Yesterday was the Women’s March on Washington, along with hundreds of sister marches in cities worldwide. I chose to participate in Buffalo’s ‘No Hate, No Mandate’ sister march, and wanted to share what made this event meaningful for me.
We all have our own political leanings and beliefs, and while I believe in respecting others, I also think discourse and peaceful demonstration are important parts of America. Educating others, sharing why we feel how we feel, this is where we can open our minds and hearts.
I am a middle-class white woman. My life hasn’t always been easy, but it has also come with a fair amount of cushioning. I know I have experienced sexism and inequality, which means that others have experienced worse.
Sometimes it feels hard to know how to combat these problems. For me, personally, I feel a lot of frustration about how my life as a new mother went. In the delivery room, a nurse let me know that she had given me extra “husband” stitches. A funny joke? Seriously? Like many new mothers, I was in pain and feeling pretty raw both emotionally and physically. I wasn’t looking to have my body altered in that way, and it was just as painful as it sounds. This is something so ingrained in our culture that I still know many people would not only feel like I’m oversharing, but also that I’m the oversensitive one. I’m sensitive, yes. But my body was given painful extra stitches for a non-medical purpose that I didn’t request. Haha?
I went back to work at 6 weeks postpartum. Felix had a lot of nagging health issues, and was also born a week premature. I worked for a mostly male tech company, and was the only female in my department. My co-workers and direct managers were as helpful as they could be during a really stressful time. My boss initially let me work a lot from home, and other co-workers picked up my slack as I desperately tried to maintain performance levels on 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night.
When I did start working in the office more, the company was sluggish at providing me a place to pump milk for Felix. First they advised me to use a conference room in a part of the building they rarely used. The lock was broken, and the furniture was taken away after a few weeks. I would sit on the floor by an outlet, trying to feel calm enough to let my body do its thing, knowing that if I didn’t make the milk, I wouldn’t have enough food to leave my baby. People walked by, sometimes cracking the door open and fumbling away in embarrassment. I was embarrassed, my hands would be shaking when I returned to my desk. Repeated emails and meetings with my HR rep got me a different room, but it was still a shared space and I was still walked in on many times.
I was exhausted, embarrassed, shamed that my work performance couldn’t live up to my standards as a perfectionist. I couldn’t understand why my HR reps weren’t concerned, I felt completely undervalued. Someone told me in confidence that this had been a problem with other breastfeeding moms in the past.
Eventually, I quit. HR was very apologetic in our exit interview, mentioning their plans to make a room for mothers once the company moved. I had already been begging them for six months.
A friend advised me to look into a lawsuit, but the truth is, I was exhausted.
I’m a middle-class white woman with a significant other who is healthy and able to work two jobs. I’m okay. But there are thousands of women out there who don’t have the support system I do, and I hope our future is more representative and inclusive and supportive of them.
There are so many ways that women still deserve more. I brought Felix with me to the march. I know he is too young to have any sort of memory, but he will see pictures someday. He will know that I included him, and he will know how important this cause is.
I want Felix to know that it isn’t anti-men to support women. I want him to know that locker room talk is never just that. Words are heavy, they carry weight and meaning. Respect is a seed that grows love and peace.
If you attended a march, or if you have some perspective on any of this that you’d like to share, leave a comment. The march is over, but not the conversation.
For more ways to get active and support women’s rights, visit womensmarch.com