I was dismayed but not surprised to see the third Women’s March on Washington fracture over political differences. With accusations of anti-Semitism and other biases flying, women opted out of the march in droves.
In the 1970’s, the women’s movement had similar problems, when many of us were working hard for the Equal Rights Amendment, but there was very little interest on the part of leadership in any kind of internal debate – or so it seemed to me. I grew frustrated with how unrepresentative the women’s movement was becoming - both of women in traditional roles like stay at home moms to LGBT and rural women. In fact it felt like anyone who wasn’t aiming for a conventionally male occupation was marginalized.
We were issued preprinted postcards to send to our legislators urging them to back the amendment. Individual comments were discouraged. The leaders seemed to think we had to speak in one voice only.
But I was hot headed, and sent one of these postcards to Ellie Smeal, then president of NOW, with the note that I doubted she would even read it. To be fair, she replied on another one, that she had.
And yet, women are probably the most diverse group on the planet. There’s no reason we should agree about Palestine, gender roles or much of anything else, outside the fact that most of us do not enjoy the basic freedoms men have. I think our problem is not so much that we don’t agree all the way down the line as that we expect to.
Often, female culture is one of consensus, sometimes strong-armed, while our reality is complicated. I’ve heard women in the same room make good cases for arranged marriage and others for polyamory. But we should be able to reach common ground without agreeing on everything.
We could begin by acknowledging that we must have sovereignty over our lives and bodies; that we have a right to equal opportunity, education and pay.
And even if we’re willing to accept all that in principal, there’s still plenty of room for debate right there.