Why the Women Marched

Conservative criticism of the Women’s March on Washington seems to be revolving around several poorly considered ideas.

First, the notion that the march was simply a tantrum thrown by sore losers. Second, that women already have all the rights that men do, so why are they bothering? Third, that it is hypocritical to oppose a man who says vile things about and does vile things to women but support a woman who is married to a man who acts in a similar way. There are other criticisms, of course (“Feminists want to emasculate and oppress men!”), too absurd to be worthy of comment.

Let’s consider each point in turn, but first note the obvious: the people who are confused as to what the purpose or motives of the march was probably did not actually bother to read the mission, vision, or principles put forth by the organizers. They likely did not attend the march. They may not have even bothered to ask their friends, male or female, why they personally went. I personally feel that if people were inclined to do such things, the misinformation would not be so egregious. I can’t pretend to speak for every woman that went, but by doing those things I got a fairly informed idea as to what it was all about.

Let’s think through the first point. Was it simply that the Republican candidate won and the Democratic one lost? Is it just liberals being sore losers, without any other context? Well, no thinking person actually believes this. The Women’s March was likely the largest single-day protest in national history, with over 3 million Americans participating. Would we have seen such an event if Marco Rubio had been elected? If Jeb Bush beat Hillary Clinton? Is the victory of every Republican presidential candidate followed by historic-sized protests? Perhaps the protest has more to do with anger over the words and actions of the person elected, rather than the simple fact that he won.

Second, while it is true women have roughly the same legal rights as men, there is a certain right men could never possibly need but women might. That is, the right to an abortion. The Women’s March wasn’t solely about abortion rights (another conservative misconception), but it was a big part of it. The principles included “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education.” Now, staunchly pro-life people won’t agree with that, which is fine. But women (and men) who are pro-choice believe the right to an abortion should be protected and know it is currently under attack, from Texas (which slashed funding for clinics, forcing all but 20 to close in a state with 13 million women) to Ohio (which joined 15 other states in enacting a ban on abortions after 20 weeks). Again, this may sound like good news to you if you are conservative, but the point is that abortion is a right protesters sought to protect. They wanted to voice opposition to anti-abortion policies Trump and Republicans support and will likely move to enact.

Also on the subject of rights is women’s pay. Many conservatives have made it clear they either believe unequal pay for equal work is a myth or don’t even understand what it means (“My man makes more than me because his job is manual labor and mine isn’t”; “Look at how rich this woman is! The idea we’re paid less is stupid”). It’s the radical idea that a woman with comparable education and experience as a man would make the same as him in the same field or industry. Yes, the wage gap is partly explained by men dominating certain high-paying fields (which in turn is partly explained by sexism in schools, which can slowly push girls away from lucrative fields like STEM), but unequal pay for equal work and equal qualifications within the same field is also a real problem. As the Economic Policy Institute put it,

Women are paid less than similarly educated men at every level of education. And the wage gap tends to rise with education level… Women who work in male-dominated occupations are paid significantly less than similarly educated males in those occupations. So even recommending that women choose better-paying occupations does not solve the problem.

Whether or not you trust research into the matter is your business, but just know that protesters do trust this is a problem and wish to voice dissent.

Beyond equal pay, there’s sexism in general. The EPI summarizes:

One famous study found that switching to blind auditions led to a significantly higher proportion of female musicians in orchestras (Goldin and Rouse 1997).

An experimental study of résumés submitted for job openings found bias against women and mothers and a preference for male applicants (Steinpreis, Anders, and Ritzke 1999). Another résumé study showed discrimination against women in the sciences (Moss-Racusin et al. 2012).

Researchers have also found that women are viewed as less competent than men, and that mothers are judged as even less competent than childless women (Ridgeway and Correll 2004).

There are of course other issues, such as the fact that any boy under 18 can buy condoms without a problem, but girls face all kinds of legal barriers to birth control in many states. But abortion, equal hiring practices, and equal pay are the main legal rights women seek to maintain or achieve.

However, this was only part of the event. An equally important matter was standing up to sexual harassment and sexual violence. This protest was not the whine of a losing side in a typical election, it was an outburst of anger against the disrespect and abuse Trump exhibited and the culture that too often excuses, tolerates, or embraces such things — tolerates to the point of voting for a vile man like Trump. Boasting of grabbing women by the vagina, calling women fat, ugly pigs, saying Hillary Clinton couldn’t satisfy her husband, making jokes to women about blow jobs, and going to trial for rape would, in a sensible world, enrage everyone. Most of the speeches, signs, and shirts I saw, and the conversations I heard, were about sexual violence, sometimes Trump’s, sometimes someone else’s. From demeaning catcalls to nasty comments (a government official in New Mexico said women protesting “have the right to be slapped”) to the absurdly light sentences for vicious rapists, feminist liberals wish to build a society where women are safe, treated with respect, and see justice done to the worst of humanity. Surely everyone, regardless of political persuasion, can support what the organizers wrote, that women should be “free of all forms of violence against our bodies.” Days after the march, Oklahoma ruled that oral sex is not rape if the victim is unconscious from drinking.

