Why I didn’t march this year

Last year, I went to the Pittsburgh version of the Women’s March on Washington after Greyhound failed to provide buses to D.C. (even though I’d bought my ticket a month in advance, and so had many of the other people left stranded in Pittsburgh). I knew there had been drama behind the scenes, where white women were putting black women down and calling them “divisive” for voicing concerns and opinions.

Another group (Black Femme Excellence Co.) held an intersectional march across town, but after being up until 2 a.m. waiting for a bus that never came, having a migraine, and having to rely on sketchy Sunday public transportation, I didn’t have it in me to take multiple buses to East Liberty.* The main Women’s March was just Downtown though, which is only a 10 to 15 minute bus ride from my house. That, I felt capable of doing. So I went, and I marched. I even made a stupid pink pussy hat in a misguided attempt to show solidarity.**

Found on Facebook. Will update if original creator is found. (Yes, it contains erroneous apostrophes. That’s not the point.)

In the moment, it felt important to make a statement. To do something. Anything. And I do believe protests are an important part of resisting right wing extremism. I hope, sincerely, that the statement made by last year’s (and this year’s) Pittsburgh’s Women’s March overshadows the behind-the-scenes bullshit. I hope that statement is ultimately one of inclusion and acceptance and love.

But this year, after the organizers showed more of the same behavior toward women of color, I couldn’t in good conscious be a part of it.

I don’t want to march behind people who tell black women to essentially shut up because they aren’t focusing on “important things.” I don’t want to march behind people who don’t listen when they get called out on their mistakes. I don’t want to march behind people who think it’s okay to exclude trans women and their experiences (and feelings) from the conversation.

Now, I’m not by any means saying that people who went to the march last year or this year think any of those things or have engaged in the same behaviors as the organizers. I wouldn’t have caught the same drama unfolding if not for my sharp network of badass feminist friends. I can even understand knowing all this and still feeling a need to go, to march, to demonstrate. I respect that. But I couldn’t do it, not this time around.

(Don’t get me started on the pink pussy hat some jackass put on a statue of Harriet Tubman in Harlem. Like, seriously?)

On Sunday, instead of marching, I worked on the 2017 VIDA Count, tallying bylines by gender and recording names so that we can send surveys for the Intersectional Count. I gave (a little) money directly to black mothers who needed the help. I cooked good food for myself and my partner. I told my friends I love them.

I will keep calling my senators and congressman. I will keep sending emails and filling out comment forms online. I will keep making art. I will keep resisting.

But I refuse to leave anyone behind while I do it.


*Chronic illness can really complicate activism. There’s an essay there. I’ll suss it out at some point when my head doesn’t hurt.

**There’s another essay about my feelings regarding pink pussy hats. Maybe next week?

 

Joss Whedon, woke misogynist

Kai Cole’s revelations about her ex-husband Joss Whedon’s manipulative behavior toward women don’t surprise me. I’ve dealt with this kind of man before—the one who says “I’m a feminist!” and “I believe in equal rights!” but turns around and tells clearly misogynist jokes (the “woke misogynist,” if you will) and is quick to blame you for anything and everything. “Lighten up, it’s just a joke!” he says, when you point it out to him.

Gif of Buffy saying "If the apocalypse comes, beep me"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer helped me get through 7th and 8th grade at an awful Baptist School that wanted me to be docile and pure. But there were always things about it that bugged me, especially in the spin-off Angel, where literally every significant female character (spoiler alert!) winds up dead. In the main show, I always felt that Buffy’s relationship with Spike was problematic. He’s repeatedly abusive, but she still takes him back. One could argue this is simply in her character, or that she’s messed up emotionally, but she demonstrates plenty of strength and moxie is other situations, so I’m not sure I buy that argument.

Even so, Buffy is a great show, and a great character. Sure, it has some flaws (*cough* Riley *cough*), but beyond Buffy, it gives us other awesome female characters like Willow, Tara, and Anya (okay, okay, and Faith).

Does Ms. Cole’s revelation completely invalidate all the good that’s come of Buffy and the positive, kick-vampire role model she provided for countless young women like me? No, not at all. Buffy can still be a feminist icon, because even though her character was created by Joss Whedon, he’s not solely responsible for the character or the show. And aside from the Spike thing, the show on the whole is pretty upstanding from a feminist perspective. I also don’t find much fault with Firefly in that regard.

Iron Man saying Black Widow doesn't need her own movie.

If we invalidated every work of art that had a flawed creator, we’d have no art left. That doesn’t mean we excuse the bad behavior of artists just because they make good art. No. Judge the art on it’s own merits, and judge the creator on their own merits.

But like I said, I’m not surprised that Whedon has behaved this way in his personal life. Angel is a feminist dumpster fire, and The Avengers movies aren’t any better. Whedon has never been, in my opinion, the upstanding feminist he’s been portrayed as. It might not be so visible in Buffy or Firefly, but it’s there in his other work. As others have pointed out, Dr. Horrible is about a stalker that we’re supposed to sympathize with, and the main female character winds up dead at the end. Women are basically absent from the main Marvel movies, and they certainly don’t get to be heroes (but Black Widow! is not a valid argument, because why does she still not have her own movie?).

That’s basically systemic oppression in a nutshell. It’s so baked into our culture that even people who truly believe they are feminists might behave in very anti-feminist ways. Let me just be clear that I am not making excuses for Whedon’s behavior in any way, shape or form. Exploiting people you have power over is never excusable, and I’m saddened to learn it’s something that happened repeatedly (and is probably still happening).

The best way to fight it is to call it out and hold people accountable for their behavior. Will I still watch Buffy? Yes, absolutely. But will I rush out to drop money on the next big Joss Whedon thing that comes out? Well… probably not.

 

I decided not to strike on International Women’s Day

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and as part of that the Women’s March organized A Day Without A Woman. They asked women to stay home from work (paid and unpaid), not spend any money, and wear red in solidarity. Many cities organized protests, and plenty of people were arrested on unclear charges.

But, as many people pointed out, a lot of women cannot afford to miss a day from work. They’ll lose their jobs if they don’t show up, or maybe they just can’t afford to miss work for financial reasons.

photo of a protest sign that says This Pussy Grabs Back

I do get paid time off, but generally I need to save my sick days for when I inevitably wake up with a searing migraine or need to make a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day. That’s not why I decided to go to work yesterday, though it was certainly a factor (even though I legitimately had a migraine that made me a useless blob all evening).

The real reason is that I work at a public library. The majority of staff at my library is female. If we all striked, they would be forced to close. But this wouldn’t hurt the men (and women) in power making harmful decisions. They have computers and internet access and can afford to buy books in whatever format they choose.

The library closing would only hurt the people who are already vulnerable, who are affected by those harmful decisions. It would hurt the kids who come in after school, and the people desperately looking for work, and the elderly women who come in to find a book to read, who maybe can only get out of the house once or twice a week when they have help.

So I went to work, even with the migraine, and I helped those people do what they needed to do. I wore a red bandana and didn’t spend any money (not that I have much money to spend these days). I did, however, scope out some awesome women-run shops on Etsy that I’d like to drop some money on in the near future (I’m pretty sure I need this cute dratini in my life, and also this crocheted corgi).

I’m not necessarily criticizing the idea behind the strike. If all women decided not to show up for work for a day, the world would basically grind to a halt. That would make a big, visible impact, but not all the consequences would be good ones. I felt that it was important for me to show up and do the work I do every day to help the people in my community who need it most. They can’t afford to take a day off, and they can’t afford for the library to take a day off.