I didn't want to go to the Women’s March in Los Angeles on Saturday.
It was tough getting there, given the number of people trying to take public transportation at the same time. I didn't hear any of the speeches because the PA system was too small. And I didn’t make it all the way to City Hall. An unanticipated crowd of 750,000 made it impossible to use the planned march route. But it was inspiring to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with total strangers of all ages, sexes, and backgrounds---in peaceful protest.
Crowds stream into Hollywood & Highland subway.
But I didn’t want to be there. There were many other things to tackle on my "to do" list. And I’ve done the marching thing before. The last time in the early 1970s, in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. And we all know how that turned out. So 40 years later, I'm a little pissed I have to take to the streets again. For the same damn reason: to protect women's rights.
I’ve been a member of a privileged group of upper-class white women most of my life. That didn’t stop anyone from sexually harassing me when I was growing up or at work. Nobody reported that shit back in the 1970s and 1980s because it was common for men to humiliate and intimidate women. Before I married, the only medical care and birth control available was through Planned Parenthood. My minimum wage job didn't come with health insurance. Later on, I was able to opt out of the workforce and stay home to care for my three kids. But the moment I asked for a divorce I discovered I hadn’t “worked” for 25 years. Funny how childcare has zero value when the babies you raise are your own.
My 60 plus years of life gives me perspective on how much respect women get in America. I’ve seen a few things change, but not much. Got boobs? Get ready for street or Internet harassment or unsolicited comments on your appearance. Show your nipples, and you're slut-shamed or worse. Get raped, and you’re called a liar. Even breast cancer awareness is hyper-sexualized. Studies show that men don't listen to us in meetings. Ambition or drive at work gets us labeled bitches. After decades of significant contributions to the workforce, we still aren't paid the same wage for the same job. These are the experiences of an assertive and accomplished white woman. So whatever sexism and inequality I've faced is nothing compared to what others encounter.
Women suffer most when we choose to have children. The United States is only one of 41 countries without any paid parental leave. (So much for our greatness.) Even when working full-time, statistics show that married women do the more of the housework and childcare. Most couples can’t afford to live on one income, so wages increasingly go to pay for these expenses. God forbid there should be any medical emergency not covered by insurance. And while young mothers are told "breast is best," they are insulted and stigmatized if they breastfeed in public or need to pump breast milk at work. Employers were only recently required to provide breaks and make accommodations for nursing women. Those tiny steps disappear with the repeal of the ACA.
So why do I march? Because, in 2017, a sitting President gets a pass when he brags about sexual assault, while his victims are silenced and ridiculed. I march because affordable health care is every American’s right, not for the privileged few. I march because it is wrong for one sex to pay more for health insurance than another. I march to preserve women's reproductive rights and freedoms. I march because equality means respecting a woman's body, choices, and her word.
And I'm not alone.
All images copyright Elisabeth Dale and The Breast Life.