Independent Women – History in the Making

History has a strange way of making the world seem simultaneously vast and small; old and new. Perspective always has a way of changing the way you see the world, and, like an optical illusion, you’re never able to grasp the full picture at the same time. Look too closely and you miss the big picture. Grasp the big picture and you miss the interesting details.

I was given a little bit of perspective not that long ago when I volunteered to help with Tribe Table @ Bentonville Film Festival and got to listen in on the stories of women in the film industry while they were interviewed by Tribe of Women founder, Amy Robinson. One guest talked about how women have only been “allowed” to have credit cards within the past 40 years. Another talked about her previous work experience as a sales associate in the late 1990’s and how she was only allowed (that word again) to work on a sale up to a certain dollar amount, at which time a man would have to come and finish the deal.

Shock… Then Awe

I was shocked. Not only because they didn’t think that women didn’t have financial rights, or that someone who had done all of the work to get a sale to where it was, could suddenly not seal the deal, but that this occurred the past few decades, and within my lifetime.

And thus, out of curiosity and a desire to understand and contextualize the progress of women in history, I was inspired to develop my own timeline, “A Brief History of Women’s Independence”. I wanted to remind myself of just how recent the rights I often take for granted were won. In particular, I wanted to give myself a little bit of perspective on women’s rights – how far we have progressed, how much we can accomplish in mere decades, and how far we still have to go.

I cannot stress enough that this is a brief and biased history (as is most history). In honor of the 4th of July, I decided to focus only on women’s independence in the U.S. beginning in the 1770’s. Even with this shortened time frame, I’ve missed a lot. For example, I didn’t include the still current #MeToo movement or that there’s a record number of women running for office – that history is still being written. One of the biggest things missing from this timeline is the social attitudes and prejudices. For example, I would be surprised to find in any of my history books the limits and discrimination of financial rights for women, or the year women they were finally allowed to finish the sales they started. Or maybe it hasn’t happened yet? At least for some.

So, while this exercise has helped put things in perspective for me, I realize it is only my perspective – a young woman in the United States of America perspective – and that there are other perspectives to add and stories to be told. Societal attitudes and prejudices have a much more mercurial nature than laws and history portray. When looking through textbooks it’s easy to find when a law, such as voting rights for women, was enacted. However, when society’s attitude changes to accept the underlying premise of that law, that “Women should be treated as equals to men,” – is not so easy to pinpoint. Maybe because we haven’t arrived at that point in herstory. At least not everyone. At least not yet.

Herstory

History is organized by numbers, but it’s perpetuated by stories. Only through storytelling do we learn about others, ourselves, and our world.

Artist: Shepherd Fairy’s “We the People” Series

Like I said, this timeline is biased. I leafed through history and picked out things that interested me, but the timeline is missing stories that I can’t tell, a depth that I can’t add. Within one of our pillars at Tribe of Women is “Tribe Stories” – the place where we connect. And that’s what we ask from you, our readers. Any stories you have, of how women’s rights or societal attitudes have changed (or have not changed), of yourself or of others, we urge you to share, to write, to tell. Your stories are part of the narrative of herstory lived and that is still being written.

Your Story

What historical events do you think should have been included? What stories or memories do you have of historical changes in laws or in attitudes? What are you celebrating this 4th of July? Please share in the comments below, post on the social media thread where you found this blog, or send it to us directly at info@tribeofwomen.modthink.net with “Independent Women” in the subject line.

Women’s March on Washington – Women Supporting Women

Last weekend, I spent a chilly, overcast day with several hundred thousand other women and men of all ages, colors and creeds on the Mall in Washington DC. Several things compelled me to go to the Women’s March on Washington, but one of my goals was to capture some of the stories of women who would be attending with me – stories that also compelled them to travel to the nation’s capital to make their voices heard.

