I attended the 2017 Women’s March last year. I was excited to attend and sent a text to my friends inviting them to come along. My group of friends is close-knit and generally supportive. We do not miss birthdays and the whole group attends whenever one of our bands plays a show. When I invited them to the Women’s March, the excuses slowly rolled in. I invited all four of my sisters, who all declined. Every person I reached out to turned me down. Some forgot it was happening, others were too cold, and some had a ‘thing’ to go to later in the day. Each person who declined did not think missing it would make a difference.
I went to the march by myself. My anxiety disorder makes crowds scary and chanting unbearable, so I spent the morning of the march creating a playlist of women and gender non-binary artists that would help drown it out. It was not easy for me to stand in a chaotic crowd of thousands of people, but I made it work. As I made my way through the route, I observed families and groups of friends marching together, sharing in the experience, and building their community of allies to the soundtrack only I could hear.
I felt the absence of my friends that day, but I am grateful for the different perspective I gained on the importance of allyship. I do not want other women to feel as unsupported as I did during the march. I do not want the young marginalized girls I work with to feel that I only support them in theory and not in practice. I was reminded how important it is for me – a highly privileged, able-bodied, cis-gendered, white-skinned, middle-class woman – to show up for the women and girls fighting a much more difficult battle for equity.
“I do not want the young marginalized girls I work with to feel that I only support them in theory and not in practice. I was reminded how important it is for me – a highly privileged, able-bodied, cis-gendered, white-skinned, middle-class woman – to show up for the women and girls fighting a much more difficult battle for equity.”
On my way home from the march, I stopped at a tattoo shop and had a Picasso lithograph of a woman permanently etched in the back of my arm. She is the ally I had to create for myself when everyone else I knew let me down.
I still think about that day sometimes when I bring up an issue of gender inequality, an article I recently read, or a new piece of feminist music I am interested in. Are my friends really listening? Are they waiting for the subject to change? Is my feminism inconvenient to them? I wonder if they think about these issues – and I reflect on the many women who do not have the privilege of just thinking about these things.
This weekend, when you are feeling cold, rushed, overbooked, tired, or cranky, please think of all the people who need safety in numbers. It is easy to stay home. It is easy to tweet instead. It is easy to assume there are enough people and that you will not make a difference. Change happens when there is a collective force demanding it and the collective absolutely notices when you are not there. Remember that change is not easy. It requires you to show up.
Hilary Johnston is the Events and Stewardship Officer at YWCA Toronto