--And, I promised several of you I'd get around to sharing some of my photos-- Enjoy!
**Disclaimer: I'm sharing some very real, personal experiences here about sexual harassment/assault that may be difficult for some people to read. I just want you to know what's coming. Also, there may be language you find offensive in some of the photos. If that bothers you, well, you're worried about some pretty small stuff and you should just keep scrolling.
About a week and a half ago I got to be a part of this really, really amazing thing- The National Women’s March on Washington. When that Saturday came to a close, I decided I would talk about my experience in my own time, when I was ready. But for then, I thought, I wanted it to just be mine. I just wanted to sit with it, and feel it, and relive it, and dream about it…and I would talk about it when I was good and ready. I wasn’t ready to have to defend it. Not this. I needed this experience, for my own sanity, to remain exactly what it was- an emboldening, impassioned life experience, unlike anything else I had ever been a part of.
But here we are, roughly 10 days later, and y’all….I’m ready to talk about it, and defend it if I must.
My goal for writing this piece is to get a little personal, to share the reasons why I marched and what my first-hand experience was like in D.C. But first, (because I am a scientist), I feel it’s important to share a little factual data with you before presenting you with my personal anecdotes. Bear with me, I promise this part won’t take long.
Women are not equal in society. Period. Not in America, and certainly not in the rest of the world…(and in case you didn’t notice, over 50 other countries around the world, from Guam to Serbia, took part in this March to stand together in solidarity, demanding equality and fair treatment of women). So, this is certainly a movement concerned with global women’s equality. Global Photos.
But, let’s just compare American women with the rest of the world’s women for a second, because we are A LONG WAYS away from achieving gender equality here in the states. For starters, we don’t even rank in the top 20 countries IN THE WORLD for gender equality. In fact, compared to the rest of the world we are ranked #45 for gender equality. FORTY-FIVE. Did you hear that? And if you’re saying to yourself, “Yeah, I’m sure that’s just in comparison to other western/European countries,” you’re wrong. We fall below Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, Portugal, and Argentina, just to name a few. And if you’re saying to yourself, “Yeah, but what are they even measuring? It can’t be a real representation of women’s equality,” you are again wrong. For this index, the World Economic Forum uses 4 primary measures for the gender gap, Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. And in an effort of full disclosure, the ONLY reason we are even ranked as highly as #45 is that we are number one in educational attainment (Yay us!). Too bad that doesn’t translate to economic opportunity, good health, or political empowerment for our women. We’re ranked #62 for health and survival, and #73 for political empowerment.
Did you know Pakistan has more women holding elected offices than the U.S.? Did you know we have a higher maternal mortality rate in the United States than 47 other countries? That means you are more likely to die in the process of becoming a mother here in the United States than you are in Bosnia, Kuwait, or Iran. Still don’t think we have a problem? There are only two countries in the world that do not legally require maternity leave- the United States and Papua New Guinea. But, guess what we are ranked in the top 20 countries for. Rape. That’s right, we are ranked #14 in the world for number of rapes per capita annually. In the entire world, there are only 13 other countries where women are more likely to be victims of rape than in the U.S.
Sadly, I could go on and on with data that illuminates America’s gender disparities, but I think you get the point.
For all of these reasons, and plenty more, I’ve never been more proud to say that I marched. I marched for each and every one of us, both here in the states and all over the world.
On a more personal level, I marched for women who are victimized by a culture that promotes sexual assault, myself included.
