My response to the 2016 US Presidential election was by no means unusual—shock, sadness, rage. I suspect that I was not the only woman to feel attacked, as if someone had run up behind me and slammed a baseball bat into my head. The election of President Trump felt like a sharp reminder that the complacency I’d grown into during the previous administration was misplaced.
As the stepparent of three proudly political women, the daughter of a feminist, an alumna of a women’s college, and the spouse of a man who teaches at that same school, I at least came by that complacency honestly. I live in one of those “liberal bubbles” that came under such attack in the days post-election, a predominantly white city that boasts a crosswalk painted in the rainbow of LGBTQ rights and flies a “Black Lives Matter” flag from its city hall. It is a place where misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia certainly exist, but are usually shamed into silence by the collective glare of a community that prides itself on its progressivism.
The violence with which our bubble burst was compounded by the baffling and incoherent “analysis” of the days and weeks that followed: the galling assertion that the feelings of white working-class men were valid and real, while the sentiments of women, minorities, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community were whiny “snowflake” complaints. The suggestion that women don’t support each other, because 53% of white women supported Trump. (Never mind that 54% of ALL women voted for Clinton, compared to 42% for Trump—that’s just snowflake whining.)
All of which made the late fall and early winter a disheartening time. I withdrew from social media, public gatherings, the news—anything that might reveal to me more of the ugliness I had, until then, so blissfully ignored. I became ugly, too: I retreated into cynicism and rage, finding a perverse satisfaction in the natural disasters that wracked red states in December; rolling my eyes at reports of unemployment in the Rust Belt; mocking Kellyanne Conway’s looks and making slut-shaming comments about the First Lady. I championed ideas I’d previously seen as reactionary: states’ rights, the constant filibuster, protecting ”our” town (with guns?). I was unrecognizable to myself, which felt right, because my country was unrecognizable too.
And then January 21, 2017 happened. The Women’s March happened. Pussy hats and protest signs and thousands of women and allies clogging the D.C. Metro system, the NYC avenues, the LA freeways—more than 10,000 folks flooded even tiny Montpelier, VT (population 7.600). Women showed up in numbers that dwarfed the Inaugural turnout, for causes that expanded women’s issues to include minority rights, immigration rights, disability rights, LGBTQ rights, environmental rights, labor rights—a physical manifestation of intersectionality and collectivism that I had forgotten in my pampered bubble. The marchers made visible Audre Lorde’s assertion that “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
I am ashamed to say that on that day my role was as spectator. My privileged cynicism was so great that I had dismissed the March out of hand, sure that it would be yet another humiliation for well-meaning progressives, who failed to understand the true brutal selfishness of our fellow citizens.
But when I began to hear reports of how wrong I was, something broke inside of me. I began to look beyond my own self-pity. I saw thousands and thousands of people hoping for a future better than the one promised by the election, ready to fight for something, anything, other than this new (old) reality.
When the Day Without A Woman strike was called for March 8, International Women’s Day, I actually felt excited Not for the day off—I love my job, and I get nervous when we fall behind—but for the opportunity to show support for a movement that many women simply weren’t in a position to join. I am lucky enough to have a salary, paid vacation days, a boss who is himself a feminist, a job where, if I take a day off, no one will die, or have to work twice as hard in my stead. And a labor-union ethos runs hard in my family: The impact of an action is directly related to the number of people who show up. I had missed the Women’s March but I could take part in the Women’s Strike, and strike for those who couldn’t.
I tried to adhere to the spirit of the strike, which called for women to abstain from all labor, paid and unpaid. I went to hear Dinitia Smith talk about George Eliot. I made a donation to Planned Parenthood. I called U.S. representatives on the various action websites, registering my unhappiness with the ACA repeal and the immigration ban. I spent no money at all. I did not do the laundry or run errands, and I dutifully posted things on my personal social media. Were these small and potentially silly actions? Sure (well, not the Planned Parenthood donation). Will they change the situation in D.C? Deeply unlikely.
So why do it? Partly to work for something bigger than myself. Partly to prove that those of us in our bubbles don’t have to be out of touch, whiny, irrelevant. And partly because the fights I want to join—for women, minorities, LGBTQ people, immigrants, the real working class (an overwhelmingly nonwhite population), the disabled and chronically ill, poor children, the elderly—have always faced incredibly powerful opposition from the top.
Obama’s administration didn’t make these fights go away. It just made it easier for people like me—white, privileged, ensconced in my bubble—to pretend they did. Trump’s election didn’t make me feel out of touch with white men; it showed me how out of touch I had become with everyone else. The Women’s March and Women’s Strike are symbolic, sure, but what they symbolize is a collective will that rejects apathy and despair. They redirect attention away from the egotism of privilege, away from cynicism and self-pity, to the very real struggles of those who have been waiting for people like me to wake up, stand up, and join the fight.
Emily Wojcik is Managing Editor at the Massachusetts Review.