Feminism by Catherine Cottam #CompassionOrBust

“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people. -Marie Shear”

I’m not quite sure how to begin this or if I am even the right person to write this post, seeing as how I am relatively new to feminism myself, having only been introduced to it around 2011 or so.  I’m ashamed to admit that as a teenager (and, if I’m being honest, even into my college days) I used the term “feminazi” and believed that feminists were just a bunch of men hating weirdos who didn’t want to shave their armpits and legs and who were, obviously, all lesbians.  By the time I reached graduate school, I was more open to the thought that feminists maybe weren’t everything I thought they were, but imagine my shock when my graduate school girl friends pointed out that my views and values aligned with those of third wave feminism.

Much like Taylor Swift, I was resistant to the label at first.  I didn’t know what it meant that I was now a feminist or if there was a set of rules I was supposed to follow or a certain set of things I was now supposed to do.  I can almost imagine the horror seventeen-year-old me would feel at finding out that not only did I turn out to be a feminist, but I turned out to be the type of feminist who would endure a nine hour long car ride and intensely uncomfortable crowds just to not be able to see or hear anything at the world’s largest single protest.  But that’s exactly where I found myself and what I found myself doing a few weekends ago.

Around the same time that I found out I was a feminist, I also found out that I have something called privilege- and lots of it.  As a straight, white, middle class, cisgender female, there were and are a lot of opportunities available to me that aren’t available to other people.  In addition to learning about privilege, I had to learn about things like gender, intersectionality, and  race in ways I had never considered before.  According to Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectional feminism is “the view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.”  If you’d like to learn more about feminism, I highly suggest reading bell hooks’ book, Feminism is for Everybody or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists.

Intersectionality means that I am oppressed not only because I’m a woman, but also because I’m a disabled woman.  I’m lucky in that I’m a cisgender middle class white lady, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t experience any oppression.  It just means that I experience less than some people and more than some other people.  Feminism has helped me make sense of a world that I previously didn’t fully understand and it’s helped me understand why it can feel so bad to be a woman and specifically a woman with mental health stuff.

I wrote something about the Women’s March on Washington sort of for my Memoir Writing class I’m taking and sort of for my own personal record keeping.  It’s here:

I’m walking down the street, River on my left-hand side and Tiffany on my right.  Tiffany and I make small talk about how excited we are for the day to come, but we are also bleary-eyed from not getting to sleep early last night and, if I’m being honest, there’s still a bit of the sleeping pill I took last night in my system.  We are in Arlington, Virginia and we are on our way to board the silver line Metro to the National Mall.  We swipe our SmartTrip cards and pass through the barriers.  The station is packed and it takes us almost an hour to finally board a train as all the ones that come through the station are either too full for anyone to get on them, people push past us to get on them, or they don’t have enough room for Tiffany, River, and I.  River does better than expected on the train, lying down next to me and only trying to greet two people.  A woman spills her hot but not burning coffee on me and all over the floor.  It hurts a little bit but it mostly makes me angry because she chose to push her way to stand in between my legs over River in the first place.  We will see later if River got sticky from the coffee or stayed out of it, but at this point, I’m really not sure.  We exit the train and it’s time to face one of my biggest fears for the day: will the elevator be working or will we have to take the escalator up?  River has practiced on the escalator a lot, including using the escalator a lot yesterday to prepare her for this very moment, but I’d still rather she didn’t have to use it at all in the crowd and she does better going down the escalator than going up it.  The crowds make it impossible to do anything but move forward towards the escalators.  Mercifully, they are turned off and are therefore glorified stairs that are unlikely to trap unprepared dog claws and toes.

The crowd is stop and go, moving at barely a crawl for reasons unclear to us.  We eventually emerge from the escalator and walk out of the metro station where we continue to walk for a few blocks before we run into a massive number of people.  I’m not sure how many people are here, but there must be hundreds of thousands of women with some children and men about as well.  I’m sure the media will have a count in the days that follow, but all I know right now is that it is a lot of people and the weight of having so many of them around me makes me feel like I’ll be crushed to death.  I know that weight is all in my head.  This is a peaceful demonstration, after all.  The organizers have worked very hard to ensure that and have done their best to ensure that few, if any, arrests are made.  But tell that to my anxiety disorder.  Or don’t.  It won’t listen anyway.

Each person is here for her own reason, she has her own motive, her own white whale, but we are all united under the same unifying principles and the same title, the Women’s March on Washington.  I march because it’s the right thing to do.  I march for Planned Parenthood and the ACA and Equity and disability rights.  I march because this is 2017 and the idea that Black Lives Matter should be a given, not a necessary and crucial movement that is dismissed by so many in positions of privilege and power.  I march because I get to call the United States my home, while so many others are in danger of being forced to leave their home because of the President Elect.  I march so I can tell future generations of my family that I was here in this important, beautiful, historic moment.

We are excited for the rally, but we waste time trying to find the ADA tent so that we can sit down.  My back is already screaming at me but it should calm down soon because I took a muscle relaxer after we got off the metro.  I may pay for this later, but this rally and this march are more important to me than a few days of pain.  We look for a way to get to the ADA tent, but we can’t find it and crossing Independence Avenue seems like an impossibility.  Even looking to the left away from the rally, Independence Avenue is packed with shoulder to shoulder people as far as the eye can see.  We cross Independence Avenue a few times, moving towards the front of the rally in an attempt to get away from the super religious counter protestor who has set up shop with a megaphone right next to the closes set of speakers.  From where we end up, you can just almost see a big screen showing the stage and you can sort of hear what the speakers are saying, but the crowd around us is affecting us both in a negative way, me more than Tiffany I think and in spite of the 2 mg of Ativan I have taken.  It’s time to move away and find somewhere else to go and find somewhere for me to sit for a while.

