Womens' Voices Being Heard
By Catherine Van Weele
In 1913, the day before President Wilson Woodrow’s inauguration, suffragettes marched in Washington D.C. demanding to be given the right to vote. It wasn’t until seven years later that the 19th Amendment would be passed, prohibiting the federal or state governments from denying a person the right to vote based on their sex. A century later, women are still taking to the streets fighting for equality.
The 2017 Women’s March was a tremendous display of female power. The day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, women’s marches took place all across the country. Officials estimated that 4.2 billion people participated across the nation, making it the largest day of protest in United States history. Trump winning the presidential election was a wake up call for many people that action must be taken if they wanted to see change occur.
A few weeks ago, on January 20th, a second Women’s March was held nationwide on the anniversary of last year’s event. For the 2018 Women’s March, the focus was on voting. The march encouraged women to go out and vote in the midterm elections for candidates who reflect their shared values and who will push for such legislation.
“In an age in which such social issues are prevalent in society and there is growing support for these issues, I think it’s important to show support, especially for things you care about and especially something so positive and historic like the Women’s March,” said Novato High senior Priana Aquino, who attended this year’s march in San Francisco.
“For me, this year felt really positive, both of them were positive. One felt more protest and this felt action in terms of we are really looking at voting,” said Novato High English teacher Susan Lehman.
Lehman attended the 2017 Women’s March in Oakland and participated in a sister march in Sonoma County this year. She stated that she will be voting in the midterm elections and recognizes the importance of having moderate candidates.
“I do think it is important that we build consensus. I will always vote for candidates that are looking at social justice and issues pertaining to people, but I also believe that our democracy has to have a balance,” Lehman said. “So I think that having candidates that are willing to build consensus and compromise is something I have to look at, maybe at centrists, more than perhaps I am.”
Some women want to do more than march and vote. This year, in what is being referred to as the Pink Wave, a record number of women are planning to run for government offices on the local, state, and federal levels.
“It’s impossible to predict the future, but if the midterms are like special elections or the Virginia legislature election we saw in June, then a lot of women are about to get elected,” said Novato High Government teacher Conor Callahan.
Sentiments of the #MeToo Movement were very prominent at this year’s march. Speakers at multiple marches shared their #MeToo stories and protesters brought signs denouncing sexual harassment and assault.
“I think the most powerful thing about women’s marches is that it breaks the feeling of isolation and, sometimes shame, that victims of sexual assault feel. It is a clear message that they are not alone which is very powerful even for the women who do not actually attend the marches. It is also demonstrates a flexing of political power, ie. voting power, that elected officials have to pay attention to,” said Novato High counselor Nonie Reyes. “In this age, when the highest office of the land is occupied by someone who has treated women in a degrading way, it is very important to push back and clearly voice that is not acceptable.”
This year’s march took on a multitude of feminist matters, especially emphasizing empowerment for women of color. Organizers of the march encourage voters to elect women of color candidates to give females and ethnic or racial minorities a stronger voice in government.
“There are a lot things I can’t do, especially in media, that I can’t do because of my race. There are not as many opportunities for women of color and I didn’t grow up with a lot of role models who are also Filipino Americans,” Aquino said. “It didn’t make me sad, but it made me want to be the first Filipino American woman that you see on the screen or in magazines; just out there so others can see that and be motivated to make a mark on society.”
In addition to women’s rights, people marched for a wide range of social issues. Protesters brought signs supporting on issues such as environmentalism, immigration, and the LGBTQ community. This reflects the call for intersectional feminism. Intersectional feminism is recognizing overlapping identities women may have, such as ethnicity or social class, and how that influences their experience with prejudice and injustice.
“Well, I think that [intersectionality] is important in any movement. It seems like feminism is trying to understand that there has to be diversity within,” Lehman said. “Intersectionality can only help. The more informed we are about other people’s experiences, the better off our decisions will be.”
Throughout history, in the United States and abroad, women have taken an active role is social issues outside of feminist matters. In 1917, on International Women’s Day, Russian women led tens of thousands of workers on strike to protest the overpriced food prices. In 2000, the Million Mom March took place in Washington D.C. marching for stricter gun control. In 2016, South African high schoolers protested the school’s racially discriminative hair policy which resulted in the policy being suspended. Women of today continue to persist and march for their own rights as well as the freedoms of others.
“I believe that in 2018, more young women will feel empowered to tell their stories or stand up for their rights,” Reyes added. “The space has open up for them to do so knowing they will be supported. Young women more than ever have an understanding of the intersects between women’s rights, racial and economic justice.”
The momentum of this new wave of feminism is continuing to build, as we have entered a period of open discussion on issues that had long been silenced. However, there needs to be more than conversation, there needs to be action and change. The Women’s March has recognized this need and through encouraging people to take to the polls, it has cultivated hope that votes will result in the necessary changes being made.