I didn’t march because I’m in the middle of potty training my toddler, and I think that about sums it up. Could we have waited? Taken a day off? Made Daddy run the (literal pee and) shit show for a day? Sure. Am I proud of or happy with that choice? Not really. But in the broader context of my life, I made the decision I thought best at the time: I stayed home and chanted “We pee in the potty”, no signs necessary. Since potty training is at once all-consuming and incredibly boring, I’ve had a lot of time to think. So here are five of the reasons I think we as a society still have so much work to do:
- It felt like it was “my job” to do potty training. I have a very involved, wonderful husband who is a good dad and generally steps up to diaper changes, dealing with meltdowns, brushing teeth, and all the other less-than-fun aspects of taking care of our daughter. But it still feels like it’s fundamentally up to me to lead the potty training charge. Just like it feels like it’s up to me to make sure we don’t run out of apple juice and veggie pouches and wipes. Is that coming from him? From me? From society at large? Probably all of the above without a lot of conscious effort. No matter where it’s coming from, the burden women feel of always having to be mentally in the game and responsible for life sucks.
- A lot of moms don’t get any, never mind adequate, help. Before I gripe too much about whether or not my husband is excited to read the potty training guide book (he’s not), let me acknowledge that even just having a partner in parenting is a huge luxury that many many women (and some men, but we’re talking about women here) don’t have. Even when he’s travelling for an extended period, his salary lets me do things like order delivery or reduce my work hours to make my life easier without compromising our standard of living. This is why publicly available child care, meaningful paid parental leave, other social safety net programs, and accessible healthcare that empowers women to have control over whether or not they become a mother is all so critical.
- People are still getting equality and equity mixed up. I’ve seen a lot on social media recently from folks not really understanding why the marches struck such a nerve. Everything from “if you aren’t doing just fine by now it’s your fault” to “women shouldn’t be the same as men so stop trying”. Per point number two above, I have a lot of privilege. It *might* be fair to say that if my life is in shambles (thankfully, it’s not) then it’s my fault for not making the most of the opportunities I’ve had. I’m all for personal responsibility, but it certainly isn’t fair to make that same argument to someone who was forced to start the race fifty yards back with no shoes and extra hurdles in their course. That’s equity. So is acknowledging that women have gotten a raw deal in society for a long time and wanting to make up for it. As for being the same as men…
- Wanting equality as citizens is not wanting to “be the same as men”. I think it’s easy to forget how recently we actually couldn’t do really basic things. Like get a credit card, work while pregnant, decide whether or not we want to have sex with our husbands on any given night, get a degree in a male-dominated field, or make our own healthcare decisions. Those equalities are very fragile. And we are still on the losing end of a culture and legal system that excuses and victim blames and makes women feel unsafe and unseen. It’s not about being the same as men: it’s about making sure we are treated as equal adults in society and under the law, equally protected and equally respected. Different is good. I don’t want to be a man (gender issues are a whole other post). I do want to be an equal citizen, and that is what we are still fighting for.
- My contributions may be different, but they are equally valuable. Building on the previous point that differences between genders can still be good, and acknowledging that it’s not realistic or desirable for me and my husband to be contributing to our family and the world at large in exactly the same ways right now, we need to value care giving work more. I’m the one that has to carry, deliver, and breastfeed the kiddos. Fine. Biology. I’m the one that then ends up staying home more and doing things like finger painting and potty training. Again, fine (as long as they remain separate activities). What’s not fine is this self-judgement that I have internalized from nowhere and everywhere that this very real, very demanding work is somehow “less than” the work that I do for money. How can we claim to value children, family values, and the uniqueness of men and women when things that are gendered to the feminine (e.g., physically having a baby and then keeping it alive) are less valuable than even gender-neutral activities? Care giving, both physical and mental, both in the home and globally, is real, valuable work. I may not have gone to college to learn how to do it, but wow, on some level wouldn’t that have been easier instead of constantly figuring it out as I go?
It’s going to be time for Mommy to “hear more pee in the potty” soon, so I’ll wrap this up. If the motivation for the Women’s March participants seemed all over the place, I imagine it’s because, like me, women feel torn in a zillion different directions. We can feel responsible for so much yet empowered to do so little. We can feel proud of and grateful for our families while at the same time feeling trapped and devalued by motherhood. We can know that it used to be worse and that it has to get better. We can feel outrage and compassion about the same things and in equal measure. We may not each know how to create the change we want to see, or even what that change looks like, but we know that things have to keep changing - for our sake, for the planet we live on, for our sisters and daughters and sons and husbands too.
Thank you to all who marched. Thank you to everyone who genuinely wants a better, more equitable and equal world. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and keep fighting the good fight. We all deserve to deal with less crap.