Which brings us to the third and final point, the infidelities of Bill Clinton and the rape accusations against him, and how these things affect whether the Women’s March was an event worthy of praise or scorn. Conservatives posit: “This march wouldn’t have taken place if Hillary Clinton had won. You oppose Trump and his nastiness, yet support Hillary, whose husband is a cheater, a liar, and an accused rapist. That’s hypocrisy.”

Well, one might suppose not all of the 3 million American marchers supported or voted for Hillary. How many Bernie Sanders loyalists were there, for instance? Just because one despises Trump’s words and deeds against women does not mean he or she is a fan of Hillary or Bill Clinton. Perhaps some, like me, are critics of both. Regardless, even assuming all attendees voted for Hillary, there are obvious problems with this idea.

Most sensible people would consider Hillary a victim in this regard. She was cheated on countless times, likely lied to. Should she be punished for the crimes of her unfaithful husband? I think not — even if she stayed with him to maintain political power and opportunities. He should be frowned upon for infidelity and thrown in prison if rape charges are determined to be true. But his wife shouldn’t have to wear a badge of shame because of what he did. Hillary is the victim of Bill’s infidelity, and that in no way means people should automatically not support or vote for her. Unless she is staying mum about Bill raping women, which there is no evidence for, she is an innocent bystander to his crimes (if factual). Believe it or not, one could support imprisoning someone for a crime and support his wife, a victim, in her career pursuits. Hillary is not Bill.

In the same way I do not pretend Bill was running for president, I do not yet suppose he and Trump are of the same character. If they are both one day found guilty of rape, they can rot in prison together and we can call them equally awful men. But put aside the accusations against both for a moment; suppose they are all false. At the time of the election, and the march, and today, neither person was tried and convicted of rape. So what is left? Bill is a cheating husband, but not known for demeaning women. Trump still brags of sexual assault, tears down women for their appearance, and makes lewd remarks about contestants on his show, political enemies, etc. So is it hypocrisy to protest Trump but not Bill over how they treat women? Perhaps there is a tinge of hypocrisy, but not much. When it comes down to it, if using what we know at the moment, Donald Trump is more worthy of a protest than Bill Clinton when it comes to the treatment of women. If you add in the other stated principles of the Women’s March (like “Disability Rights” and “Civil Rights”) and consider Trump’s treatment of other groups (disabled Americans, Muslims) compared to Bill’s, this might make the case that Trump deserves a Women’s March more than Bill even stronger. His support for restrictions on abortion and other right-wing policies would make the case stronger still, in the eyes of those on the left.

(Conservatives speaking of hypocrisy should ask themselves: If Bill is worthy of protest and disdain, is not Trump worthy of even more? Those crying hypocrisy shouldn’t be saying the Women’s March, this stand against Trump, was wrong. They should be saying it was right. More specifically, “It was the right thing to do, but you should protest against Bill as well, to avoid hypocrisy.” The alternative is to protest neither. But that does no good for anyone — including Bill’s alleged victims. Liberals must ask ourselves: If Trump is worthy of protest, is Bill? I think Trump is much more worthy of protest than Bill, yet am not opposed to a mass stand against infidelity or worse crimes that he committed. I believe both would be positive things. If conservatives wish to make accusations of hypocrisy, they must also decide if both are right or if both are wrong. Currently, the absence of a theoretical march against injustice is being used to criticize a march against injustice.)

The idea that Trump is more worthy of a protest than Bill (putting aside unconfirmed accusations) when it comes to treatment of women is my view, and you are free to think differently. However, given that view, you can see why I don’t see much hypocrisy between a Women’s March for Trump and none for a theoretical First Man Bill Clinton. Same for opposing Trump’s presidential campaign in general but supporting Hillary’s. For there to be full-blown hypocrisy, different standards must be applied to two things that are essentially the same.

A man running for president is not the same as a man married to a woman running for president. Committing infidelity is not the same as committing sexual assault. A man may be worthy of protest, but a worse man can be even more worthy. And so on.