The notion of providing indirect support has resulted in a push to cut federal funding for the organization. However, what some may fail to realize is that the Hyde Amendment, enacted in 1976, prohibits the funneling of federal capital into the practice except for extreme scenarios (rape, incest, endangerment to the mother). There are also state laws to take into account, which vary.

As Planned Parenthood asserted in its most recent annual report, a majority of its services are focused on contraception, STI/STD care and cancer screenings, all of which are extended to both women and men.

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A chart provided in Planned Parenthood’s 2014-15 annual report shows abortions account for just three percent of its services.

 

PP’s federal aid, which accounts for more than 40 percent of its total revenue, comes in the form of Medicaid reimbursements and Title X grants, both of which assist low-income families.

In the end, slicing the nonprofit’s funding would likely result in a large amount of people losing access to the spectrum of affordable care options PP provides to 491 counties annually. 78 percent of its patients hold incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, according to 2015 estimates.

When taking into account Gunning’s view and then absorbing the aforementioned statistics, it appears defunding would indeed affect a sizable population in a negative fashion. That is unless the current administration has a panacea in works, but the details of which are currently undisclosed.


So, with marches all said and done, how can they be parlayed into change?

Salyers stresses for people to continue marching on.

“I strive to keep this momentum going,” she said. “To talk about it, post about it – yell about it until I’m blue in the face but most importantly: act on it. Call/write to your senators, organize with your peers, sign petitions and share the facts.”

Phillips hopes they can inspire a whole new chain of events, which they already have in some aspects.

“Maybe the Women’s March won’t result in any political change at all,” she said. “But it could inspire something that will result in political change. After all, it started as a post on Facebook in November by two people about needing to stand up, and then it became the largest one-day protest in U.S. history with marches happening on all seven continents, and now there are marches for climate change and LGBTQ rights already scheduled.”

Personally, Phillips says her first march will not be her last. She also plans on using a growing medium to help spread the cause.

“A friend and I are also in the process of putting together a political podcast in response to Trump’s presidency,” she said. “Together we hope to keep speaking out and encourage others to not give up.”

Orrson also hopes to use her experience in entertainment as a way to make an impact.

“Carrie Fisher once said, ‘Take your broken heart, make it into art,’ and that’s what I do,” she said. “I founded my own comedy team that’s based in political humor, focusing on women’s and LGBTQ rights. I go to as many women’s art events that I can. I’m working on multiple television pilots that focus on female leads. That’s how I make change.”

These women and all the other people who showed up to fight what they feel is looming oppression are proof that America has entered a new, yet somewhat familiar, age of tribulation.

They all will likely play a key role if a brighter and more equitable future is to emerge.

 

 

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