As a football manager in high school, I was physically coerced by a coach from the opposing team at an away game. He grabbed my arm and began pulling me toward a private locker room, while making vulgar and inappropriate comments about my 16 year old body. I was able to pull away from him and make it safely back to the sideline, where I tearfully sought out the cheerleading coach to tell her about what happened. She helped me call my parents to tell them about the incident. That night I sat in my parents’ living room, feeling uncomfortable in the skin that had been devalued to the status of a mere object in the eyes of a grown man just hours before. That night was the first and only time I heard my dad say he wished he had a gun. In the days that followed, charges were pressed. I was asked to speak in court, but didn’t want to face him. I also didn’t want anyone at school to know about it. I was embarrassed. That part kills me. I was embarrassed. I wrote a letter to the judge instead. My dad sat with me in the superintendent’s office, along with the cheerleading coach who showed up as my advocate, as we reviewed the details of the night in front of a panel of officers and school leaders. I found out weeks later that I was not the only teenage girl that he had victimized. I found out he admitted guilt. I also found out he would serve no time. He wouldn’t be punished for his actions because we had all been able to escape his grasp, despite the fact that he had admitted guilt to having foul intentions. Instead, he lost his job at the high school and was moved to the position of P.E. teacher at an elementary school. That was the first time I realized that our society doesn’t really care about sexual assault.
Years later, when I was 20 years old, I was once again victimized by a grown man who made me the target of his stalking. I only met him a few times, and to this day I don’t even know his name. But, he has changed the way I live my life, forever. He moved from Texas to Colorado to follow me. I moved back to Oklahoma. He followed me here, too. Over a period of more than 18 months, I had to change my phone number, get a new car, move to a new house, learn how to shoot a gun. I found him sitting in his truck in front of my house the day of my very first job interview in my career as a hair stylist. I was escorted to my first job interview by police officers. Do you know what that’s like? My parents drove to Oklahoma City the next day to help me file charges at the police office. The police detective insisted that my mother could not accompany me into the private interrogation room, despite the fact that I was trembling and afraid. I sat in that room in front of a two-way mirror like a criminal, while the detective aggressively questioned me. He didn’t believe me that I hadn’t slept with this man. I remember something along the lines of, “You’re telling me a girl like you, a girl that looks like you, with those long legs and short shorts, you never had any kind of sexual relationship with this man?” I remember wondering why that would matter, as if sleeping with him would justify his stalking me, as if the videos we had of him covertly stalking me around stores and waiting in my school parking lot would be somehow be irrelevant if I had slept with him. But, I hadn’t. I didn’t even know his name. I left the detective’s office in complete distress, feeling like I was the one who had done something wrong. Hands shaking, tears flowing, that was first time my mother ever saw me smoke a cigarette. That was the second time I realized no one cared about sexual assault or violence against women.
My case was finally transferred to a female detective. She was helpful, but the law was not on the side of stalking victims. My parents had to hire a private investigator for a period of time to follow me and guarantee my safety. The night we first met with the PI, we sat at his kitchen table and reviewed protocol for worst case scenarios moving forward. My dad cried, and held me, and said, “I promise you will get to have a normal life, I promise.”
I’ll never forget that. I think, because I kind of knew that wouldn’t be true...
...Because, there’s nothing normal about stopping 15 feet from my parked car to look underneath it for a hiding person, every single time I’m alone. There’s nothing normal about scanning a room full of strangers to take mental note of their faces in case any of those faces start to turn up in unexpected places. There’s nothing normal about staying in my office for 2 extra hours after finishing my work because I refuse to walk to my car alone at night out of fear that I could disappear, and no one is answering their phone. There’s nothing normal about neurotically checking my rear-view mirror every few minutes to make sure no one’s following me. There’s nothing normal about staring at the ground when I walk through a bar/restaurant/coffee shop, out of fear that I’ll make eye contact or smile at the wrong man, and he might get the wrong idea. There’s nothing normal about having the internal fight with myself every day about how I should stop doing all of these things because it means I’m giving up my power by allowing him to win.
To be honest, there is no "normal" for those of us who have had our lives so severely impacted by others who think they are entitled to us and our bodies.
