I recently participated in the Women’s March at Mitchell Park in San Luis Obispo.
I was inspired and amused by my fellow walkers and their creative placards. Speakers gave rousing orations. Musicians moved us with their powerful tunes.
But the real magic for me came as the march began. Turning to follow several civic leaders holding banners, thousands of participants moved as one wave toward the street. And I began to cry.
Tears welled up seemingly out of nowhere. I was completely overcome.
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At first, I was surprised, even embarrassed. I’ve lived a life of privilege. I’ve certainly never been abused or mistreated. In fact, I’ve been well cared for by the primary men in my life.
But the tears weren’t just for me. They spoke for countless other women who weren’t present to state their case.
They spoke, for instance, for my great-grandmother, a Latin scholar, who was never able to vote. And my Ivy League-educated grandmother who voted for the first time in her late 20s after women were finally granted suffrage.
My mother was denied access to organized sports, even though she was a fiercely competitive and talented athlete.
Even I, a top-notch pre-Title IX tennis player, was never offered a college scholarship, even though I was a straight-A student and the No. 1 ranked player in my age group. All my male counterparts received full rides to major universities.
The tears were also for the time I was told it didn’t matter if I gave my future children family names because, after all, they wouldn’t be carrying on the family legacy.
And for the time when all the males in the family were proudly gifted neckties made from the family tartan, but there were no tartans for the girls or women.
They were for the times I was told to smile because it made me look prettier, or told to wear a padded bra because it gave me a more flattering figure. Or encouraged to wear flat shoes so I didn’t tower over boys.
The tears were for the times I’ve been talked over by masculine voices and told my opinions didn’t matter.
For when I’ve been on the receiving end of mansplaining, even though I was more knowledgeable on the subject than the speaker. For when men dominated the conversation and never asked what the women had to say. For when I stayed silent rather than risk angering a man.
Finally, the tears flowed with great pride for the young women in the crowd, women who are reaching such fantastic heights and whose experiences, I know, are very different from mine.
Yes, I’ve been the beneficiary of innumerable advantages. And my situation isn’t unique.
But the tears spoke of the generations I embodied, the recipients of innumerable wrongs.
We were all celebrating together just how far we’ve come, and how more there is yet to do.