Women's March on Washington | TribeofWomen.com

As I was traveling, several friends contacted me to wish me well and tell me that I was marching for them because they couldn’t attend a march at home. I cannot put into words how humbled I was by their sincere gratitude for my willingness to do something that I was not at all hesitant to do. It felt a little silly to say “you’re welcome” when I would have gone for the sheer enjoyment of traveling, seeing my brother and his family, eating amazing Lebanese food, and getting to hang out with the friends who flew out with me. Standing up for women’s rights was kind of the cherry on top.

At some point, I realized that if each of the 200,000 attendees that march organizers were anticipating in DC were marching for others, we would be representing an amazing number of women across the country. To our astonishment, the total estimate announced Sunday was around 500,000. Considering how many friends I was representing, there were around 5 million people represented by marchers in DC alone.

Women's March on Washington | TribeofWomen.com
Women were not alone in DC. I would guess approximately 1/3 of the people at the Women’s March were men marching for their partners, mothers, daughters, sisters and friends.

Extrapolate that out for the total number of people marching in the entire U.S. – estimated at 3 million – and 30 MILLION people were represented by the women and men who marched last Saturday. Even if you cut that in half to account for people who weren’t representing as many as I was, 15 million is not paltry. Obviously, a lot of people felt strongly about the mission and vision of the event.

But Monday, social media started looking sad. Friends of mine were sharing status updates they found online – some were pretty hateful – about the Women’s March. These posts didn’t just communicate a lack of information about the purpose of the women’s march or ask genuine questions to learn why women marched, they directly questioned the need for the event at all, and in some cases, harshly criticized marchers with personal attacks and name-calling.

Now, I and others like me could simply scroll past these posts and move on, choosing to “go high” when others “go low” (thanks Michelle!). For these situations, I am particularly fond of the “unfollow” feature on Facebook. On the other hand, I strongly believe I have a responsibility to respond. Because, while I most definitely marched for women of color (who have been marching a hell of a lot longer than I have), and my LGBTQIA friends and family, immigrant women raising children my son attends school with, women with disabilities, victims of sexual violence, women who worship in mosques and temples, and the rights of my daughters to be in control of their own reproductive health and earn what they deserve in the workplace, I also marched for women who aren’t aware their rights are being threatened, and who lash out against things they don’t understand with criticism and disdain. To those women, I say “It’s okay if you don’t understand why I chose to march (or even oppose the stated reasons for the march online) – I marched for you anyway.”

Women's March on Washington | TribeofWomen.com

All the freedoms women enjoy today – our freedom to make our own decisions about our healthcare, the ability to take out a loan in our own name, the right to vote, the ability of our daughters to play sports just like your sons, the right to speak out against sexual harassment and demand equal pay in the workplace – ALL of those freedoms were won in part by women who were willing to march. Some of them may were probably told they don’t speak for their peers, but they still marched. I am grateful for those women. And last Saturday, I was proud to take my place in line with those women to keep those freedoms from disappearing.

At the very root of everything Tribe of Women stands for is the desire to create a culture of women supporting women. We have more similarities than differences – we must remember that. I spoke to dozens of women at the march about our mission last Saturday. I watched eyes light up and smiles break across faces when I proposed the idea that we can come from different backgrounds and have different lives and goals, and STILL STAND TOGETHER.

I think I can safely say that we have all been the victim of the normalization of “mean girl” culture in our society: the judgement and criticism that transpires among women, directed toward women they disagree with. The belief that women are inherently mean to each other. We have witnessed useless debates over breast vs. bottle, work outside the home vs. staying home, judging the size of one’s family, are leggings pants or pajamas (yes, some debates are this silly)… the list seems endless.

But in the end, we are all women. We should be demanding the right to decide for ourselves what is right for us, as individuals, based on our own personal life-choices and beliefs. We should be encouraging each other to make those decisions even if they are not the decisions we would make for ourselves. And we should be able to make those personal decisions without suffering the backlash of other women questioning the decisions we have made for ourselves.

It’s simple, really: If you want to understand why I marched, I am happy to share. If you don’t want to march, you don’t have to. But every day, whether or not you know why, I’m still marching for you.

— Laurie Marshall