We make our way to the side of Independence Avenue away from the National Mall and walk along the buildings where there is more room and less of a crowd.  We round a corner and realize we are back where we started.  We walk up to the intersection and find a woman with an orange vest that says something about ADA on it and ask her where the ADA tent is.  She says there is no point in going there because all of the seats are full, it’s become overrun by non-ADA people, and it’s very crowded.  We turn back the way we came and sit down in a truck delivery area for some big concrete building to eat our lunches.  We hear from someone else later that this is when Gloria Steinem was speaking and we missed it, but that isn’t accurate- she spoke much earlier even than this.  We were very upset about this, but at least the live-stream is available online.  I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while Tiffany eats her ham and cheese.  When we finish, we make our way back to independence avenue and begin searching for a bathroom because I have the smallest bladder in the world.  We went towards the Smithsonian Castle but got to a point where we couldn’t move anymore, so we turned around and stood in place for a while listening to Scarlett Johansen speak about how she had to go to Planned Parenthood when she was fifteen because her family was poor.  Or at least Tiffany was listening to that happen.  I had no idea Scarlett Johannsen was speaking, only that I really needed a restroom.  I interview a woman for the podcast about what feminism means to her and about why she is marching.  I don’t know it at the time, but my voice recorder isn’t actually working.

I eventually tell Tiffany that the bathroom situation is really getting quite urgent.  About two hours have passed since lunch when I first said I needed the bathroom.  We push our way past the crowd coming from the Smithsonian Castle towards Independence Avenue and make it to a place where we can climb onto the grass and continue going.  As Tiffany and I are walking, my left foot goes into a plastic pipe with a broken lid the wrong way, I fall, my foot bends forward, my ankle twists, and I hear a loud pop.  Thankfully, we have just seen a Smithsonian employee and Tiffany goes to get her.  She comes over and asks me if I’m okay and how I was injured.  I tell her that I think I just sprained my ankle (a white lie, I think I may have torn a tendon) and how it came about.  Her name is Rosario and she will continue to be kind and helpful the whole time I am in the Smithsonian’s care.  She calls to someone else on the radio and the other woman, Ms. Smith, brings a wheel chair.  Tiffany grabs River’s leash and my backpack as the other two women help me to my feet, guide me over to and off of a small ledge to the wheelchair, and help get me situated.

Rosario and Ms. Smith push my wheelchair across the grass to avoid the impressive crowd on the pathways.  We have to stop and I have to stand up again so that they can close the wheelchair, push it between two trees, then help me hobble through before I sit back down.  Almost as soon as we get inside, Rosario takes me in the elevator down a floor to the bathroom and pushes me all the way up to the stall door.  I wash my hands and she pushes me back upstairs.  We sit inside one of the Smithsonian buildings for a while, Rosario checking on me every so often and asking if I want her to call 911.  I resist because of the cost.  I don’t want to pay $600  for the ambulance ride plus the hospital deductible and copay just for a sprained ankle or torn tendon.  Tiffany eventually leaves to find the first aid tent for the Women’s March, which is supposedly close by, but before she does she gives me 800mg of ibuprofen, for which I am grateful.  She isn’t gone long.  “They won’t leave the tent to come here, but if we can get you to them they can wrap it and take care of it for you,” she tells me.  Through all of this she is calm and kind.  She doesn’t even act like I’ve ruined her March experience, even though I’m starting to feel like I have.  We make our way to the Smithsonian exit.

I hobble down the street with Tiffany and River on either side of me, surrounded by women, men, and children holding signs, marching, and chanting things like, “hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go! Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go!”  We finally make it to the first aid tent.  They ask me if River will remain calm if they let her inside the tent.  I say yes and prepare myself for an argument about the Americans with Disabilities Act and its provisions for service dogs, but luckily it’s a nonissue and they let her in with me.  The paramedic wraps my ankle with an ace bandage, stuffs some Hot Hands down into my sock, and tells me I can put my shoe back on and be on my way.  There’s still a lot of pain when I put weight on my foot, but at least it’s more stable.

I emerge from the tent to see Tiffany standing just outside it and we make our way out into the crowd.  It’s less dense here now that people are moving, but it’s still a very thick and close crowd.  We march, chant, and chat, making our way along a few roads and into a park that has a fence in it where people are putting their signs.  It’s a powerful sight, but somewhere down to the left some young men start kicking the fence down.  Almost everyone yells at them to stop, but Tiffany and I decide that it’s time for us to head back to my brother’s house.  We walk to the Metro station which is almost but not quite as crowded as the one from the morning.  On the way there, we meet a veteran who has a service dog and her group of friends.  They seem really nice.  On the Metro ride home, I interview three young women for the podcast.  Then we listen to a Trump supporter start a verbal argument with a woman with an “End racism” sign.  He has accused her of calling people names because of her sign.  He then calls her husband an idiot and tells her to go bark at the moon before proceeding to actually bark at her.  If I was braver, I would stand up for her, but he made me fear for my safety, so I stay silent.  We get off at our stop, walk back to my brother’s, and decompress for a bit before figuring out we are going to eat pizza for dinner and hanging out with the dogs.



Women’s March on Washington

Chimamanda Ngozi TED Talk- We Should All Be Feminists

Woman in Viral Photo From Women’s March to White Female Allies: ‘Listen to a Black Woman’

Women’s March on Washington




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