Last summer I was once again forced to face the fact that sexual assault is a mainstay in our society. During a trip to Charleston for a friend’s wedding, I was assaulted in a dance club. J and I were there with a group of friends, including the wedding party. The club was packed. I followed a train of girls to the bathroom, but when I came out I couldn’t find them. I decided to make my way back to the group on my own. As I pushed my way through the crowd, I was grabbed by the arm and pulled into a circle of 4 men who were up against a wall. Before I could even realize what was happening, they were shoving me back and forth between them. I screamed, but it was too loud for people even two feet away to hear me. My butt was being groped, there was a hand down my shirt, and a firm grip on my arm. I started to cry and used my bony elbows to fight back. I'm not sure how long this went on for. I would guess only a few minutes. It felt much longer. I heard one yell, “This bitch ain’t fun anymore,” and they shoved me back into the crowd. I got back to our group, and one of the wives saw that I was distressed and had been crying. She called us an Uber. I didn’t report anything this time. I should have, but I didn’t. History told me it wouldn’t matter, and you couldn’t have paid me to go on a search in that club for someone who could help. I just wanted to leave. That night, my husband held me in our hotel room while I cried myself to sleep.
I'm telling these stories because I want you to know that I am not an anomaly. I can promise you, you know someone who has been victimized by these same things. You just don't know that you know them.
I marched for every woman who has had similar or worse experiences, I marched for every young girl who I want so badly to inherit a society that does not tolerate these experiences, and I marched for myself.
Data shows that in the United States, roughly 20% of women are raped during their lifetime, and over 40% of women will experience sexual assault at least once.
I’m not okay with living in a country that excuses this. I’m not okay with an administration that wants to cut the crucial 25 grant programs managed by the Office on Violence Against Women. These grants are small but vital countermeasures to a system that overwhelmingly casts doubt on survivors and victims of sexual violence, and fails to hold perpetrators accountable. Take a look at what each of these grants actually do. Getting rid of them would turn back every bit of progress we’ve made since we established the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.
The current administration is run by a man who makes statements like this, and writes them off as “locker room talk”:
I am a victim of “locker room talk.” That is why I marched.
I also marched because the wage gap exists. It is a real thing. The data does not lie.
And if I stay in my line of work as an academic or an environmental researcher, I can all but guarantee I will make far less than my male counterparts. I don’t care what Fox News is telling you. I care about data, facts. White women make 81 cents to a white man’s dollar. Black women make 65 cents, and Hispanic women make 58 cents to a white man's dollar.
And maybe you’re thinking, “Well, that’s just because women choose lower paying careers than men.” To some extent, you are right. But, do you wonder why? I can vividly remember during high school and my first year of college, parents and teachers telling my male friends they should go into nursing or teaching because “we need more men in those fields, so you’ll get paid really well.” You know what no one ever said to me or my female friends? “You should go into scientific research or be a business executive because we need more women in those fields, so you’ll get paid really well.” They didn’t say that, because that’s not a thing. Men, on average, make thousands more in salary as an RN than women make, because men are a valued contribution in the female-dominated field. Yet, the exact opposite is true for women in male-dominated fields.
I’ve had people tell me that women are just more naturally drawn to nurturing/care-taking professions, which is why they make lower wages, on average. Did you know in Iceland, 44% of top ranking business executives are women, but in the U.S. only 4% of these positions are filled by women? Do you think that’s because women in the United States are just biologically different from their Icelandic counterparts, and therefore are drawn to different careers? No. The answer is no. It’s because women’s contributions are systematically undervalued in American capitalism. And it’s not just in business. We also have a problem with undervaluing women in STEM fields. In their first year after graduating, women with doctorates in science and engineering fields make 31% less than their male counterparts, and women only make up roughly 25% of the entire STEM field.
So for all the women who told me in the last two weeks that you don’t face any discrimination challenges in your career, you should know that a lot of your sisters have, and a lot of your daughters will. Until you have been the only woman in a room full of men, trying to make your voice heard, (and valued), you can’t imagine the struggle.
Honestly, it would take me 100 more pages to continue telling you the personal reasons why I marched. But, I won’t do that to you.
Instead, I want to tell you a little bit about the glorious, illuminating, supportive experience I had in D.C…and show you some of my favorite speeches from the day that you probably haven’t seen because they have been less televised.
This march was the most inclusive and empowering thing I’ve ever been a part of. Have I mentioned that yet? The rally before the march went on for more than 4 hours, with more than 40 speakers, who spoke in support of a full-range of topics including economics, immigration, climate change, political empowerment, reproductive justice, criminal justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights…Because, as Kamala Harris stated, all of these issues ARE women’s issues.
