Hi, everyone. First things first—this post, and the two that will follow, are written with the intention of focusing in on specific dialogues circling the recent Women’s March that I find concerning. They are not meant to address the broader issues at play such as Trump’s presidency or feminism as a whole.
To start, I’d like to talk about a common critique I’ve been noticing that questions the methods of the March. The general sentiment is one of disgruntled annoyance at seemingly any kind of protest tactics.
“If you’re screaming at me, I’m not going to listen.”
“Protesting just turns people off to your message.”
“Find another outlet.”
I’m not buying it. Because, let’s be honest with ourselves here: if you make those kinds of excuses, you will never listen. The truth is that the women’s movement has been speaking in an “inside voice” for years and years and years. The same goals and principles that were chanted during the March have been shared in blogs, newspaper and magazine articles, television interviews, documentaries, petitions, you name it. And yet there are those who were surprised and affronted when the Women’s March started saying those same things in a louder voice. And they tried to shush and placate with the lie, “I’d listen if you just talked a little quieter.”
People don’t like protests. They’re loud. They’re messy. They interrupt our clean, carefully curated spaces and barge in with their bright colors and their righteous indignations and their open, bleeding wounds. They make us feel uncomfortable. They make us feel guilty. No one likes to be removed from their cushy comfort zone and presented with the world’s list of hurts and grievances. People do like to offer unhelpful advice, though. “Just protest some other way.” No one ever has any specific suggestions.
On a chilly night in mid-December, a small group of men crept their way on board a ship that did not belong to them and destroyed over 92,000 pounds of property that was not theirs. They were protesters. Vandals. They created a huge, costly mess.
They were the Sons of Liberty, and together with their leader Samuel Adams they threw 342 chests, or what would in today’s money be $1,000,000 worth of tea into the Boston harbor in an event that sparked the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Protest is woven into the fabric of our nation. We are built on a bedrock of liberty and justice, of speaking our minds, of calling out our government when it does not match our ideals. In the words of Howard Zinn, “Patriotism is not obedience to the government. It is obedience to the principals to which the government is supposed to stand.”
While the Boston Tea Party eventually contributed to the greater fight for freedom, in the moment, the act was inspired by one simple thing: taxation. Not human rights. Not unjust war. Not sexism, not racism, not xenophobia. Just taxes. And the people gave their full support.
A second common thread linking the critiques of the Women’s March is the use of comparisons to the Suffragettes. The Women’s March is deemed “improper” and the Suffragettes are deemed “proper”. “Why can’t today’s women be more like the Suffragettes?” “The Suffragettes did not resort to such cheap ploys.” Alas, as it so often does, time has made fools of us again. Dust off the window panes to history and a more accurate image of the Suffragettes will be made clear.
As with the contemporary women’s movement, the Suffragettes began their campaigns in a calm, quiet voice. When Millicent Fawcett founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage, she discouraged rash acts and maintained that the case for votes for women could be made with well-thought arguments and rational discussions. And no one listened.
On the first of March, 1912, the Suffragettes launched an attack with bricks and stones and smashed the front windows of 270 shops and businesses. From there, the violence continued. They burned down churches. They fire bombed the homes of politicians. They snuck on to a golf course at night and burned their rallying cry into the ground with acid so that the grass could never grow back. We look back at them through our rose-colored glasses and praise their forward-thinking and gumption, all the while scorning our own modern-day protesters. And all our women did was march.
The third criticism, and the one that irks me the most, is that the Women’s March is “unladylike”. Because “ladies” should act a certain way. Because they should not raise their voices too loud, or have opinions that are too strong, or deviate in any way from what society has decided a “real woman” should be. They should know their place. They should be sexy but sweet. Confident… ish. They can be the boss as long as they aren’t a “bitch”. They can have sex as long as they don’t enjoy it too much. And on and on and on and on. Women do not fit in that mold, and they have never fit in that mold.
The Suffragettes were called unladylike. An excerpt from History Extra reads:
The bedrock of the anti-suffrage movement was an appeal to women’s femininity and the ‘natural order’. Suffragettes supposedly fell foul of the ‘norm’ and engaged in ‘unladylike’ and public activities. They were presented as women who had failed to reach the ultimate female goal in life of marriage and motherhood. They were depicted as bitter spinsters and caricatured as masculine, plain and ‘unnatural’. Their presence also apparently ‘feminized’ men, too.
The suffragette represented a figure outside of the order of society; they supposedly lacked ‘womanliness’; were seen to be sexually repressed; and were even against ‘God’s order’.
Protests have been peppered with “impropriety” for as long as there have been protests. Let us not forget Lady Godiva, who rode naked through the streets on a horse, also to protest taxation. On the morning of the Women’s March, a group of Catholics gathered at St. Peter’s to receive Mass and a commissioning from Reverend Jordan Kelly, O.P. Kelly noted that the day of the March fell on the feast of St. Agnes. At the tender age of twelve, Agnes was martyred after she protested her betrothal by walking naked through the streets. “This little girl shows us the dignity of womanhood,” said Kelly. The dignity.
Perhaps when we call someone “unladylike” it is because we secretly fear the true power of her womanhood. Our society has done everything in its power to police the female body, right down to shaming women for feeding their own children. Let’s face it: breasts are just sacs of milk to feed babies with. But somewhere along the way, a man woke up one day and decided that breasts were sexy, and therefore they deserved to be objectified, and women deserved to be punished for exposing them, even just to use them for their intended purpose.
Of course, women were not walking around topless during the Women’s March. But this brings us to our final point of contention: the pussy hats.
In each of the examples I’ve used so far, the form of protest has matched the occasion. The high taxes on tea were representative of Britain’s oppression of its colonies, so the Sons of Liberty attacked the tea. The right to vote required ownership of property, so the Suffragettes attacked the mens’ property. Agnes’ body had been promised to someone against her will, so she took ownership of her body and took it to the streets.
I have to concede that I find the idea of wearing vagina-inspired accessories to be off-putting. If men were roaming the roads with penises attached to their caps, I would see it as crude and rude and lude and all the other -ude words. (Are there more?) But take into consideration the words of the President of the United States:
“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
The protest matches the occasion. Our nation has just elected a man who treats women the way Augustus Gloop treats chocolate bars. Women are taking ownership of their “pussies”. They are taking them to the streets. Agnes walked around stark naked, and she is a Saint. A literal Saint. These women are just wearing pink knitted hats. If you are going to be shocked at anything, you should be shocked they aren’t doing more.