Women on the March—Laughing All the Way

It’s International Women’s Day. A part of me loves the idea of drawing attention to the contributions women make to our world. Another part of me would be happier with more concrete changes to the laws and policies that continue to oppress and discriminate against women around the globe.

I haven’t heard a single male politician make a statement that acknowledges or advances women’s rights today—save the president, and we know his tweet this morning was as disingenuous and ludicrous as the rest of his Twitter proclamations.

Gloria Steinem was in Santa Barbara last week, and she spoke about the need to continue to fight for women’s rights, despite the very clear objectives of the conservatives in Congress and the White House. While we keep an eye on Washington, it’s almost more important now to turn our attention to the states, she said, where anti-women contingents have been successfully reversing—or trying to reserve—many of the health, job, and safety net protections we have fought for for more than four decades. And we have to abolish the Electoral College.

Steinem was a sponsor of the Women’s March on Washington in January, a march that brought out nearly five million women and men throughout the nation and in major cities around the world. We can’t let up. She spoke about the need for women to come together and support each other—no matter our race, ethnicity or creed.

“Intersectionality is a good word,” she said, “but I prefer intertwined.” She linked her fingers together: “You can’t uproot one without the other.”

The issue is violence against women and its interconnectedness with all other “isms,” she said. Sexism and racism are linked—it's all about dominance and control, what she called “supremacy crimes.”

Despite the 2016 election results, Steinem said she believes we are more on the path toward a real democracy than we were when she spoke in Santa Barbara two years ago.

“Are we awake now?” she asked, to murmured laughter and applause.

She was asked about the perceived conflicts between women of color and feminists. How do we bridge concerns and needs? “We listen to each other and ask how we can help each other,” she replied. She pointed out that the Women’s March was organized by young women, mostly of color. “I just did what they told me.”

“Remember that anger is healthy. To be hopeful doesn’t mean you have to be saccharine,” she said.

“Also, women have to learn how to treat themselves as well as they treat others.” We can’t allow others to tear us down, and we can’t do it to ourselves.

“Get up in the morning and say, What outrageous thing am I going to do today that will serve social justice? And think, How can I reach out in my community? It's going to take both individual and group efforts.”

While she didn’t deny the political threats women continue to face, she also encouraged us to be mindful of the great strides and progress that have been made.

Remember to laugh, she said, because that’s how we know we are free.