We Will Never Go Back

“We will never go back, and we will never give up.”

Call to Action, MS. magazine

“Yes, I am a Feminist, Yes, Yes, Yes.” This was the beginning of a blog I started writing right before the Presidential elections. I have come back to this blog notion over and over at critical moments in the past two years. The morning after the election when I spoke to each of my grandchildren privately. After the first chilly but inspiring March. Over coffee with friends, all of us trying to make sense of our world after the election. And now after the Kavanaugh hearings.

Days before the election, I nearly shattered my keyboard pounding out a little social networking piece on “Why I am with Her,” centering on my unabashed commitment to feminism. 

Next was the March to the Capitol in Olympia January 21, 2017. I had debated and dithered: Where to march? Enough miles for my beloved Washington, DC? Seattle for the big city vibe? Back to much loved hometown Portland? I ended up deciding on Olympia where my family had moved. I may have dithered about location, but there was NEVER a question about whether I would march.

Friends suggested two things when we met in downtown Portland and commiserated about the new political situation: 1. Focus and 2. Write. Feminism is my focus. The blog, the first of my writing. I am finally finishing it now after nearly two years. It is written from one woman to other women and men, but it became the backdrop for the children’s picture book We March for You: Messages to Girls from the Women’s Marches. In that book for kids, there is no mention of the election, the President, politics at all; there are no signs with coat hangers in the photo. But my feminism is the motivation.

Let’s start with focusing as my friends advised. I care about so many issues that we have been marching about: immigrants, medical care, racial equality, LGBTQ rights, folks with special needs, education, science, international relations, gun control.   I do know that my life as a white woman growing up in a middle class family is far more privileged than many, but I also do feel I can comment on feminism and the precarious movement toward equality.  At a minimum I have my own lived experience as a 72-year-old woman. I mention my age, because that post-election morning when I attempted to make some meaning for my three grandchildren, I was reflecting on huge issues. Who am I? What has my life been about? What do I stand for?  Who are we as a country? What does the US stand for?

Why march? Because I am a feminist, have been for a very long time. Yes, I am a Feminist, yes, yes, yes. No caveats, no waffling. No, Aw, shucks. No maybe this, maybe that. No blushing and shyness. No meandering down the bra burning, ball busters paths. No nothing, but Yes, I am a Feminist. 

I had planned to say to the young women in today’s feminist movement: It is not just wearing a pin or a t-shirt or even carrying a sign. Silly, naïve me. I was going to caution: Being a feminist has been and continues to be hard work. It requires self-knowledge, advocacy, courage. It can be lonely. It may not be popular. It can seem utterly hopeless. It is a movement that has brought great progress but that can easily return to the limitations of the past. 

Then the Supreme Court hearings and sadly, I hardly need to point out what is evident. We saw lies, condescension, pats on the head, tortured logic. The patriarchy, vocabulary I never thought I would personally use, the perfect description.  

So many women have their stories for embracing feminism. Here are mine. I heard you will go to college but then you can only be a secretary, a teacher or a nurse, just something to “fall back on” if you don’t have a husband. I heard utter silence about high scores on math tests, because there was no point. Women didn’t go into science, math, and technology. I heard, sorry about your interest in being a lawyer, better reconsider, because neither the male professors nor the male students will welcome you. Having chosen education, I heard everything from you can’t wear pants, to we worry you will marry and get pregnant; you can be a teacher, but not a principal, leave that to the men. Later when I was finally a principal, I heard intimidating comments, sexual harassment by my supervisor, something other female colleagues experienced too, that male colleagues heard as well and testified to–yet nothing was done.

As I write this, the vote has been taken; the swearing in, complete with apologies for what HE experienced, is over. During that first horrendous weekend, I crawled under the covers, turned on the electric blanket, baked cookies, and slow cooked a lamb stew. All comforting, but the horrors will not go away with avoidance or denial or the catharsis of tears. 

 I will focus. I will write. I will march again.  This is in honor of the suffragists and the feminists who have preceded us, for our dignity as women, and toward the limitless futures of the girls that follow us. 

(A note about the lace here…Years ago I literally began dreaming about turquoise lace for my website. I have decided it must have been in tribute to our lace-wearing  Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Whenever we have sad personal or national experiences as feminists, we just need to look to such women advancing equality for renewed commitment and hope. Get well soon, Justice Ginsburg!)