On the path to progress, we can do better.
The women’s marches that happened after President Donald Trump’s inauguration sought to advance human rights and to bring women together, but they further divided many of us.
Granted, there were several positive aspects of the women’s marches—including the bonding that took place among females across the country, the support that men showed, and the fact that there were no arrests.
Despite the positives, there were also some serious drawbacks, namely, the fragmentation of women as a whole, and the marginalization of conservative women’s groups.
The vitriol displayed on signs and in speeches during the marches was often vulgar and offensive. The attitude of certain speakers and demonstrators—not all—suggested that anyone who did not espouse progressive viewpoints was not to be trusted, and was not someone they would be willing to work with, or befriend.
The mainstream media’s portrayal of the women’s marches made it seem like a majority of women across the country align with liberal, Democratic values, when in fact many women have complex views on the political issues facing America today.
As Americans, we can do better as we seek to advance equal rights. A stronger foundation for the next chapter of the women’s movement starts with a common vision for unifying women as a whole, and treating each other with mutual respect. This does not mean we have to agree on everything. But it does mean we have to treat each other more like sisters and less like enemies.
The narrow-minded views championed by leaders and celebrities at the women’s marches created a highly insular dynamic, one that further polarized the left and right political parties in our nation, and turned off Americans who felt they had no voice and no chance to participate. What could have been an opportunity for drawing even more women into a collective feminist movement became a platform for shaming them, instead.
I personally did not attend one because I did not want to be there. I felt that the groups marching were exclusive to liberal Democratic women, which I don’t identify as. I’m a millennial, middle-of-the-road voter. For example, I am personally pro-life, as it pertains to my own body and values, but I support a woman’s right to choose whether or not she has an abortion, and I do believe that funding for abortions and contraceptives should be available through agencies like Planned Parenthood.
It wasn’t the marches themselves or even the issues that women were promoting that I had a problem with. It was the tone and the underlying message about one side being “right” versus “wrong” that I disliked so much. It felt hypocritical to hear women calling for equal rights while essentially suppressing and excluding other women’s viewpoints.
There was no effort to bridge the great divide in America or to make new friends out of people who held different perspectives. There was no widespread effort to respectfully educate one another about the conflicting views that women hold, or to find common ground. Ironically, while championing women’s rights, there was, simultaneously, a lack of respect that women showed each other.
Playing sports has taught me more about respect than I could have ever imagined. In the competitive, often challenging athletic environments that I faced in high school and college, I learned about sisterhood. I learned how to work cooperatively with many kinds of women.
Leaders of the marches were unwilling to cooperate with women they disagreed with. They excluded pro-life groups. Some speakers insulted conservative women outright. Pitting women against each other is a disservice to our nation and to our collective goal of upholding a democracy. When women turn their backs on each other because they don’t like another’s perspective on a given issue, everyone suffers. This is an act of weakness, not an act of strength.
My teammates and I varied by personality, race, religion, economic background and sexual orientation. Some of the greatest victories I ever experienced happened when I assisted the winning goal in partnership with someone different from me, or vice versa.
These moments of teamwork transcended our disparities, leading to intimate and caring friendships. In some cases, our relationships have lasted a lifetime.
It is my hope that as a nation, women in the United States can work together for our collective, equal rights. But on the path to progress, we can do better.
Kristen was a Division I athlete and ran for the Cambridge City Council in 2013.