Divided We Fall.

I was very disappointed to read in The New York Times on January 16, 2018, that "a rift was forming" between the original "Women's March, Inc.," the group that orchestrated the march on Washington, D.C. in January 2017, and "March On," a group that has since emerged to focus on getting "liberal women in Republican-led districts organized ahead of pivotal midterm elections."  According to one of the Women's March Inc. co-presidents, Bob Bland, the new group needs to have distinct branding so that it "doesn't appear as if it is directly Women's March related." Yet these new groups would probably never have started were it not for the 2017 march. They have only moved in a different direction to respond to their local cultures.  

While I fully understand the need to protect the mission of the original march, I had hoped that the tent that was big enough for so many points of view in January of 2017 would not evolve into something that pit women against women. Women of different races, religions, classes and political parties marched last year. They have spoken out this year to end sexual abuse. They running for office in record numbers. Splintering now will dilute their power. According to Jo Reger, Professor of Sociology at Oakland University, this may be a natural evolution common to social movements, where groups come apart and later come back together, but I worry about the possible damage before that happens.  

Based on my personal experience, whenever women undertake a battle for rights, other women are there to oppose them. They are afraid of what the change will mean for them, and, perhaps, jealous of those women who achieve what was denied to them.  

When I applied for my first job at a community college, my primary experience was as a volunteer for N.O.W., where I learned valuable skills in communications, fundraising, and politics. I got the job, but subsequently discovered that the administrative assistant screening the applications had written a big NO across my paperwork. She did not want a feminist upsetting the way things were done there, or perhaps she was guarding her own power. Fortunately, my male boss was unafraid. 

A few years later I got a message from the president of the college asking me to serve as the Affirmative Action Officer. I said no. First, I didn't like the idea that this position was treated as something to be assigned to the next available woman, regardless of her leadership or authority on campus. I did no think that my mid-level position at the time would enable me to enforce regulations or be an advocate. Second, I already had a full-time job (not to mention pursuing a Doctorate and being a single parent) and didn't think I could give these additional responsibilities the attention they deserved. I was promptly informed that it was not a "request." I could assume the position or lose my job. What I didn't know was that a woman from the community, someone I had worked with at N.O.W., wanted the job. To protest my appointment, she and some other women complained to the president that I didn't do enough for women. I was shocked and hurt.  

When I was Chair of the Board of the Women’s Interfaith Institute in Seneca Falls, NY in the early 2000’s, one of the women clergy talked about being stymied by the older women in her congregation. It appeared to me that these women, who took care of the church, prepared the food, and otherwise acted as caregivers for the congregation, resented the opportunities this young minister had and felt that somehow it belittled the roles they had fulfilled for so long. The male leadership evaluated her on her accomplishments. 

Whatever the reasons, this is not the time to divide ourselves. The struggle for equality is too important to spend energy fighting each other.   

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Barbara ViniarComment