Millions of people piled on and off trains and busses, bundled up in coats, scarves, and pink hats. Grand Central Station, where I stood with my mom and best friend, was electric. Hundreds crowded the Main Concourse, many of whom held up signs and banners. I could see white poster boards with neon letters everywhere, expressing words of strength and encouragement: “Stronger Together,” “My Body My Choice,” “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” “This is What Democracy Looks Like,” “Girls Just Wanna Have Fundamental Human Rights,” and “Diversity Makes America Great.” Huddled in groups, making sure to stay close to their loved ones, the masses made their way to One Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, the starting point of the Women’s March on New York City. Everyone was smiling and there was a clear sense of togetherness. Since I had never marched before, this feeling of unity was unlike anything else I’d previously experienced. I saw people of every race, age, background, and gender, all unified in their determination to prove the newly elected president wrong. Women with their children, husbands with wives and little kids, friends with friends, and most importantly, strangers with strangers. We were surrounded by loud noises, and people were moving in every direction, not wildly but with purpose. We were soon outside in the middle of a blocked off 42nd street, walking uptown in unanimous support of equality and human rights.
From the moment I heard of plans for nationwide marches in support of women’s rights—and the rights of any marginalized group hurt or subjugated by the rhetoric of newly inaugurated President Donald Trump—I knew I needed to participate. Throughout the election season, I felt barraged by debates, news stories, and presidential commentary. It was the first presidential election I had paid close attention to, and politics aside, it was the first time that I, a white girl living in New Jersey, previously oblivious to my privilege, felt that my identity as a female was being threatened. I have always been a feminist. I think it is particularly important to consider feminist intersectionality when it comes to feminist-related topics, like the pay gap, representation in the media, and violence against women. If we are to discuss the modern issues facing women, we must consider women of every race, class, culture, sexuality, background, etc. That said, I was never politically engaged or civically active. Trump’s demoralizing rhetoric changed that.
Before President Trump’s inauguration, he had made comments that terrified me, not only about individual women but also regarding institutions that provide support for women, He had said that sexual assault was the expected result of including women in military services, repeatedly criticized and demeaned women based on their appearance, called Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy,” and said that Ghazala Khan didn’t speak during the Democratic convention because as a Muslim she probably wasn’t allowed to. Most painful were his threats to defund Planned Parenthood, and his recorded comments on the 2005 Access Hollywood tape released in October of 2016: “When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Whatever you want.” The list goes on and on. His rhetoric had fundamentally challenged basic humanitarian principles.
I have always been a beneficiary of our country’s somewhat unjust social system because of my race. Therefore, I had never previously considered my identity as something that could hurt me. Suddenly, the words of one man made me feel small and insignificant, like I had no control over my position in society. His words told me that I was less than my male counterparts, that I couldn’t made my own decisions, that I was to be told what to do, how to look, how to act. The reality of how demoralizing a single person can be in such a relatively brief span of time reflects the power of language. In 2014, Trump referenced a female reporter, saying: “We could say, politically correct, that looks doesn’t matter, but the look obviously matters. Like you wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t beautiful.” In a USA Today interview in August of 2016 he suggested that the women speaking out against Roger Ailes of FOX News on claims of sexual assault should simply find another job. When asked what he would suggest that his daughter Ivanka do if she were ever harassed, he said he “would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case.” This only skims the surface of how offensive Trump has been towards women.
Even though he wasn’t speaking to me directly, why did his words hurt so much? Ultimately, female identity was being powerfully objectified and devalued. It never occurred to me that I would be the target, albeit indirectly, of disrespect on such a huge scale as that of the President. Almost just as frightening as his own words was the prospect that his treatment and conception of women would be normalized and imitated around the country. I had never marched for anything, or in protest of anything, before, but I knew that this was something worth fighting for.
