Why I March

Taylor Talcott, Opinion Editor

I hate crowds more than anything in my life. They have no redeeming factors; they are loud, uncomfortable, and boisterous. Yet on January 20th, I found myself and my group of friends on a bus headed to San Francisco for the Women’s March. We had all stayed up the night before, making signs, and we grabbed some coffee before heading to the bus stop where we were met by several others with the same intention in mind. When we arrived in the city, the atmosphere was electric. There were people from all walks of life donning bright pink as they roamed the streets. Arriving at the Civic Center, the roads were already becoming packed as protesters gathered in anticipation. We stood there for several hours, listening to many guest speakers as they shared their pain and rage about the current state of our society. With every rousing chorus of “It is not alright!” the crowd grew increasingly loud and passionate. Despite my misgivings, I was having the time of my life just because I was a part of something meaningful. It’s strange that, even though there were over 50,000 protesters in San Francisco alone, many still distrust the idea of a march solely for women’s rights. They might say, “It’s 2018. We are already equal. Why do we need feminism?”

It may be 2018, but we are far from equal. Commonly misunderstood as the advocation of women’s rights over men’s, feminist theory is simply centered around the idea that all people deserve equality. Feminism is often treated like a dirty word in our society, and many feel reluctant to label themselves with the term “feminist.” However, if you believe in equality, especially between all genders, you are a feminist (at least in theory) whether you choose to accept the title or not. Women’s rights are advocated for because they are lacking not because they are more important. The ultimate goal for our society should be equality, and the only way to make these changes is through advocacy.

Only 67% of adult women in the United States are registered to vote, and only 58% of them actually do vote. Voter turnout in our country has been abysmal in the modern era, and the less women that participate in government, the less opportunities we have to let our voices be heard. The theme of this year’s march was, in fact, “Hear Our Vote.” Citizen participation is integral to upholding democracy. Without voter participation, the power accumulates in the hands of a select few, precluding the administration from reflecting popular ideology. As laws continue to threaten our autonomy and our freedom of choice, it is imperative that more women register so that they can have a say in how the government treats their bodies and their lives. One cannot sit and wait for change to occur. We should take to heart the words of notable author Suzy Kassem: “Our freedoms are vanishing. If you do not get active to take a stand now against all that is wrong while we still can, then maybe one of your children may elect to do so in the future, when it will be far  riskier – and much, much harder.” We must make the changes we desire to see in our society, and the best way to do so is to increase voter turnout.

In addition to unimpressive voter representation, women’s lack of prevalence in high-level, academic careers is distressing. Less than 30% of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workforce is made up of women, despite both males and females performing equally well on standardized testing and in advanced classes. Similar disparities are present in many other male-dominated fields such as business. This underrepresentation in higher-wage positions contributes to the gender wage gap, resulting in women being paid around 80 cents on the dollar. Black and Hispanic women are paid even less with about 65 cents to 58 cents on the dollar, respectively. The wage gap cannot be explained away by dissimilarities in the workforce; discrimination is obvious and prevalent. Education level does not play a role in the wage disparity as women are paid less than men of the same education level. Contrary to popular belief, the more education one has, the greater the wage gap is. Higher-paying jobs have a gap of about 30 cents whereas entry-level jobs for women have one of around 8 cents. Women are also “punished” for motherhood with mothers being paid 4.6% less than the average woman. However, men do not experience a corresponding “fatherhood penalty.” The gap has been closing in recent years, but there remains much work to be done, as there are obvious systematic oppressions deeply embedded in our system.

One of the most prevalent issues surrounding freedom is the protection of women’s bodily autonomy. A woman’s body is her responsibility and hers alone. This should not be an issue of negotiation. The government is awfully preoccupied with the lives of unborn fetuses rather than the living, breathing women who carry them. Just as the government cannot force someone to be an organ donor, they should not assume any right to tell women how to treat their body. If the issue of abortion was really about the “innocent lives,” then the argument would be a whole lot more convincing if there were any efforts made towards bettering healthcare or providing women with adequate plans for childcare. The decisions a woman chooses to make surrounding her body are only of her concern. Women deserve the right to bodily autonomy. It is a fundamental human right to have control over one’s life. The defunding of organizations such as Planned Parenthood is an egregious violation as it prevents thousands from having access to STD testing and birth control methods. Abortions make up only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services, and even if they were a more substantial portion, the defunding of such projects would be a violation of women’s rights to their bodies. Politics aside, the main goal of our society should be the preservation of people’s autonomy, and regardless of religious ideology, women have as much a right to choose what to do with their body as men do with their own.

We live in a society where fear is the supreme leader. Fear controls many aspects of people’s lives, but women especially feel its overbearing presence nearly every second of the day. Women are afraid to walk alone because they might be robbed, raped, or murdered. Women are afraid to voice their opinions because they might be viewed as pushy or overbearing. Women are afraid to speak up when they are raped or harassed because they think no one will believe them or that it will somehow be made out to be their fault. Women are afraid to leave their abusive partners because the consequences could lead to their own demise. Women are afraid of living their lives, and rightfully so. One in every six women will be raped in their lifetime, the figure exponentially increasing for those that aren’t cisgender, and only 43% of these rapes will get reported. Even in the case they are reported, women are often blamed for the crime because of their behavior or clothing. Less than two weeks into January, two trans women had been murdered. These numbers are far too high. The acceptable amount of occurrences such as these should be zero. It is time for women to stop being afraid, and time for all of us to do something about this.

Intersectionality is a big part of feminism that is often ignored. The core idea behind feminism is equality, and a group cannot truly advocate for equality unless all people are heard. Feminism is often whitewashed and commercialized, drowning out the voices of those who are hurting. Feminism is not some brand that can be bought and sold, it is the simple and necessary principle of equality. We cannot call ourselves advocates for social justice unless we include women of color and transwomen and stop solely focusing on the plight of white cisgender women. Women’s rights means rights for ALL women. Instead of denying privilege and erasing others’ struggles, those who are in the position to do so should be using their privilege in order to help others and to be more inclusive. Equality is nothing but an ironic joke if we do not all share its benefits.

Equality does not seem like an unreasonable request, yet time and time again, society precludes women from obtaining the basic and fundamental rights they deserve. Every human deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, and that is the goal feminism strives to achieve. Women are still not equal, and there should be no rest until this is achieved. Women continue to be underrepresented in our government and underpaid in our work forces. Everyday, women are afraid to live their lives for fear of being assaulted or worse. I march for those who just desire simple equality. I march for those who cannot speak their truths. I march for those who are consistently and systematically oppressed. They are all why I march and why you should too.