I’ve been to Washington, D.C., more times than I care to remember.
My grandmother lives in Maryland, so as a child my summer vacations followed a rigorous schedule of tourism, in which my brother and I were each yanked by the arm to an infinite slew of withering monuments, pristine museums and buildings that are so important you can’t even go inside of them.
We were going to appreciate the majesty of our nation’s capital – and damn it, we were going to like it.
Sure, some of the places we went to were cool, but in general we were either too young to fully understand their significance or too antsy to care.
It wasn’t until last Sunday, when I returned to D.C. for the March to Save Women’s Lives, that I was truly awestruck by what I saw.
In the subway station, I struggled to keep my bearings as the swelling mob of fellow march-bound activists inched me closer to the edge of the platform. Three trains whizzed by, packed to capacity, before I was able to squeeze myself onto one.
At the Smithsonian Station, I was swept off the train in a flood of bodies and colorful homemade picket signs that carried me up the stairs and dumped me into the sea of feminists above.
There I stood, smack in the middle of the historic “Mall” – a lawn that begins at the foot of the Washington Monument and stretches roughly the length of two football fields to the face of the Capitol building.
Just as generations of Americans before me, I had made this pilgrimage to stand up for my beliefs.
Along with an estimated 1.5 million others, I was there to defend my fundamental right to reproductive freedom, including safe, equal and legal access to abortion and contraception and unbiased and accurate sex education in schools.
I felt my chest swell with an unexpected mixture of pride, excitement, patriotism and power, as I knew I was about to take part in something massive.
However, this reaction was not the only thing that surprised me about the march.
There was a great sense of camaraderie among the marchers, and while I was thrilled to see such a diverse group of people united for the cause, I was disappointed at the stereotypes of feminism some people evidently still cling to.
As I marched with my group down Pennsylvania Avenue, proudly sporting my “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” T-shirt, we passed a peculiar group of college-age men and women. Clad in all black, with handkerchiefs tied bandit-style around their faces, they were not marching, but observing from the sideline. Although they had quite an arsenal of anti-Bush signs and stickers, I wasn’t sure whether they were there in support of the march or just to heckle.
“I’ve never seen a feminist who wears make-up before,” one man sneered at me from atop a small statue.
“Yeah? So, take a f—ing picture!” I shouted defensively.
While my response may have been a bit harsh, I find it ridiculous that in 2004, there are still people who think feminists are a bunch of man-hating lesbians with hairy armpits.
Since when did appearance become a factor in one’s political identity?
Does my penchant for MAC eye shadows and Coach purses automatically disqualify me from the participation in the women’s movement?
Feminism is about belief in gender equality in terms of society, civil rights and opportunity, and whether a person – man or woman – chooses to identify as a “feminist” is a matter of personal preference.
Assigning such superficial criteria to the feminist label is the kind of exclusive, holier-than-thou ideology that alienates otherwise willing activists from the cause and is proof that the movement still has a long way to go.
Carly Roden is a Spartan Daily staff writer.