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’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.
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.
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.”
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.