This weekend, I’ll be in our nation’s capital with a few hundred thousand other women who are gathering to make our voices heard at the Women’s March on Washington. At 51, this is my first foray into activism on a major scale. (I walked in a March of Dimes thing in high school, but that was more about getting a close look at Leif Garrett than changing the world.) A friend of mine, knowing that I don’t tend to fade into the background often, was surprised to learn that I’ve never been on the front lines of anything controversial before. I’ve been thinking about why I have waited this long, and I have a few thoughts on the subject I’ll be sharing this week.
Following the trailblazers.
My friend Amy shared a story in her 2014 TEDx talk that I relate to about entering the workforce as a woman who was raised by strong women. In our twenties, we were familiar with the women’s rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, and made the mistake of assuming that in terms of equality for women, the work that needed to be done had been done.
I knew the names and work of Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. I was raised by a successful working woman who supported my dreams. As an adult, I was able to go to college, buy my own car, and refinance my mortgage after a divorce. At work, I wasn’t afraid to speak up if I needed things to change in my personal circumstances.
Many of the things I took for granted – the availability of a job when I needed one, bank loans, childcare options – were benefits provided by the hard work of women who came before me, and I was doing fine. I was comfortable.
But the trouble is, the paths that are blazed ahead of us by pioneers in any social change movement are wide and clear because of the numbers of individuals who have been traveling them together. As young women of the 1980s and 90s, we had no trouble following the path women like our mothers walked before us. But we have discovered, as Amy says “the weeds are growing up behind” us. There is still work to be done. There will always be work to be done.
Comfort breeds complacency.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” — Martin Luther King, Jr. tweet
When we think we’ve won the battle, it’s easy to stop looking for the enemy on the horizon – to relax a little. Unfortunately, the enemy is still out there. For example, I was raised to believe that Roe v. Wade was a done deal. It’s law. It was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States and is a Constitutional Amendment. In my view, that’s pretty sacred. But as I have learned more about the machinations of political groups and the ease at which constitutional law can be re-interpreted or even misinterpreted based on personal opinion (or worse, for personal gain), my faith in the stability of Roe v. Wade and many, many other laws that protect women’s rights has been shaken.
I have two daughters who are young adults. I have a son who may someday be in a relationship with a woman. The current threats to the rights of women may not make my personal life as a woman that much more difficult – I am secure in my career and healthcare choices – but they will affect my children and grandchildren. They will certainly affect many of my friends in their 20s and 30s. How will answer when they ask me why I stood by silently as their rights – rights that I have enjoyed thus far in my life – were stripped away?
It’s not fun to be uncomfortable. But being comfortable can be dangerous. There is never a minute during a battle when complacency is acceptable. I am 51, and have enjoyed the life my mother and women like her made possible for me. I am marching to ensure that my children can say the same thing when they are my age.