Why You Should March This Month
Rebecca Traister, our generation’s truth teller, says organizing together helps each of us claim our own power
“We are getting an education on our inequality,” says feminist writer Rebecca Traister about life since the first Women’s March in 2017.
Later this month, CoveyClub’s team, its readers and its members, along with hundreds of thousands of other women, will march in the third annual Women’s March. Traister will be among the throngs at the event scheduled for January 19th in Washington, DC (with sister marches all over the country and possibly the world). The National Magazine Award finalist is a writer at large for New York magazine, a contributing editor at Elle, and writes about women in politics, media, and entertainment from a feminist perspective for The New Republic and Salon, among others. TheCovey sat down recently with Traister to discuss marching, anger and the feminist agenda.
The New Way to Create Community
TheCovey: Is marching effective as a political movement for swaying key decision makers or do we march because it is a mobilizer that empowers women, creates a community out of disparate groups, and revs us up to effect change?
Rebecca Traister: When you express your frustration and dissent, you become audible to other women. [So,] it’s a mistake to reduce the kind of connection that women feel at a march, to minimize the power that forms within a coalition. One-third of the women at the first Women’s March [on January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration] had never been to a protest before. Being surrounded by other women and some men means something tactically and structurally … maybe because of it, you will run for office, go door knocking, stage a teacher strike, tell your story of harassment. [It’s because you now] know that you are not isolated. That’s incredibly important moving forward.
Even for those who were not out there marching, the view of a mass of people taking to the street in protest is powerful. Women from different countries joining in the protest — to see women in Antartica and small towns across the world joining in protest — these things are politically meaningful as you try to build a movement.
Marching is a key signal that there is a mass of people willing to work for change.
Transcending Anger Helps Others Find their Voices
TheCovey: In your latest book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger (2018), you write about how women’s anger is “politically problematic” while at the same time it’s “politically catalytic.” Do women have the ability to transcend anger and push it into a political movement?
Rebecca Traister: Yes! [After the Women’s March], there were teacher strikes in states where strikes were illegal and changes have taken place [with some teachers deciding to run for office]. Fast food workers have held strikes about pervasive sexual harassment. There were airport protests after travel bans were announced.
And it was partly the Women’s March that let women consider running for office. It let them know they would have support out there if they ran. Not everyone is going to be successful. [But] women are in these campaigns and are organizing a left-wing resistance, and giving money and volunteering — that’s a way we are reorganizing the system.
We Are Building Infrastructure beyond the Political Parties
There is infrastructure being built outside of the Democratic Party — and the building of that infrastructure began after the Women’s March.
There’s also been a material impact on the way votes are cast, even by the Republicans. The spirit of organization will continue to evolve. We are getting an education in our inequality. And I think you are seeing the results of this catalytic movement in lots of different ways. It has propelled action.
[What’s happening is] now is like the Civil War, when half the country turned on itself. Mass social movements in the past have altered the framework — voting rights, collective bargaining, abortion rights. What we are doing is changing the nature of our political representation to better serve and protect the people in the US and the incursions on our rights by the right wing.
TheCovey: In Good and Mad, you write about women getting angry. Is there a role here for men?
Rebecca Traister: The role for both men and for many women is to listen and take seriously the anger of women. Men need to be willing to ask and be curious and listen to women’s anger and learn. And, not how we have treated [or interpreted] the anger of women, historically.
We need to treat women’s anger the way we have always treated the anger of white men. Not with outrage [but by listening]. Women’s anger should guide us.
It’s incumbent on us to listen to those without power.
TheCovey: Do you think that the American workplace will look different 20 years from now, even 10 years from now, when today’s 20- and 30-something women are the majority of the workforce?
Rebecca Traister: I don’t know. We need paid leave not just for kids, but for parent care … [But] we are in a moment where we are looking at the possible reversal of laws and policies that allowed women to enter the workplace in the first place.
If you take away reproductive rights and collective bargaining, progressive policies like affirmative action, everything changes. This could alter the landscape for women and men in the future.
We are looking at a Supreme Court that could make incredibly conservative rulings over the next 50 years. If women don’t have the ability for autonomy over their own bodies, if affirmative action is cut further than it already has been, then you are looking at workplaces that don’t look like the future we were planning.
We are not just in jeopardy of not moving forward with what we were hoping for, but we are in jeopardy of moving backward.
TheCovey: You write in Good and Mad that people “who can afford to be apathetic are invested in the continuation of a power structure” that promotes inequality and that some “white women support the system because they believe they derive benefits from it” even if we are really not equal. So, what is our job here now?
We Were Sold a Convenient Idea, But the Job Is NOT Done
Rebecca Traister: The only thing I’m prescriptive about is not looking away from our investment and engagement. We must become civic participants.
Many middle and upper-class women were able to be insulated from the 20th-century movements — civil rights and gay rights — anesthetized from all the work that was being done, that we need and needed to do because it was sold to us that our job was done.
We were brainwashed that the problem was solved and the fight [for equality] was over. But it’s not over. [So,] the thing that is being asked of us, is to commit fully and not go back to sleep.
We need to listen to women of color and see their anger and frustration. Because they have been in this far longer than white women. We need to listen, be curious, fight next to others. Even if it seems comfortable again, even if we are hearing whispering in our ears that we are equal, we need to keep fighting [until there is real equality].
White masculinity is the norm of humanity — it’s in pop culture and our arts, everything, not just in politics. Because the normative citizen is the white male, everyone who is not that — that white male figure — lives reactively to that normative citizen. Everything that is done is done in relation to that white man and is based on [the level of] his comfort or white male suffering. That’s how we have learned to see the world.
TheCovey: And that’s not equality.
Rebecca Traister: And that’s not equality.
Note: The CoveyClub will be organizing a group at the Women’s March in Washington, DC. on January 19th. Let us know if you’d like to join up with us by writing Lesley@CoveyClub.com
Making Sure Women’s Rights Are Human Rights (TheCovey, September 2018 issue)
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