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Response: To wonder women

| Monday, February 5, 2018

When I marched alongside my fellow feminists in the Women’s March a couple weeks ago, I felt pure pride. I smiled at signs that quoted uplifting Bible verses as well as ones that said “This p—- grabs back.” It was with joy that I joined this inclusive space of protest against oppression. I felt empowered, bold and proud. For these and other reasons, I disagree with the author of the recent letter to the editor entitled “To wonder women.”

While the letter started with honest criticism of the Women’s March, its final paragraph revealed it to be yet another call for joining the March for Life. I have struggled with the recent rhetoric that has surrounded these two movements. While many pro-life supporters argue that one can be pro-life and pro-woman, these assurances are intermingled with attacks on feminism in America as a whole, as evidenced by this most recent letter to the editor.

Additionally, it is necessary to respond to the author’s claim that the Women’s March does not speak the “whole truth.” The Women’s March is for more than just white women in pink hats. It is a movement that includes transgender women, women of color and men who have been bullied for their advocacy of women. More than that, the Women’s March speaks for all those who feel undercut and marginalized by the current American narrative: for the Americans who do not know if they will be forced to return to a country they have never known in March, for Americans who believe in the science of climate change and for those who do not see Haiti as a “s—hole” country. It is for all of us.

Finally, there is a similar problem with the final line of the letter, which troubled me the most: “Young Wonder Woman, you say you will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves, but the pro-life movement is fighting for them now.” It seems as though the author has forgotten all the women who came before her, and have been fighting for her rights long before she marched on Washington in the March for Life.

I’d like to provide a brief history of feminism in America to illustrate the way that women before us fought for you and me.

Long before we were here, Emmeline Pankhurst and her fellow freedom fighters were protesting in support of women’s right to vote in Britain. Two-hundred unarmed women and men were assaulted on the steps of the British Parliament in 1910 as they rushed to protest for the right of their legislation, the Conciliation Bill, to be read on the floor of Parliament. One-hundred-nineteen were arrested.

I doubt that they were concerned with the question of whether disrupting the patriarchy was proper or not.

Consider as well the women’s suffrage movement in America. It began in 1840, with women being given the right to vote in 1920; women fought for your right to vote for 80 years before succeeding.

While many of us immediately recognize the names and characters of the remarkable Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone, it is important to acknowledge another influential segment of the women’s suffrage movement in America. In 1917, Alice Paul and 200 of her National Woman’s Party supporters were arrested for picketing the White House.

What follows are some of the slogans on their signs:

Kaiser Wilson, have you forgotten your sympathy with the poor Germans because they were not self-governed? Twenty-million American women are not self-governed. Take the beam out of your own eye.”

“The time has come to conquer or submit, for us there can be but one choice. We have made it. – Wilson” (Ironically quoting President Wilson back to himself)

Wilson is against women.”

“No self-respecting woman should wish or work for the success of a party that ignores her sex. – Susan B Anthony

Those who were arrested endured harsh treatment in prison and were brutally force-fed while on hunger strike.

All of this was for our right to vote.

I do not think their message was for men to “Rise up!” It was an active movement for women to rise up, to reclaim the power that was rightfully theirs and take it back from the patriarchy in power.

The fight for our rights did not stop with our sisters in the suffragette movement. Rather, it continued throughout the 20th century.

Our right to contraception: Thank Margaret Sanger and her band of women.

Our presence in government: Thank Jeannette Rankin and Shirley Anita Chisholm among countless other trailblazers.

An attempt to give us equality in the Constitution: Thank Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman.

All of these women fought for those who could not fight for themselves. This did not begin with the Women’s March or the pro-life movement. The only reason you and I are able to march on Washington in the first place, though for different causes, is because of what these women dared to do.

I will take their example and lead with it. To worry about the place of those in power when trying to do away with oppression is to take a defeatist approach. Those who marched alongside me in the women’s march, both men and women, are not trying to “create a starless night for those who have screwed us over.” We are trying to use our words, our power and our presence to create a space for ourselves in society. We are fighting back. To march with any other intention is pointless.

Our sisters can tell you that.

Jackie O’Brien
Feb. 4

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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