Travel is sometimes an escape ploy that takes me to places and times that are unfamiliar, and offers disconnection from my routine life and normality. But I invariably have to come home. Today I delay the next installment in a promised series of blogs on the North American West (observations on the Edith Cavell Mountain’s Angel Glacier in the Canadian Rockies). Instead, this essay reviews the Women’s March of 2017 (held last month, January) in Washington D.C., USA.
As a professional journalist for most of my life, I tend to observe events from the sidelines or from a discrete perch within the moment. I then use both words and pictures to record and report. Specializing in the “trade press” (fossil fuels, energy) genre, as opposed to the general public media, I confine myself to being a conduit for argument on every side of the issues. I indulge in personal opinion, and vigorously (as those who know me politely agree), mostly on my own time outside of the employment responsibilities.
Here, in this case, my thoughts and first-hand photographs briefly depict a remarkable display of women’s power unleashed last month at the US capitol and mall. I disclaim any motive. I do not wish to be perceived to be taking sides in a political debate, and an intense one at that. I do have strong opinions but prefer to share them only when asked by persons who I think might agree with themselves or who are at least willing to give equal time.
The social and political climate in America, unfortunately, does not currently offer the leisure of impartiality or passivity. A citizen is either for or against, or not counted as a reputable member of society. George Orwell or H.G. Wells, and forward time thinkers like them, have warned that advanced states can easily slip into the habit of branding. I try to steer clear of such tags but it is harder to do in either writing or speech if the words are not parsed vary carefully (and even then there is no guarantee of generosity) — the easy tags are labels like racist, sexist, misogynist; or on the other hand, elitist, leftist, communist, masochist, apologist, etc.
Beware the Power of a Women’s Movement
Women have always had great power, in the home and beyond, even though today the public discourse often suggests otherwise. At this writing, I have heard rumors that a “Day Without a Woman” strike is being planned to follow the “Day Without Immigrants” strike that took place last Thursday across the country.
It is almost cliche’ to refer back to the comedy written by Aristophanes, Lysistrata, performed in classical Greece in 411 BCE. The performance reflects a woman's determined mission to end the Peloponnesian War by denying all the men of the land any sex. Lysistrata persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of persuading them to negotiate peace with Sparta—a strategy, however, that inflames the battle between the sexes.
At one point in the play, Lysistrata says, “There are a lot of things about us women That sadden me, considering how men See us as rascals.” Calonice interjects, “As indeed we are!”
Whether populated by rascals or peacemakers, the massive gathering of women (and many men also, by the way) on a chilly day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump this winter created vibes of solidarity among a segment of the US citizenry that haven’t been evident probably since the 1960s.
To be fair, I note that the anti-abortion rallies in Washington, annually, similarly have been a forum for mostly female frustration, but of a different sort and not quite on the same scale. These two legs of the now revitalized women’s movement nationwide may not coincide or even be compatible, but there is evidence that each group’s perspective does infiltrate the political halls of power.
On January 21 I shuffled down the streets of DC for several hours, mingling with hundreds of
thousands of women and men who were decidedly seriously insulted by a new brand of American leader. It was impossible to step/walk normally in the crowd of sign-bearing individuals. Many women, a large number wearing “pink” knitted caps, tightly packed the parade route venues. The passion of the marchers suggested a shared disdain for the new leader of the US as much as for what many females consider to be anachronistic attitudes about their role in a progressive society and culture. The themes aired were numerous and too varied to address specifically. But each person certainly felt empowered, propelled by a crowd of believers.
There were remarks by some marchers about the absence of any visible police or law enforcement contingent. An unspoken disappointment was palpable among a minority of protesters who may have been seeking or expecting direct engagement or confrontation. Yet, the majority sense was that there was no physical threat from participants to either each other or the government; hence, there was no need for enforcers. The threat, if anything, was purely existential.
That more subtle kind of resistance, the existential, is the real nub of the impact of this unique gathering, it seems to me. These ladies, and the men followers, are feeling their time has come to exercise a free speech that they believe, rightly or wrongly, has been suppressed or abused. It was definitely a progressive, liberal, conclave (labels), with echoes of mostly urban lifestyle and coastal behavior preferences.
Ironically, though, their counterparts who stayed home, who participated in the subsequent anti-abortion rally later in January, and who voted enthusiastically or even cautiously for the now installed new President of the country, also believe their own circumstances have been overlooked and ridiculed -- for very different reason. They have been less vocal lately, perhaps because President Trump still wields the showman’s control of their preferred rhetoric; his supporters can’t get a word in edgewise. Moreover, their demonstration of public protest obviously got registered in the forum of the voting booth.
And so what is unfolding is not the same as the circumstances that motivated Lysistrata. There is here
potentially a deep divide within the sexes, and not only between the sexes.
And make no mistake about it. The outcome of these political battles that are beginning to unfold, whether championed or demolished by the “women’s movements” now afoot, will likely cause shock waves of global size.
A second cliche bears mentioning. "Heav'n has no rage, like love to hatred turn'd, Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d." — William Congreve, The Mourning Bride (1697).
This scorn proverb, I believe, does not carry the weight of universality of the not-so-subtle message in the Lysistrata. Whether or not a woman’s anger can exceed the wrath of her male counterpart is debatable and can be compared in only unique circumstances. The political weight of the yin population, however, is something to reckon with in every era of human history and in every forum. Perhaps this fact is one reason men at times have attempted to exclude or mask the feminine perspective in their deliberations.
Finally, whether Americans, blue-red-green, like it or not, the world’s commerce has become global in nature, and the US cannot excuse itself from the trade of ideas, no matter how strong the nostalgic sirens. There is less space for men and women to maneuver outside of each other’s framework, or without taking into account the diversity of the planet both in ideas and in behavior. A peaceful reconciliation is what almost everyone hopes for, but that outcome is not assured. Every generation of people seem to confront a “Waterloo” of some sort, and this time it appears there may be a larger than usual “battle of the sexes.”
What triggered this current potential rise, or resurrection, of a women’s movement or battle, a possible armageddon?
Why it seems to me the cause happens to be a man! Of course. May the best man…. err… woman, win! And I hope the planet earth doesn’t tip upside down in the meantime.
See Gallery below for a fuller picture of this event in Washington DC.