Flowing like a pink river, scores of women in their trademark headgear marched all over the world, just as they did a year ago. Carrying signs with urgent messages, the generations took to the streets to bring attention to the many concerns women bear. A few men marched, also.
Over the past year, the dam holding back accumulated grievances has broken. Women are insulted at being paid less; women are outraged by the sexual harassment they have endured; women are wearied from the power differential they experience in nearly every sphere. Women believe that they have a rightful claim to be treated equally. Women vote; women are breadwinners; and women are gifted for governing, especially in this fractious time when male egos pose barriers to compromise for the common good. It is past time for recalibrating the calculus of gender in the workplace, the public square, the home and the church.
Some have suggested that this is nothing short of a revolution, and the sensitivities these marches are stoking are having an impact on the social landscape. Men are examining their actions, what they say, and maybe even some of their assumptions about women.
This past week I happened to arrive at the mailbox at the same time the regular carrier was there. He said, “I owe you an apology for something I said to you last summer.” I was puzzled and asked, “For what?” He recalled having remarked that I looked hot; I recall that it was a very warm day. He was concerned that he had offended me. It was not a sexual flirtation, and I did not take it as such. Yet the fact that he interrogated himself about the possible misunderstanding and then brought it up after several months speaks volumes about the growing sensitivity to how the genders interact.
The threshold of pain is palpable in our national psyche. The unrelenting cycle of threatening “breaking news” wears down our capacity for compassion, hope and patience. Yet, pain can be a fertile soil for seeds to sprout and new life to come. As Mary Tyler Moore put it, “Pain nourishes courage. You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.” She is right, and our times call for courage.
The patriarchal chaos of the presidency has prompted an unprecedented number of women to run for public office. Black women, in particular, are leading the way, astonished that the majority of white women voted for the current president. Women contend that their voices are required to bring good governance to the regnant system, all but broken. Yet women are often the brunt of jokes in the Old Boys club of the Senate or the House, seen as interlopers to be tolerated but not welcomed as colleagues. The deal-cutting usually excludes them. Further, statehouses hold few women governors; as of 2017, 22 states have never had a female.
As a New York Times article put it Sunday, “Gender can alienate as well as energize.” Levels of education, race, whether a woman is rural or urban, all contribute to the possibility that gender concerns can galvanize an ongoing movement — or not. Even though the hard work of gender equality in modern times began in the ’60s, it is not finished. Rarely do persons voluntarily relinquish power, and the pressure is building.
While other women were marching, I was meeting with members of Central Baptist Theological Seminary’s Women’s Leadership Initiative and their mentors for training on how to address race and justice issues. That will be part of the necessary work ahead as we find ways to work together for a more just society, not expecting black women to carry a disproportionate burden for making things right. There is much to do beyond marching!
As I attended a Martin Luther King Jr. rally last week, I observed that there was a concerted effort to get people registered to vote. This most basic civic privilege is often thought to be a futile pursuit, especially when districts are shifted and new forms of identification required. Voting remains a critical expression of voice and power, as the recent defeat of Roy Moore at the hands of women, primarily black, demonstrates.
Scholarly writers and common parlance suggest that the future belongs to women. I agree if it is a balancing of power that ensures safety in the workplace, equality in compensation, and new value accorded to the leadership practices that women bring.
Globally, girls still lag behind in educational opportunities, as Malala has so courageously brought to the world’s attention. Educating women and girls raises the level of the whole community, as the findings of many studies document. Gender equality is even a more urgent issue for developing nations, and those with privilege wisely join in advocating for them. Together, we march into the future.