On Saturday, Jan. 21, I attended the Women’s Rights Rally held at the Forks’ Transit Center and was stunned at what I witnessed. Of course, it was mostly women, women of all ages from young girls standing by their mothers’ sides to grandmothers. For me, it began as a positive, buoyant, upbeat event — most folks driving by honking their horn and waving. Then I saw the first middle finger.
Soon, a second. Followed by a third. Grown men, some alone, some in numbers, some driving extra slow, were doing their level best making sure their message was getting through to those women loud and clear, ensuring it was clearly seen and easily understood by all. I don’t know how many men drove by over the course of the next hour, choosing to show off their version of free speech. Within just a few minutes’ time, I saw as much as I cared to see and I walked away.
This was a group of women you were flipping off. Mothers, grandmothers, young girls. Each and every one of them got to see and feel firsthand exactly just how little you think of them, how little you think of what they do in society each and every day, how little you think of their dreams for the future.
How deep does your hatred run? Is our democracy, our society now fractured to the point where you feel the need to slow down and flip the finger to women and their young daughters simply because they have the nerve to ask for fairness and equality, for decent healthcare for our children, for the chance to better their lives, for an end to oppression in all forms?
In our ever-increasingly ugly world, there are plenty of real threats to our democracy, enemies far more worthy of contempt. Enemies far better at hatred and cruelty and oppression than you. Why do you feel our women, our wives, our daughters, our mothers, our sisters should be subjected to what I witnessed that afternoon? What on earth does that accomplish?
Do you feel women aren’t capable enough to stand alongside us? Think it over. Women are in every field, in most cases doing outstanding work. They’ re doctors and construction workers, teachers and police officers, soldiers and sailors, business owners and engineers. Or they’re single mothers, working themselves into an early grave at two lousy jobs, struggling every day to give their children a decent life. A better life than perhaps they themselves had.
Not capable? A month ago, I watched a woman nurse bring my 34-year-old stepson back from certain death. He had fallen deep into a diabetic coma before we discovered him and 9-1-1 was called. Twenty-seven years ago, a woman surgeon spent five hours repairing my somewhat-mangled hand, saving two fingers and probably my career.
As you read this, women in the Army and Marines are standing shoulder to shoulder with men, fighting and bleeding against very real tyrannies. Societies based on hatred, based on cruelty, based on oppression. Many women have now made multiple deployments. Our sisters are now found aboard virtually every type of warship in the Navy and they’re not just along for the ride. Our daughters are aboard Coast Guard motor lifeboats, heading out in the worst conditions imaginable to rescue those in peril.
My entire adult life has been spent working in a predominantly male field. But over the course of the last 20 or so years, I’ve had the privilege of working in wildland fire each summer. It was indeed a privilege because it opened my eyes to what women are capable of when given half a chance. At every level, in every single aspect of wildland firefighting today, you’ll find extremely capable women. Not only are they common fixtures on handcrews or engine crews, they’re crew bosses, engine leaders, division supervisors, operations section chiefs, supply unit leaders, incident communications technicians.
The list goes on and on because women have been allowed, as it were, to populate all facets of the wildland firefighting community. And I guarantee you, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone, anywhere in fire today who still thinks things were better back in the day before somebody let girls in the fort.
Think women aren’t tough enough? Today, it is so commonplace to see women smokejumpers and women on national type 1 hot shot crews, it passes without notice. Think you’re tough? These women perform this work right alongside much larger men. They’ re working 14 to 16 hour days with a shovel, or a pulaski, or a driptorch in their hands, all the while carrying 30 pounds on their backs.
Every evening they file into basecamp alongside their brothers, filthy as coal miners, and then get up the next morning and do it again. These aren’t ‘superwomen’ — in many cases, they’re simply youngsters out there earning tuition money for college. To better themselves. To have a better life.
These are the people who gave you life itself. They nursed you, kept you fed, saw you to the doctor when you were hurt, protected you from danger, educated you. I imagine even today, a women sets a plate of hot food in front of you each evening, washes your clothes, nurses your wounds. Is this how you thank her? Is this how you show her exactly what you think of her? What you think of her opinions? What you think of her worth?
I’m thankful the woman who saved my stepson probably hadn’t seen something like that when she was 8 or 10 years old. Or the woman who saved my hand. Or my daughter. Bad behavior tolerated today becomes bad behavior accepted tomorrow. Pretty quickly after that, it becomes routine behavior. I agree there are plenty of problems in our country, especially in our heartland. And lately, the list seems to be growing daily. But if we hold any hope of fixing anything, any hope of somehow healing our fractures, it won’t begin by flipping the bird at everyone who has the audacity to hold a view different than our own.
After their scheduled hour, the group of women broke up. They packed up their signs and their pink hats and scarves and headed home. Probably to get dinner started. Right then, a thought came to me. That small group of women stood out there the entire time, through the worst withering crapstorm you could sling at them and still they smiled and waved, joked and laughed, held their signs and waited for the next friendly face. In other words, they took your best and still stood there smiling. In other words, they did precisely what women have been doing for thousands of years. They persevered.