You can watch Kamala’s speech here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4650821/sen-kamala-harris-remarks-womens-march-washington
A Native American woman started off our morning with a prayer song for protection over all of the protesters. She walked out on stage, looked out at the roaring, endless crowd, and made the unmistakeable gulp/cough sound that only ever happens when you try to swallow the lump in your throat that's a direct result to choking back tears. It was clear she was overwhelmed by the turnout. It was a sobering moment, there was an audible gasp through the crowd, and the streets became silent. She introduced herself, and began the prayer in native tongue. Her voice, the prayer, it roared through the crowds. It was, by far, the most hallowing experience of my life. Full-body chills. My first tear of the day fell. I wish I could describe the energy in the crowd and the bonds that were created at that moment. But, I don’t think the words to describe it exist. I’ve listened to it recently online, and while it is beautiful and reverent, the moment and experience that was felt by everyone that morning can never be recreated.
You can watch her prayer song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJYdZchqi1s
America Ferrera gave one of the fiercest defenses of American democracy I’ve seen in some time.
Amanda Ngyuen, a rape survivor and the founder of RISE, invoked FIRE when she spoke out about the failings of the criminal justice system, and the need for women to rise up against it.
Sophie Cruz, my favorite 7-year-old activist, stood strongly on stage with her family and flawlessly delivered a speech in support of immigration. You might remember her from that time two years ago when she contacted the Pope about immigration/deportation policies.
Sister Simone Campbell, the coolest nun in the world, offered an inspiring call toward bridging racial and societal divides, and the need to take care of each other and the least among us.
Van Jones is all about LOVE.
And last but not least one of my personal heroes, Rhea Suh, the President of the National Resources Defense Council, reinforced “The fundamental principle that we matter. Women Matter.” And as an environmental researcher, I was brought to tears by her angry defense of environmental justice in the face of an administration that undeniably favors dollars to clean water. That was made evident in the last week when researchers in Flint, MI were forced to halt their investigation, and the president ordered the EPA to destroy valuable data from databases. Data that we, the researchers, rely on to hold corporations and the government accountable.
You can hear her speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFbWWlrF4i4
The organizers were told they had to cancel the march because too many of us showed up.
We had a permit to take up several blocks of standing room in the stage area, the national mall, and a 1.5 mile marching route. Apparently, by the end of the rally our crowd had grown so large we filled up every inch of those spaces, including the entire 1.5 mile march path. It was shoulder to shoulder and heel to heel, but everyone was patient and respectful. Over and over we parted the sea of people (a task that seemed impossible) in order to make way for a wheelchair. People shared food and water, and everyone apologized for bumping into each other (which happened every 4 seconds or so).
They said we had to cancel because there was nowhere to march. We marched anyway. We spilled out into the streets of D.C. As we started to take over the city, I heard whistles and turned around to see police on horses. They were wearing riot gear, and coming through the crowded streets. I thought, “This is it, this is where it all goes to shit. I’m going to have to use this legal hotline number written on my arm because I’m going to jail.” I was wrong. As the last horse passed us, the officer turned around, waved his arm and said, “Well, come on!” They led us to open streets. Streets we didn’t have permits to be on. They didn’t care. I can’t tell you how many officers thanked us for marching that day. I can’t remember how many times I heard people thank the officers for protecting us. It was a lot.
For hours we walked through the streets. I met and connected with people of every race, age, religion, gender, occupation, and reason for marching. At one point I walked and talked with an older man who was there with his daughter and granddaughter. He told me he had been marching for causes since the 1940s. Civil Rights with Dr. King, war protests, the women’s movement…he told me he had never seen or experienced anything like what we were a part of that day. He said he had never seen so many people in one place be so peaceful and kind to one another. For about an hour I walked next to an award-winning, Oscar nominated actress. No one asked her for photos or autographs. No one even acknowledged her “celebrity-ness”…we were all there for one purpose, to stand together against injustices. She and I talked and laughed like we knew each other.
At one point I said, “I keep catching myself grinning like an idiot, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.” She said, “me too.” I cried.