January 21, 2017, truly represents a day of patriotism in American political history.
Mainly women marched the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States. Thousands of people in many American cities, and thousands more across the globe, showed their displeasure with the new president and his record with women, their reproductive rights, pay equity, and respect.
In Washington Square Park in Kansas City, thousands of people listened as individuals reported, in some cases for the first time in public, their experiences as victims of sexual attack. Others addressed topics from women’s health care to intersectional issues. But a direct response to the election of Trump and his sexist attitudes was the global theme connecting all the others.
I am not convinced that all journalistic observers of these rallies knew what was at the heart of the protests. David Brooks, of the New York Times, for instance, thinks the women’s movement and rallies were focused on the “wrong issues.”
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We’re done with men telling us what our issues are. Again. And still.
I have six sisters, but that day, I felt as if I had a million more. I shared unmistakable signals of recognition with women, all ages, some of whom, like me, grew up in 1950’s and 60’s America, also witnesses to the intrinsic sexism in our culture.
As young girls, the seven of us gathered before annual beauty pageants on TV. We didn’t know it at the time, but what we were watching was a how-to chapter in American sexism, a trigger of the future 1970’s wave of the ongoing women’s movement. Of course, it wasn’t long before we realized why our mother never really watched with us, as we eventually saw for ourselves her distaste for the exploitation of what she called blondes.
From what we know about Trump’s life, themes that stand out aside from his business practices are his connections to and promotions of this sexist culture. His owner/sponsorship of beauty contests; his TV shows based on appearances; his public and exposed private remarks about women; his inability to remain married to aging women; his rashly delivered opinion that women receiving abortions should be punished; his intent to appoint an anti-choice Supreme Court justice — all these combine to create a man who believes that women are not equal, and our rights can be compromised.
On that Saturday last month, as I prepared for the Kansas City rally, I assumed my liberal, open-minded hubby, Steve, was all in.
I sensed reluctance when his first question was, “How long will it last?” I figured he would skip it, since he carefully plans his weekends to maximize time working on car-related projects in the garage.
I put on my running shoes and decided to jog downtown and hitch a ride back with someone, then was pleased when I found Steve standing by the car when I got downstairs. He said he wanted to go, and didn’t mention his time concerns again.
While we threaded ourselves into the crowd, I read the inspired feminist signs held high, and felt my mother’s presence, even though she died just over two years ago. She certainly would have been part of this. As the women onstage began to introduce themselves and give their testimonies, I was riveted. Standing next to me, Steve was mesmerized, as well.
On our way home, he movingly told me he had never heard a rape survivor relate in private, much less in front of a crowd of thousands, surviving a sexual assault. I was surprised, because I have heard several personal accounts from women I know, and over a time period spanning several decades.
Later, I thought about my husband’s authentic, raw reaction of empathy, after hearing for the first time a victim directly and emotionally reporting such a violent act. Not that he had ever doubted the pain or facts involved, but hearing it from the source was powerful.
If a regular guy can be so affected by listening to a person who survives such an attack, imagine how Trump might benefit. He could perhaps confront his inner/outer sexist and promise to end his own behavior, and learn how to model decency as a leader.