Guest Post: I Didn’t March (but Wish I Could Have)

I kicked around a couple drafts about this weekend’s Women’s March, but I couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t sound too self-congratulatory. I marched, I’m glad I marched, and I’m pleasantly surprised by just how many people did the same.

But I worry that the momentum will fade. Will people stay angry? Or will they feel like they did their part by marching and lose interest?

The 10 Actions / 100 Days campaign is a great start in keeping that momentum going. I hate to say it, but people tend to be lazy about their activism unless they are constantly. actively threatened. The organizers of the march did a great job of making things easy for people. Even if your representatives do support the agenda and goals of the Women’s March, follow along anyway. We can’t flood the streets every day, but we can flood inboxes and mailboxes to make our words heard and seen.

As for me, I was approached by a friend who couldn’t march. She wanted to share her story, but not at the cost of her anonymity. She asked me to share her story here and I immediately said yes. I have a platform here and I’m going to use it. Please share it if you feel so inclined.

I sat in a bar Saturday night, having not marched due both to an injury and a fear of crowds. A man who had gotten sloppily drunk in the past in my presence (and also made condescending comments about college students needing coloring books when Trump won) asked me about who I thought was smarter, Hillary or Trump.

It is very possible that he thought I was going to agree with him (despite said previous condescending conversation, where I told him that I, who was sexually assaulted and had developed PTSD I still struggle with years later, had had a flashback/breakdown when Trump won due to memories of my attacker getting off, so did not find him funny in the slightest—he sarcastically apologized, by the way). I have a good life—no student loans, no outstanding debts. I graduated without a job and I could live at home as long as it took to find a job that didn’t make me want to kill myself (I’ve had offers I’ve turned down to that effect). I am White Privilege, apart from that pesky fact of being female. He probably thought I’m one of Them.

However, I told him Trump managed to convince a sector of the population he was smarter, but at the same time showed every sign of at least one personality disorder. He demanded my proof, then insisted that I agree with him that it was wrong that someone called Trump’s inauguration speech Hitlerian. I haven’t read it, so told him I couldn’t speak to that, but that comments he said were indeed similar. Whenever I brought up evidence, citing things Trump said, my “sources” were judged as being at fault. So I gave up. I never liked that guy to start off with.

But it was a woman at the bar who really upset me. She was talking with the bartender about how she had never felt safe in the past eight years, and was looking forward to the next four. How the women’s march was stupid, and as a female in oil and gas she had never felt any kind of problem with sexism.

That was the point where I stormed out, because it was that or start a shouting match I could never take back. I don’t know what position she had in oil and gas, but if she’s an engineer, she’s either lying to herself or completely oblivious.

My first experience with overt sexism happened when I was a sophomore in college. There was a week-long program for students to help them understand industry, full of teambuilding and networking practice and random exercises. One of those exercises involved making a decision on whether or not to build a pipeline in Alaska with data that didn’t say how a component would perform in certain temperatures, though the lowest piece of data had it failing. I argued that after the BP oil spill, the public would not forgive an oversight like that again. I convinced my team, and we were one of two groups out of maybe thirty that chose not to go ahead with it.

Our call was the correct one. It was the Challenger o-ring data—we watched the video of it exploding. But I didn’t get to feel accomplished and intelligent. My table’s supervisor kept insisting it was my “woman’s intuition” that made me make that call, rather than the facts as I saw them. He made several more comments like that throughout the week—I posted one on Facebook, and my father made me take it down. He didn’t want me to be seen as rocking the boat.

I’ve continued to worry constantly about being seen as too female in engineering. No emotions, can’t be too opinionated, can’t risk being seen as bossy. I was second choice for a major company for a job—when I asked why I didn’t get the position, an inside source told me I was their strongest technical candidate, but a “minor group project problem” made them decide I couldn’t work in a team. I have no proof, and maybe I’m wrong, but I wonder if I had been male, like all of my interviewers, what could be seen as “bossy” would just have been seen as assertive and goal-oriented, since without what I did the group would have failed. I’ll never know. Maybe I’m just looking for an excuse of why I failed at that job. But it’s always in the back of my head.

That’s not even going into my worst times of being female—like when I was sexually assaulted and brought the guy up to the college committee and had a male professor try to coach him on what to say to get off (never mind the letter he submitted saying I was incapacitated). All the times I was afraid to say I was assaulted, because I was so embarrassed from the stigma, even though I never did anything wrong besides trusting the wrong person. Because somehow it’s my fault, and I should be ashamed. And I still fight that problem on a daily basis.

But, no, it’s the little things. It’s how I have to wear my hair up and back every interview so I don’t look too feminine but also wear makeup so I don’t look unprofessional, even though I almost never wear any kind of makeup on a daily basis. It’s making sure I don’t say my opinion too loudly, or risk upsetting people. It’s a man earlier this week in this same bar telling his friend not only was I intellectual, but I was so pretty too. And then telling me I could find a job, but there was nothing wrong with just finding a nice banker husband.

And that’s why I wished I had marched. Because I’m tired of smiling and nodding like a good girl should. I’m tired of pretending the things that happened to me didn’t, to make men feel more comfortable. I’m tired of putting up with sleazy guys and understanding my opinion will mean nothing no matter what I say, and of women who have never dealt with certain issues so refuse to believe they exist.

I’m just so goddamn tired.

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