Women’s March on Washington: I’m Going To Do This All Wrong

I tried writing this essay for a couple of days before I left for the Women’s March on Washington. It never would come together. Now it has. I’ll write more over the coming days but I had to start from where I started.


I’m going to the Women’s March on Washington this weekend and I’m pretty sure I’m going to do this all wrong.

For weeks, I’ve heard white friends grow more excited about the March as it coalesces. Lots of Wesleyannes are going–Pris is hosting Sherry and her daughter among others, Jan and Lindi are making it into a mini class reunion. Allison is on the way from Michigan, and Mandy from Baltimore. Courtney and her son are riding up on the bus, along with just about every midwife I know. Those who aren’t making the trip to DC are marching in their towns. Seth and his daughters in North Carolina. Lisa in the Great Plains. San Diego and New York and Florida. It’s exciting to literally STAND UP for what we believe in.

At the same time, I’ve heard friends who are women of color taking a pass on this march. Its birth was awfully centered on white feminism and they are not feeling the space as a safe one. Even choosing a name was problematic, with organizers who had too little knowledge of marches that had come before and spaces that have already been occupied by black women. Women who have been fighting this fight a lot longer than I have. What if I mess this up and the simple act of going makes my friends trust me less? What if I fail to listen? To learn? To follow?

I’m going to do it wrong.

But I’m going to do it. And I’m going to do it wrong.

Looking over the list of speakers, I recognize fewer names than I should. I have grown up knowing about Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem. I recognize Ilyasah Shabazz’ name from her mother, Betty Shabazz, but I just learned Janet Mock’s name a couple months ago and Zendaya a few before that (from Tom and Lorenzo’s fashion blog). I’ll probably miss the most rousing speech of the day because I didn’t know the person’s name and decided to stand in line at the portapotty.

I don't look like any of these faces on the posters.

I don’t look like any of these faces on the posters. And that’s OK. I joined the crowdfunding on this one and chose the poster of the woman with the flower in her hair, because she looks like my daughters. But not like me.

I’m learning to keep my feminism intersectional so that I work for women of all races, ages, sexualities, and economic groups, but there’s no way I won’t mess that up. I’m always going to start from being a white, middle class, cis-gendered, middle age, straight woman. My reflex when I think about pay disparity will be to think “77 cents to the dollar” because that’s what white women make. That’s my number. For Black women, it’s 63 cents and for Latinas, it’s 54. I should probably write Latinx. I messed that up.

I will cry when the Mothers of the Movement tell their stories, but I haven’t heard their stories enough to remember which mama lost which son in which city. It’s all so much to keep straight these days. I believe that Black Lives Matter, but I still feel like a poser when I say it because I don’t know how to do the work behind the slogan.

I know more lyrics from the Indigo Girls than Janelle Monae (did I spell that right?). I did start listening to her Pandora station and damn, that Beyonce’s “Lemonade” is sweet but I know it’s not for me. I mean, I’m not a full-on Becky but I got some Becky in my DNA. Somewhere.

 

hat

 

Should I wear the pink pussy hat? I love the insouciance of the idea, the reclaiming of a slur and turning it against the one who grabbed it. I love that Diane can’t go to the March but already had a hat waiting on her needles that she gave to me. But some feminists think the hat is too precious–it smacks of hashtag activism and Pinterest politics. We don’t have to sweeten or soften ourselves to make it OK to rally. Then again, one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington dismissed the question about the pussy hats by pointing out that women are always turned into caricatures, no matter what we do. We’re too loud, speak too softly, use vocal fry or up speak or we get shrill. We dress like we’re asking for it or we dress to negate our selves. If we say pussy it’s vulgar and crude and invalidates our point, but if he says it…it’s locker room talk and shouldn’t stop anyone from being elected President. Wear the hat or don’t wear the hat? I’ll probably fuck that up too. Oops. I’ll probably do that wrong too.

Are these new boots going to be warm enough? What if my hip starts to ache? I’m not in any shape for all this walking. I should have put more time into getting in shape. And more thought into what I was going wear. A shirt to represent my home state? Something clever written on it? Ugh. I am so going to dress wrong.

What about my sign? That’s a minefield of things to mess up. I want to put something Constitutional, like “EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER LAW” but that is awfully dry, even on pink poster paper. If I put something like “U.S. OUT OF MY UTERUS” does that turn me into a one-issue feminist? I think about a simple “BLACK LIVES MATTER” because I am convinced that I should use my white privilege to amplify the message that is being dismissed. Police are careful when white women are around. People listen when white women talk. Except politicians. And the church. And and and…damn. There’s no way I’m going to find the right words for any of this.

It’s all so confusing and I’m wondering if I should drop out, stay home, shut up. Let people who can do these things RIGHT do them. I’ll watch and learn. I’ll do it next time, once I’ve thought my way through all the snags.

Overthinking things is one thing I absolutely know how to do, a craft that I have refined over decades of consistent training and relentless dedication to chasing my own tail.

DAMMIT.

I looked at the stuff I had been throwing in a suitcase so I wouldn’t forget to take it and that’s when I made up my mind. I’m going. And I’m going to do this all wrong. I’m going, so that I can do this, even if I do it wrong. Because my mom left a laughing voicemail that said when she told my 98-year-old Grandmama Irene that I was going to the March, Grandmama replied, “GOOD. Somebody needs to do SOMETHING.”

 

My baggage.

My baggage.

