By Sarah Soyei: firstname.lastname@example.org
On Saturday 21st January, my daughters and I participated in the Women’s March in London. We joined 100,000 others to march for the rights of all women across the world, to celebrate the diversity that exists amongst women, and stand with women who have been discriminated against or attacked because they are also Black, Muslim, immigrant, pregnant, gay or transgender… We went to demonstrate that we will fight against oppression and prejudice. We wanted to show those who may be fearful about some of the rhetoric from the new President of the USA that we stand with them and not with him.
The night before the march, my daughters thought long and hard about the message that they wanted to display and laboured with sharpies to produce their colourful cardboard placards. The day dawned, cold but bright, hats and scarves were adorned, drinks and snacks were packed and we climbed about the train for London. The importance of marching was driven home to me on the train as I read new research by The Fawcett Society in their report ‘Sounds Familiar’ and found that 18% of men aged 25-34 feel that they do not want women to have equality of opportunity with men and 20% believed that equality has “gone too far”. 38% of all men and 34% of all women surveyed said that if a woman goes out late at night, wearing a short skirt, gets drunk and is then the victim of a sexual assault, she is totally or partly to blame.
There were so many marchers walking from Oxford Street that we waited for an hour to even get to the beginning of the march. However, spirits were high and time was passed spotting the more inventive and beautiful signs amongst the crowd. The atmosphere was positive and friendly; men and women and children coming together to make a statement, and promote equality and human rights. As the march eventually moved off, the drummers provided a beat for the marching feet. A group of young women danced and sang an inventive song to the tune of No Scrubs by TLC, bringing smiles to the faces of those around. Two women stood on a lorry, displaying a rainbow flag to the passing marchers. People waved from the upper levels of the buildings that we marched past. Cars tooted their horns in solidarity as they slowly passed on the other side of the road.
However, at 2pm as we marched down Park Lane a drunken young man who had accidentally wandered into the march with his friend began unwelcome overtures towards a friend who was marching with us, commenting on her looks, getting into her personal space and refusing to leave when asked. Another friend pointed out how one of the reasons we were marching today was for a woman’s right to go out, free from harassment. Full of mock horror, the young man insisted he had never meant to overstep the mark, said that he would now leave us alone and held out his hand to shake hers. When she offered hers in return he pulled it up towards his lips to kiss it, demonstrating how far removed he was from understanding the point that she was trying to make.
The rest of the march proceeded without incident; we buzzed on the train home to have been part of something so big and beautiful and were able to look at the huge numbers of people who had come out to march all across the world and listen to the speeches from a diverse and powerful range of speakers, such as Julia Serano and Angela Davis in America and Yvette Cooper in London, who spoke in memory of Jo Cox.
Full of inspiration, I posted photographs of the march on Twitter. A man who had never communicated with me before felt the need to message me to tell me that my post was pathetic, followed by a series of tweets illustrating his male superiority…
I then saw that Piers Morgan had Tweeted this…
I tried not to become angry. I know that Piers Morgan’s life blood is sustained by creating outrage to receive attention. I’m aware of the concept that when you are used to privilege, equality feels like oppression; the thing is, we don’t have equality:
In a 2012 study 92% of women reported experiencing some form of sexual violence in public spaces. 88% reported experiencing some form of verbal sexual harassment. (UN Women, 2013)
An estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school in 2013.
Worldwide women are paid less than men, in most countries earning on average 60 – 75% of men’s wages (World Bank Gender Data Portal, 2015). In the UK women hold only 4.4% of CEO positions in the top 500 companies.
Women carry a disproportionate caring responsibility for children, the elderly and the sick, spending up to ten times more time a day on unpaid care work than men. (World Bank, 2012)
Public figures such as Piers Morgan making sweeping comments such as this, provide fuel to those such as WhiskyBeard who feel able to threaten women for daring to speak out against the patriarchy. However, the experience of being in huge crowds of people who are willing to stand out against this and seeing this replicated across the world takes the sting out of their attacks.
A fifth of those who marched in London were men; feminists are not anti-men, feminism does not reduce men. Creating a more equal world will benefit everyone and we need men to be part of this fight, too. It is clear that there is still a vast amount of work to be done, as I have been writing this, I have learnt that Donald Trump has signed legislation that will prevent organisations around the world from receiving funding if they support women with abortion rights and that Russia is looking to decriminalise domestic violence. However, the experiences of Saturday brought home that there are millions of people who are ready to do it.