The Women's March started long before we marched, and it will continue long after.
We headed to the Baltimore train station Saturday morning around 6 AM for the 7:45 AM train. Despite our effort to beat the traffic, myself and four others, including one gentleman friend, stood for almost four hours in the frigid early morning alongside throngs of women (and men) from all over the country and beyond waiting to embark on the hour-long journey to Washington, D.C., where fellow participants would meet to begin the one and a half mile march through the center of the city. Among the thousands waiting in lines that wrapped around, across and (again) around the train station was a palpable sense of purpose and collective clarity, as the chaotic overflow of the station also had a certain calm to it.
It was here that the march began.
People waiting for hours shared food, held places in lines, moved aside for those trying to get through, and shared stories of what brought them there; creating a sense of community that would continue throughout the day. We were pissed, but we were on the same team. We were ready to be heard. As we continued waiting, locals on foot and in cars passing by cheered us on, helping make the cold a little more bearable.
"This is what democracy looks like"
The march continued when the Amtrak conductor (who was working on her day off in her own act of defiance) said we had arrived at D.C.. The track was packed with people from all over the country, wearing pink “pussy hats" and holding signs that voiced dissidence for everything from Islamaphobia to homophobia to violence against women to climate change to health care, all issues seemingly under attack by our new administration. We followed the flow of foot traffic out towards the monument-lined sky, which on this Saturday morning was a dismal off-white color, matching DC's stark midwinter weather.
This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up.
-March mission statement
All photos by Maria Cobb
One thing that immediately struck me was the varied age range of the crowd. There were babies in strollers wearing “Future Feminist" shirts, toddlers with Crayola-illustrated posters on their backs, teenagers covered in neon pink accessories, middle-aged women and men chanting “This is what democracy looks like," and grandfathers and grandmothers donning “Her Body Her Choice" and “Now You've Gone and Made Grandma Mad" signs, respectively.
If the wide-ranging messages were any indication, march attendees each had very specific, very personal reasons for being there. The beauty of the day was that everyone cheered for everyone's causes. One gentleman who waved a huge rainbow flag generated a vibrating uproar from us as we marched. An older caucasian lady who screamed out against racist police brutality was met with an equally raucous response. It was clear that this may have started as a woman's march, but it belonged to the people.
With each step I walked I felt more and more powerful. Alone I was one woman with a sign, but here I made up a vast tapestry of people standing in defiance of injustice and hate. There was a moment when we were all chanting phrases like "Love Trumps Hate" and "No Justice, No Peace" along with a drum, that I actually felt I could hear my own voice among the masses echoing loudly off the monuments, over the crowd and back into my ears. It was surreal. It was powerful.
Trump's messages of division and fear have been truly far-reaching, and the reaction was equal but opposite throughout the world.
After the march, we found ourselves in a bar a few blocks from the route's ending point (which felt premature but we were forbidden from getting anywhere near The White House). Women, weary and chilled from a day outside on their feet, began to thaw out with a beer and a burger. The venue's large flatscreen showed us the massive crowds in over 600 protests throughout the world. We cheered loudly upon seeing this, happily Facetiming our worried parents, friends and children who hadn't heard from us all day due to overburdened cell towers. From New York to Chicago to Australia to Switzerland, we saw women wearing the same hats and holding the same signs as we were, protesting in their own cities. I can't explain what it felt like to see that. We were all in this together, and the sheer volume of people in the streets meant Trump had to take a second look at our message. Right?
While chomping down on fries, we saw that the White House was about to hold an impromptu press conference. We couldn't believe it. We did it! On this day millions of people had come together in non-violent protest of a Trump America, resulting in the the largest inaugural protest in history, and he had noticed. "Let's see what he has to say," we all thought hopefully. As America's new Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, assumed his position on the screen, he bizarrely began to speak about Trump's inauguration crowd size (?) and how the networks had incorrectly reported it was smaller than it was due to deceptive issues like white plastic flooring. Wait...what? That was the pressing issue you called a conference for? And you had to do it now? Mr. Spicer then abruptly stepped off the podium with no opportunity for questions from the press. It felt like someone screaming “I'm popular" to a room of people who didn't like him, then running away. Clearly, the march was far from over.
"This Was The Largest Audience To Ever Witness An Inauguration, Period."
To me, the purposeful decision to make a completely unnecessary announcement whining about how well-liked Trump is just moments after an entire gender protested his presidency was in itself the new president's reaction. The timing, the blatant omission of the most newsworthy information of the day, and the focus on vilifying the media, was all Trump had to say when faced with this historically massive protest against his policies. Classic Trump. This man thinks like a boss, not a President, as he clearly believes that people will accept whatever he says as truth simply because he's the most powerful man in the boardroom...er. country.
To get to the truth throughout this presidency, Americans will have to practice their researching and between-the-line reading skills.
Because the size of things has become such an integral facet of Trump's few-day presidency (Freud are you listening?), we want to be careful about the numbers and are being very conservative in our estimates, each of which come from scrutinizing multiple sources. One thing we can say is that just D.C. had more than one million protestors, which is reportedly more than three times the number of those who attended Trump's prized inauguration, and impromptu popularity contest. The crowd in the nation's capital was so large, in fact, that cell service was nonexistent during the entirety of the event, and bathroom lines for the portable toilets exceeded an hour.
If we look at the globe, as a whole, the numbers are simply staggering (again leaving us with open mouths at the fact that Press Secretary didn't address it in the slightest). Los Angeles had a reported 750,000 marchers, while New York had half a million. Internationally, cities like London had 100,000 protestors, while Toronto had 50,000, and Sydney had about 9,000. Overall there were more than 5 million who came out to voice their support for the movement. Well played ladies.
Celebrities also came out and spoke out against Trump in record numbers. Emotional speeches from America Ferrara, Ashley Judd and Scarlett Johansen made us cry, throughout the day while comedian Aziz Ansari (who finally gave us the shout out we were looking for on his hilarious evening appearance on SNL) made us laugh.
Organized a day after the election, the Women's March was created by women concerned about Trump's decisive rhetoric. What started with just a handful of women from Hawaii agreeing on Facebook to come together and march, ballooned into a worldwide homage to free speech and tolerance.
January 21 was definitely a day to remember. Not only was it a testament to the power and strength of women and nonviolent protests, but most importantly it made us feel less alone, and part of something greater that we could get behind. The March on Washington was also a testament to the power of social media, as the entire event was amazingly created from the voices of just 40 women who originally took to Facebook to voice their frustration with Trump and his hateful rhetoric.
Throughout these next four years, we are going to find ourselves frustrated...many times. If Day 1 was any indication of this presidency, we are going to want to scream at the TV, cry and wonder what Barack is doing at that very moment. When this happens and feelings of defeat begin to rise, please remind yourself of this past Saturday and remember how just many people across this earth feel the same way we do about tolerance, equality and human decency. Also remind yourself that this country is still the best on earth, and we are proud of our constitution as it allows us to speak up against injustice. Not every country can say the same.
Lastly, don't stop now while you're on this high. Keep the movement alive with 10 Actions For The First 100 Days, which will continue the march for all of us in our everyday lives. Don't grow weary ladies! There's so much to do. Let's just keep marching.
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.