I was here in 1989: 30 years later, it feels like we have not necessarily come a long way, baby.
This feminist’s feet are sore.
The first time I marched was at a Take Back the Night event in 1987 in Kingston, Ontario. I was a 19 year old university student who had come to feminist consciousness thanks to having been sexually harassed as part of my first-year hazing. While it was not my first protest march, it was a big deal for me to be in the streets, banging pots and pans and shouting slogans, announcing my rage and defiance as a woman, if not to the world, at least to my neighbourhood.
But violence wasn’t the whole picture (I had also been attacked while walking to school as a Grade 10 student); the fact that my English Literature survey course was completely devoid of women writers sent me down the hall to Women’s Studies. Within a couple of years I had become a Women’s Studies major and a trained volunteer at the local Sexual Assault Crisis Centre and had taken part in numerous demonstrations, including a widely publicized sit-in in the university President’s office to protest the school’s lack of action to either promote women’s equality or prevent their further abuse.
At one point, a group of us traveled to Toronto, slept in a church basement and stopped traffic at the intersection of Queen and Bay Streets in downtown Toronto on International Women’s Day during rush hour. The event was organized by women twice my age and I remember being awed by their stories, their tenacity and unwillingness to compromise. Their radicalism frightened me, and yet I was drawn to their passion and I trusted the wisdom of their experience. Little did I imagine myself in the future, still having to rouse myself to get up, to shout slogans and bang drums.
Looking back, I am shocked at how similar many of the conversations that we had are today: is it “ok” to be a feminist? Does saying that you are one mean that you hate or think that you’re better than men? Not to mention conversations about inclusiveness: while Intersectionality was not yet a concept, being mindful of privilege and bias, internalized or otherwise, certainly was.
And yet it’s far from over and we still have all the work in the world to do. Recent media coverage about divisions revealed or exacerbated by the Women’s March are not new, either. One thing that has changed for me on that front is that back in the day I viewed them as a universally negative force designed to undermine feminism’s unity. Today, while I am still wary, I am mature enough to understand that, given feminists’ diversity as human beings, to expect a monolithic movement to represent our needs, lives and perspectives is neither possible nor desirable.
And as for the issues: give me a break. Violence and pay inequality have barely budged, and we are now facing an openly misogynist US President in the White House. Reproductive freedom is severely under threat, and all forms of social equality are being eroded. On January 21 I will march for basically the same reasons as I marched three decades ago: social justice, dignity, safety and freedom from judgement, fear and violence.
The only difference is that today I also march for – and with – my 11 year old daughter. How it pains me that for all of our technological and other advancements made in the last three decades, hate, greed and racism are still so prevalent, and that I cannot tell her how much better things are today.
In November of 1989 I marched in Washington as part of a 150,000-strong Pro Choice rally. It was an extraordinary life experience that came back to me when the January 21st Women’s March on Washington was announced. There really is nothing like the feeling of solidarity, righteous anger, rage and resistance. If anything, the need to fight back and be heard feels more critical than ever.
My feet are sore, but on January 21st I will march: I hope to see you there.