The Pulse on Gender Equity in Seattle & Beyond

Four reasons the Womxns March on Jan 21 is Just What Seattle Needs

Gender Equality OverallMartha BurwellComment

I took a break over the holidays. Not just a break from work, but a break from reality. I checked out from social media, stopped reading the news, and forced my mind to turn away from the terrifying upcoming inauguration of Donald Trump. I knew I needed to recharge for the hard work that is to come. 

It all begins with tomorrow’s inauguration, followed by a global Womxns March on Saturday, including one here in Seattle which is estimated to have many tens of thousands of people. 

Even though I desperately wish that this march was not necessary, that we did not have a president-elect who denies the full humanity of women, there is a silver lining.

Seattle in particular needs this march, and there are four big reasons why.  

A realization of the need for intersectionality

When I joined the peaceful Seattle protest on November 9, 2016, the day after the election of Donald Trump, an amazing thing happened.

Because the march was a reaction, because it hadn't been planned in advance by any one group, everyone just showed up, and mixed together. 

As we walked through the city, chants were led sporadically, by individuals throughout the crowd.  We heard chants for “Black lives matter,” “Queer lives matter,” "native lives matter," “Immigrant lives matter,” and “Trans lives matter,” alongside “misogyny has got to go!” and “my body my choice!”

At the University of Washington, one stop on the Nov 9 march

At the University of Washington, one stop on the Nov 9 march

After awhile, something shifted slightly. Organically, the crowd became aware of distributing time to each of the chants. No one person or group was leading, but if #BlackLivesMatter chanted for a few minutes, it was followed up by LGBTQ chants. If one group started gender equity rhyme, immigrant rights were prioritized next. A sense of unity began to grow, an understanding that calling for the equality of someone who is different than me is the same as calling for equality for myself.

This sounds like an incredibly simple realization, but it's one we're usually sheltered from, particularly in Seattle, where we tend to sweep inequities under the rug, which makes it very difficult to see how they intersect. 

There was also a realization that where we do have power and privilege, we can and must use it positively. Men shouted for women’s rights, white people shouted for racial justice, straight people shouted for LGBTQ equality. People were addressing their own privilege in real time, and it was amazing to see that. It was honestly the first time I had seen large numbers of men actively engaged in calling for gender equity. 

This Saturday, it's vital that we're having a march for women in particular, because there are gender-specific structures of privilege and oppression that must be addressed directly. But I'm hopeful that we're learning how the fight for gender equity cannot be segregated from other social justice movements, because women are part of all of those groups as well. I'm certainly still learning, and will be for a very long time. This intersectionality has been built into the principles of the national march, and the organizers have also acknowledged that they are still learning.  

This is a long overdue shift in mindset--it's been almost 30 years since the tern "intersectionality" was coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, but my computer still tells me it's not a word every time I type it. It's about time for that to change. 

Bursting the Seattle bubbles

Seattle has a culture of segregation.

It has a literal history of geographic racial segregation, with a significant legacy. This is why north Seattle is mostly white, and south Seattle has significantly more people of color. We also have a gender segregation in the workforce, particularly the tech industry. Seattle isn’t particularly unique in this regard, but we tend to ignore this segregation, because we view ourselves as a progressive city that has “solved” these types of things. 

We also have a culture of personal segregation. To put it differently, we like to stay with our own group of friends and family. We like being comfortable in our own little bubbles.  One effect of this is the existence of the “Seattle Freeze.” This is not inherently a bad thing at all, but it does affect our interactions, meaning we're less likely to meet people who are different from us. 

The local social justice movements are not immune to this culture, and being able to burst those bubbles, if only for a few hours, is an immensely valuable thing. 

It’s no secret that the women’s rights movement has struggled with a racism issue. The Black Lives Matter movement has likewise struggled with a sexism issue. The LGBTQ rights and environmentalism movements have struggled with both.

This is by no means intentional—these groups are full of amazing people with the best of intentions. But most of us grew up in a culture that teaches us to value certain people over others, and it’s impossible not to absorb some of that. Being able to stand together in this march and future actions and learn about each other’s work will lend strength not only by bringing our communities closer together, but also allowing us to grow personally. 

Breaking down the myth that ‘this doesn’t happen here’ and embracing discomfort

When doing gender equity work here in Seattle, I often come across the belief that gender inequity doesn’t exist here.  We’re Seattle. We’ve solved it. Or, the variation--Yes it does exist here, but my company/organization/group is very progressive and does not have gender bias.

First, let’s just put that to rest right away. Seattle, though we’ve made some great progress, we have serious inequity issues. There is ample evidence to document this, and I’m not making that case here, but I will give you one fact to illustrate—we have the worst gender pay gap in the country.  In the country.

Why does this “we are perfect” mindset perpetuate, then? I believe it’s in part due to the bubble effect I mentioned earlier—we tend to surround ourselves with people just like us, which makes it easier to be blind to the realities of those outside our groups. If we work at a tech company, live in north Seattle, and shop only at PCC, it’s easy to not notice that there are serious injustices happening here, because it’s out of sight.

But it also has to do with an unwillingness to be uncomfortable.

Many of Seattle’s leaders, in business, in government, and in other ways, still tend to come from privileged backgrounds. Not all of them, by any means, but a majority still hold significant amounts of privilege due to their gender/race/sexual orientation/class, and so on. 

This does not mean they're bad people--not at all! But the trouble with powerful people also being the most privileged is that with privilege comes comfort.  And with comfort, particularly if it runs deep and you’ve had it for a long time, comes an unwillingness to be uncomfortable.  It’s much harder to venture out into a snowstorm if you’re used to spending your days tucked up in a cozy house with the kettle on and a roaring fire.  You might not have the right clothing.  You might not know how to drive in the snow.  You might not have snow chains or know how to stick your arm in the wheel well to put them on safely. So you find reasons to stay inside, where you don’t need to work on those difficult and uncomfortable tasks. 

But that unwillingness to be uncomfortable has very real consequences.  It’s part of the reason why we have the worst gender pay gap in the country.  It’s a major factor is why our city is becoming less diverse as people of color are actively being pushed out, or opting out. 

That’s not to say that we aren’t doing amazing work here---we truly are. But we’ve got to remove the blinders that trick us into thinking we’ve solved everything, and we’ve got to be willing to step into that discomfort.

Gaining energy and validation for equity work

At one point during the march the day after the election, we were walking in the University District, chanting “Who’s lives matter? Black lives matter!” and a Black man who happened to be standing on the sidewalk at this moment, was smiling hugely, laughing with joy, and shouting Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

When the men in the group began chanting “her body her choice” after the women chanted “my body my choice,” I felt the same way. 

The importance of receiving positive feedback and validation cannot be understated. 

The fact that I get ten times the facebook “likes” for posting about going on a hike than I do when I post about my gender equity work means something real.  It affects the energy I have to do the work, it affects my outlook, sometimes even making me question if I'm doing the right thing, it affects how much I can keep giving, usually unpaid, to the movements I'm working on. 

One thing I’m looking forward to the most is the positive energy and support that coming together as such a large group will bring. It shows that yes, people are passionate about this cause, and there are many allies out there. Working to achieve goals as a group is incredibly powerful--especially if the group is physically all in one place. This is part of the reason why group activities like watching or playing football and singing together at church are so popular. There's nothing that can replace that feeling of standing side by side with like-minded people.  

We are not alone. We can do this.  We are strong together.