I’m taking my “I am a woman” shirt from Wesleyan College, a place that taught me how important it is that I know myself and speak my truth. I’m taking a fanny pack from my son’s camp time at E.S.P., because he’s a specially educated person and Betsy Damn Devos has no business in the Department of Education, even if she can tame the grizzly bear threat. I’m taking my boots, which still have some mud on them from volunteering on MLK Day of Service. I’m new to putting my boots on the ground, but I’m not afraid of getting dirty. I’m taking a book about being a Bad Feminist because I am definitely doing that already. And my other book is about shepherding a daughter through adolescence and even though I haven’t read it yet, I’m pretty certain it doesn’t say, “Sit on the sidelines until you can do it perfectly.” I’m trying to show her how to live out President Obama’s advice: Show up. Dive In. Keep at It. And I’m taking not just one pink pussyhat, but three. Diane is a damn fast knitter. Jean, who isn’t exactly a fan of pink will wear one and Courtney has claimed the other. Shannah is sending a couple more from Queens and I hope they get here in time.

Because every adventure has to start somewhere. Every person who goes on a quest carries some baggage along.

I’m going, and I’m going to do this all wrong.

 

19 thoughts on “Women’s March on Washington: I’m Going To Do This All Wrong

    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      I think it’s only Yas in the context of “YAS, QUEEN!” which I’m not sure whether I can say. So i’ll just nod in your general direction! And I love you. Thank you for being willing to keep yourself uncomfortable and changing.

      Reply
  1. Michelle Golden

    Finally! I’ve been looking for this post; as usual, you’ve spoken directly to me. I’ve seen a lot of talk about white feminism & asking whether the white women will be at the next BLM march, and part of me says “yes, I have been to one before” in a little voice because I’m trying to do the right things and I feel defensive that people are telling me that my activism isn’t enough, or isn’t the right kind, but isn’t it better than doing nothing? And maybe I just should learn more and try to do more but damn I’m tired. (Somebody call the waaaa-mbulance, right?)

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      I have called 9-whine-whine for your waaaaaaambulance! I know it’s hard not to react defensively to those comments. Their words are true and your feelings are true and our goal is to create a space where both things can exist without having to cancel each other out. You are doing the work. I will go with you to the next BLM march. And here’s an excellent article with 3 action points about practicing intersectional feminism: http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Feverydayfeminism.com%2F2015%2F01%2Fwhy-our-feminism-must-be-intersectional%2F%23.WIaEg3ebp_M.facebook&h=ATP2xnOLGNmDWfNPXPDXTM_YL_Zn32-0bvG3P9pm7ImzOP-w-8cehhQTLZYYSZge16sc3q-2grUlh5bZq0J-DjLAlKfTwVEXyN1wISFf6x4AmQWQLI3ISzFVCxJgyEBBmJE

      Reply
      1. Michelle Golden

        I’m there. I am also trying to remind myself that my small work in the classroom is my personal crusade to show that black lives matter (and latinx lives too)… when it’s hard and I think of how much cushier my job would be in a school like the one I myself attended, I have to remember Dumbledore “we must choose between what is easy and what is right.” Oh man, I just quoted a white woman through the character of a white man. I’m doing it wrong again too.
        How about this one instead: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” Zora Neale Hurston

  2. Lynn

    Beautifully said! As my father has always been fond of saying, “Do something, even if it’s wrong!” He hates sloth and inaction, but throughout my life I’ve been able to find a higher meaning in his words and use it for motivation far beyond anything he imagines. And remember, people rarely do anything 100% right the first time they try something new!

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      That is EXACTLY what I try to show Vivi–that learning requires mistakes and commitment to fixing them.

      Reply
  3. Emily Nichols Grossi

    This is wonderful, Ashley. If I may, I think you’re doing all this exactly right. Which is to say, with questions and fits and starts and honest, sincere trying. I’m so glad you came. I’ll never forget the March, but I know it was only the beginning. We have a lot of work to do.

    Reply
    1. Baddest Mother Ever Post author

      I cannot get that song “Only the Beginning” (by Chicago?) out of my head. And THAT is probably proof of my Becky DNA.

      Reply
  4. Chris Antenen

    Oh, how I would have loved being there–but I was–I was there with you and my friend BAM. I told everybody that. “No, I can’t do that any more, but my friend BAM (That’s short for fabulous Aunt Bam to my grandchildren.) and my writing friend Ashley are going to be there for me.” I thought of you both so often that day and it gave me hope. We can do this because women get things done. MK and Charlie marched in Atlanta. Charlie’s sign said, “If boys can be boys, then women can be President.”

    I read your post more than once and you have one thing wrong. You already understand the magnitude of the problem and that you’ll probably get some thing wrong, because of all those confusing little pieces of sexism, racism, fear, misogyny– but you forgot the numbers, if we could divide up all the problems, or more accurately all the little pieces, a million or so women can get it done. You can’t fix everything by yourself, but you can fix a little piece of it. That’s one thing I learned in the sixties. I worked hard during the civil rights movement, and was frustrated that we couldn’t fix it all and that most people didn’t care. Then I decided that if one little child (mostly I thought girl) got into Head Start because of what I did, that was enough. And that I should go on finding just one thing to fix at a time. Maybe it’s just standing up to the person that tells a racist joke or story and thinks you’ll laugh because you’re white. I spent years being silent. Not any more. My friend Donita stopped going to a certain Athens doctor because of his political and racist remarks and she told him.

    I’ve been lax lately and just send some money so others could fix things, but the march made me realize that my age doesn’t matter. I’ll find something to “fix” and I’ll be accountable to myself.

    Wonderful piece, Ashley.

    Reply
  5. Michelle

    Thank you for marching, for the wrong things, and the oh so many right things. And thank you for helping me find my voice. What was that sign? FORWARD NOT ONE STEP BACK? Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Gina

    It takes guts to learn to crawl and then to walk. Most of us got through those steps just fine. You just keep going, Girl! Not much is linear.

    Reply
  7. Pingback: Women's March Part 2: Can I Swap Places With You? - Baddest Mother Ever

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