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Confessions of a Cis White Woman on International Women's Day

Mar. 13, 2017
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I am a cis, straight, white woman living in Trump’s America. You caught me. But before you begin judging me, know that I am also an intersectional feminist. 

"Feminist” was not a title I identified with until my second year of college when I took my first Women’s Studies course. To be fair, until then, it wasn’t a concept – strike that – a movement, that I fully understood until then. 

My activism began soon after, starting with performance art. To date, I’ve been a part of Eve Ensler’s iconic book-to-play, The Vagina Monologues five times over. For those less familiar with Ensler and her work, Eve Ensler is the playwright/performer/feminist extraordinaire responsible for the V-DAY movement, a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. 

I’ve learned a lot in the last five years; I’ve attended rallies and protests, aided and organized fundraisers for Planned Parenthood and Women’s shelters, written some performance pieces of my own, and met a slew of wonderfully diverse individuals.  

To say that our recent presidential election hit me hard is a bit of an understatement – my roommate can verify this tidbit. I fell into a depression of sorts, suffering random crying jags, sleep deprivation, and fits of physical and psychological pain. I decided that the best way to move forward was to channel my pain, hurt, confusion, and desperation into writing. So, I contacted Adolescent Content, offering to write a piece about International Women’s Day and specifically, The Day Without a Woman Strike in Downtown Los Angeles. I was thrilled to have another chance for solidarity at a time when the world - and I - need it most. 

The strike, organized by feminists across the globe, called for women around the world to avoid engaging in any paid or unpaid work, avoid spending money (with the exception being female/minority run local businesses) and finally, to wear the color red as a sign of solidarity (especially in the case of women who were unable to attend the event). The event on March 8th, which coincided with International Women’s Day (and was organized well before the election results in November), was designed to demonstrate how important women are to the American workforce. We were instructed to gather outside the Federal building in DTLA at 3 pm. Note: The Women’s March LA Foundation organized a rally to be held earlier in the day outside of City Hall, but I was unable to attend.  

On the eve before the Strike, I laid out a t-shirt, sunblock, and my RED big girl panties (because I am a full-figured woman). I decided to take the bus because one, finding public parking at a reasonable price in Los Angeles is next to impossible and two, I hadn’t yet experienced Los Angeles public transportation – this seemed as good a time as any.

The following morning, I hopped onto Facebook, eager to post my “good morning” message along with a witty quote from my “Wild Words from Wild Women” desk calendar. I stopped short though after reading my friend, Laura’s post:  

“It's Women's Day! Not all women have vaginas, and not all people with vaginas are women. Take a minute today to consider how you as a cis woman hold cis privilege and how you participate in a system that kills trans women.”

Laura’s words hit me hard. You see, in the past few months, I’ve tried to better understand my initial reaction to the election. I’ve shamed myself for feeling the way I feel. After all, as a privileged, cis, white woman, do I even have a right to feel this way? I’ve examined the results time and time again, asking myself if there something I could’ve done better? Am I to blame? I begin questioning myself once again: What have I done to shame trans women? Have I done anything to shame trans women? Have I done anything to PREVENT the shaming of trans women? 

Laura’s words hit me hard, but in the best way possible. In the months following the election, I’ve focused heavily on what my dear icon, Carrie Bradshaw, would refer to as the “Coulda/Shoulda/Woulda.” What COULD I have done, what SHOULD I have done, and in other circumstances, what WOULD I have done. While it’s important to learn from our mistakes, Laura reminded me that recognizing our mistakes is only a piece of the puzzle. The rest, relies on how we move forward. How I move forward. 

And so, back to the strike…

As an aspiring writer, currently in between gigs, I felt that there was no reason for me not to attend the strike. I boarded the 94 bus at 2:15 PM, arrived downtown by 3, and was standing outside of Federal Building by 3:07 ready to rally my ass off. At first, it was slow-going; it took a while for the speakers to take the platform. But, while I waited, I watched. I did exactly as Laura suggested, and I “took a minute to consider." Honestly, I took several minutes. I walked the street, up and down, multiple times, carefully dodging women (and men) with witty signs. I eyed my surroundings – from the ground, decked out in sidewalk chalk with “colorful” phrases to the sidewalks, crowded with men, women, and children.

There were free vendors, offering buttons and signs for anyone who wanted them, as well as tables set up around the perimeter, each with a different purpose. One offered activists the chance to write postcards to women and children detained for deportation, while another, the Pussyhat Project, invited knitters to gather and learn how to make their very own Pussyhats. 

Perhaps the most inspiring of all was the sea of red; red tops, red bottoms, red hats, and even a large, red stain across the crotch of a female speaker’s white jeans, obviously placed with intention. Signs and flags and t-shirts (oh my!). Men and women of varying ages and backgrounds were in attendance. Perhaps my favorite was the grandmother, mother, and child; three generations of women were all carrying signs, all protesting together. 

The strike began, surprisingly, with a prayer, though it was much more spiritual than religious. There was a performance by Miracle Dolls, a musical group of indigenous women who performed and protested most recently at Standing Rock, followed by several speakers. Some women spoke of experiences, while others recited poetry. Some focused on mistakes of the past, while others focused on hope for the future. Through it all, I observed everyone around me – their reactions, their emotions. I noticed lots of families and friends, couples and parents. I had come alone to the strike, and this was a first for me. I’m no stranger to eating alone or traveling alone. I honestly prefer it sometimes. However, never have I felt so alone, and yet, at the same time, so not alone. Call me cheesy, but it really is a beautiful thing, seeing people gather for a simple purpose, a common goal – solidarity. 

Unfortunately, I had to leave the event early. I’m proud to say that the evening of festivities continued well after dark, long after I boarded the bus for the hour ride back home. And that hour was full of introspection, especially after my phone died. I thought about the signs, full of naughty (but fabulous) Trump innuendos. I thought about the people, wondering who they were and where they would be when they returned to work tomorrow. I thought about my mom, my friends, and my fellow Vagina Monologuers, proud to know that they were also striking, all over the country. Mostly, I thought about the Women’s Strike platform, read to us by one of the event organizers, and written collaboratively with organizers around the world. 

I relived it in my head, recalling the final phrase time and time again:

“They must fear our power because we are the power. We have the best weapon: solidarity.”

Solidarity. There’s that word again. It resonates through my body, still. The cheers, the laughs… the love. Solidarity. It’s a feeling I’ve experienced from the stage to the classroom and in the streets. From San Francisco to Chicago and now in LA. It’s an amazing feeling, an incredible privilege. Solidarity reminds people that they are not alone. Solidarity assures people that there is a place for them. Solidarity encourages participation and activism. 

As I pondered these words on my bus ride home, a man approached me. Often, I’m weary of men who approach me on the bus – as women, it’s unfortunately a natural instinct to take careful notice of our surroundings. This time was no different, only, it was. He was sweating through his shirt, he barely spoke any English, and he offered me a potted orchid. He clearly understood my look of confusion, but offered no further explanation, other than that the flower did not require any immediate watering. He walked away, leaving me speechless. Even more amazing, two different women thanked me for striking, after noticing my sign still in tow, explaining that they couldn’t be there because of work. They both wore red. Solidarity.

A strike does not stop when you board the bus. A movement does not end at the end of the day. That’s solidarity. That’s what I have taken away from this strike, which I know is just the first of many to come. I’m positive that I will continue to question my place in society (it’s only natural to do so), as well as my participation in a system that kills trans women (it’s also our duty to do so). However, I will look to the future – to the next strike, rally, protest, or performance – and examine how I can contribute.  

With privilege comes obligation and it’s my obligation to do more than watch. And maybe I will at the next rally.