Long before there was growing publicity and daily social media posts about the Women’s March in January of this year, I knew I would be flying from San Francisco to Washington, DC to participate.
I couldn’t be silent when our president-elect’s rhetoric was threatening our basic human rights. Daily news reports about his references to women, immigrants, race, religions, and our environment left me feeling frustrated and angry. What I did not fully appreciate until I arrived at the March on January 21st, however, was the impact of Trump’s sexist comments on my psyche. It’s taken me almost 5 months to write this post and now the reality of this administration is more surreal than I could have ever imagined at the beginning of the year.
We arrived at the Huntington Metro Station in Northern Virginia to join the March after being told that if we drove to the beginning of the line there would be available seats. When the train slowed down at each station to pass the throngs of waiting passengers, we only saw smiling, cheering crowds. Everyone looked thrilled to be there. No one was in a hurry.
The first sign we saw was posted on the gate at the train station: This Pussy Grabs Back! These people weren’t messing around! There were pussy hats everywhere.
As our train pulled up to the station near the Capital, I was a little concerned that we’d get on the escalator and not be able to get off. There were so many people lined up outside that there wasn’t much room at the top where we were to exit. Over 5 million people around the world marched in solidarity on that day. I was proud and happy to be there.
There were so many people, in fact, that we couldn’t actually march. There wasn’t enough room on the route to accommodate all of us. So we stood shoulder to shoulder for close to six hours. I felt a little claustrophobic when I looked around and realized there was no way I could escape if I needed to. I would have to move when the crowd moved. All that standing and listening gave me time to breathe and reflect.
What I thought about for the first time in decades was sexual harassment. I didn’t know what it was called back then, but I remembered two occurrences during my corporate career; one happened in San Francisco and another when I moved back to the east coast. They both occurred when I was in my 20s.
The first encounter was fairly innocuous. I remember a very uncomfortable feeling when a superior intimated that he could help me if I was willing to have dinner with him. I managed not to engage with him again. The second encounter, however, shook me to my core for many years afterwards.
The top leader in our organization decided I would be one of his favorites. I didn’t realize it was obvious to the group until later. He sought me out and gave me praise. As a junior member of his staff, I was initially excited by the attention, but when it turned to sexual suggestions in his office, I was stunned. He always wrapped our encounters in humor, but when I tried to back away, his biting comments started to make me question myself. I felt paralyzed to do anything.
I thought about those feelings of helplessness as I stood in the crowd.
The fallout from Trump’s administration has created a growing community of activists and I’m energized to join them. The March on Washington helped me remember that men who talk about women disparagingly and abusively do not change.