On Saturday, as they had done last year, hundreds of people gathered in Washington Square Park in solidarity with hundreds of such Women’s Marches throughout the nation, including the largest on the mall in Washington D.C. Sponsored by Indivisible Rochester and Gender Equity Movement of the College of Brockport, the rally was a platform for advancing gender equality as well as a range of progressive social causes. The crowd was not as large as last year — many supporters were in Seneca Falls for its Woman’s March — but on a chilly winter morning the turnout showed the momentum from last year had not waned.
Last year in In Washington Square Park remembering the first March for Woman’s Lives, April 1989 , I brought a photograph from the inaugural March for Women’s Lives. Finding some people who were in D.C. thirty years ago, we chronicled a trajectory of the women’s movement from second wave feminism to challenges faced by Millennials.
On Saturday, the theme was advances or setbacks since last year. Of course, today we are one year into the Trump presidency which found few — if any — fans at the rally. And, the year saw a heightened focus on sexual harassment and sexual entitlement in the workplace and beyond.
I spoke with two women, Kelly LaLonde and Judith Littlejohn who went to the march last year in Washington.
Both women agreed the media attention and increased public awareness about harassment and entitlement was actually making a difference. As Judith said, women who now speak out do not have to feel so alone. Instead, there are new forums for connections and support. Kelly felt that the attention of high profile cases was important, but as important were the “systemic micro aggressions” too often felt by women. The Me Too movement offers empowerment.
I also spoke with Kelly’s husband, Francis Zablocki. Francis thinks men are afraid to discuss gender issues and afraid to criticize how other men chauvinistically characterize women. A successful athlete through college, Francis has heard more than his share of male locker room banter that he describes as “alpha male boasting.” Francis practiced what he called “passive resistance,” often separating himself from teammates. Looking back, he wishes his resistance had been more active. Today, Francis hopes now that these issues are on the public table, men will feel more comfortable talking and can see how they actually benefit from movements like Me Too.
Back in town after graduating from college, Sarah Saresky was in New York during last year’s March. We talked about how Millenial women view sexual harassment. Sarah agreed with media reports about generational differences when it comes to tolerating inappropriate behavior. She says all the women in her circle are on board with the program; while women like her mother — who begged out of going to rally because of a cold — are more passive.
Sarah also feels Millennial men lag behind in enlightenment. She works as a waitress at a local restaurant and endures her full share of sexist, objectifying and boorish comments and behavior. Alas, Sarah says the younger generation of males are no better than their clueless elders.
Greta Niu and Amy Hsi from Planned Parenthood were back for this year’s rally, remembering the photograph from last year. Greta felt increased media awareness about sexual harassment was good, but worried that every few decades the issue comes to the fore — for example with Anita Hill — but systemic change is too often cosmetic and limited. Greta is not sure the current moment represents a tipping point, though you hopes so. Amy agreed, adding that her focus has been on the local and grass roots day-to-day work of changing attitudes and behavior.