Being at the march with my mom made the experience even more special. We were alike in that she had never felt threatened in this particular way either. Before the Women’s March in January, she had never participated in a march herself. On the morning of Wednesday November 9th, I walked downstairs to eat breakfast and get in the car to go to school. The night before, my mom and I had sat together on the couch until one o’clock in the morning, watching the election unfold. After President Trump won Pennsylvania and Florida we knew that the race was virtually over. I actually went to bed before the results were called, and woke up to a New York Times news alert on my phone confirming the dreaded reality. At the time, my dad was working in London and my brother was at college, so it was just my mom and I in the house as the stressful night went on. The next morning was no better than the night before.
“Good morning,” my mom said with tears in her eyes.
“Hi,” was all I could think of. My voice sounded cold and shattered. I looked her in the eyes and started crying. Of course, she pulled me in for a hug.
“How did this happen?” she asked rhetorically, beginning to cry herself. After a moment, she apologized. “I’m sorry,” she said, as if this was somehow her fault, which it was not. We didn’t say much else to each other that morning, which was unusual for us. But it was an unusual morning. I got in the car and cried as I drove the entire way to school. My mom is a woman of great poise and strength, and seeing the effect that President Trump’s election had on her, how it made her feel so frightened and weak, made me realize the impact that the Women’s March could have.
On January 20th, I was afraid to be a woman in the United States, but on January 21st, being a woman made me feel invincible. I felt uplifted by the spirit and energy of the march, and by the knowledge that others felt the same way that I did: that their identities, whether that be their race, gender, sexuality, nationality, should be celebrated and not devalued.
Marching with thousands of strangers in New York City, and millions of strangers worldwide, was when I felt the safest and proudest I had ever felt about being a woman. The march in itself fundamentally refuted all that the president had said about women. Possibly the only good thing that can come out of someone using their power to bully others is that it can bring people together. The positivity, support, and strength that erupted from the marches that took place on January 21st was reflective of the potential of a community, no matter how big or small. The ability for a diverse group of strangers to form such a community reinforced my understanding that I have counterparts in both my fear and my determination.
Some people marched against President Trump altogether, but I marched with the intention of preventing anyone else from feeling the way I felt. Identifying as female shouldn’t be something to fear—rather, it should be viewed as a boundless opportunity. Although I had always believed this to be true, I only definitively came to this conclusion recently. Maybe I have President Trump’s election to thank for that.
Because of my experience at the Women’s March I have become more aware of how important my female identity is to me, and how I can take that knowledge and do something with it. By having my own identity threatened, I was able to recognize the instability that many marginalized women—particularly transgender women, women of color, and underprivileged women—face in terms of their rights. I always knew this was true, but it was further illuminated to me throughout the election season. Participating in the Women’s March was the first step I needed to take in order to be more aware of the reality of inequality and begin to take steps to help correct it.
While gender is a socially constructed phenomenon, the importance of my identity as a female has grown in reaction to Trump’s behavior and language throughout his race and presidency. I suppose I needed Trump’s violent words in order to find my voice and instigate my engagement. The Women’s March made me feel powerful enough to do so, but many others don’t feel safe to stand up for themselves in this political moment. How do we continue to help one another and promote positive change when it contradicts sanctioned authority? I believe that the key is to not reciprocate rage with rage. Resisting evil or injustice with more evil or injustice is a contradictory tactic. Feminists fighting for equality all around the world have proven that completely peaceful action is possible and effective. I never thought of myself as an activist per se, but taking part in a worldwide event like the Women’s March was the spark I needed to ignite my desire and reveal my potential to stand up for women who may be unable to stand up for themselves.
Victor, Daniel. “’Access Hollywood’ Reminds Trump: ‘The Tape Is Very Real’.” The New York Times, 28 Nov. 2017. www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/us/politics/donald-trump-tape.html.
VegasNETmedia. “Donald Trump discusses Miss Universe, inner and outer beauty, and his family success recipe.” YouTube, 6 Feb. 2014. www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aw-_x5cYGMs.
Powers, Kirsten. “Trump says he hopes Ivanka would quit if she got harassed: Kirsten Powers.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 1 Aug. 2016. www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2016/08/01/ailes-trump-sexual-harassment-fox-news-women-gretchen-kelly-greta-news-column/87915454.