On August 15th, 1991, my mom gave birth to her first child. But she would never take her first breath. She would never speak her first words, feel that nervous excitement on the first day of school, or scrape her knee learning to ride a bike. She would never go to college and struggle to balance a career and a family.
Hillary Anne was stillborn.
Just last month, my mom and I found ourselves having yet another somber conversation about our disappointment over the outcome of the election when she shared with me the emotions that followed her out of the voting booth on that November afternoon. She had voted for an admirable woman whose name her little girl shared, and the feeling of pride that ensued was overwhelming.
I did not attend the Women’s March last Saturday, but I wish I had. I wish I had pushed aside the excuses – homework, train tickets, weather – and followed the thousands of women headed to advocate for themselves, their mothers, their sisters and their daughters in downtown Chicago. I wish I had been a part of that moment, when women everywhere came together and showed the world they would not go unheard. I wish I had done it for myself, for my friends, for the woman I hoped would be my president, for the sister I never got to meet, and above all, for my mother.
To me, the March was about more than the rights women feel are being threatened by this new administration, or the ones that have yet to be guaranteed. It is about an overall attitude that lurks behind the scenes in every woman’s life. It is about the boys who teased us because they liked us, the teachers whose eyes skipped over our meekly raised hands, the men who told us to smile because “things aren’t so bad.” It is about the way I look over my shoulder when I walk home alone at night, and the coworkers who insist on taking heavy objects from my arms as if I might break. These things cannot be quantified, and therefore we cannot turn them into facts and statistics to prove their existence. They must be told in stories, stories that are too often forgotten.
I have heard these stories from my mother – offhand comments in the workplace that suggested, no matter how capable she was or how hard she worked, she would always be a less valuable employee simply because of her gender. Stories like these are the reason my mom and I were so sure of our decision as we cast our votes for Hillary Clinton. Neither of us will deny her faults. She is undoubtedly a politician with her fair share of mistakes, lies and pandering, but she is also a woman. While this alone is not a reason to vote for her, it is an important fact to keep in mind as you consider both her successes and her failures. Hillary Clinton grew up in a time when a woman working in politics was shocking – even laughable, but she did it anyway. In the process, she advocated for those who couldn’t advocate for themselves – for women struggling to get by, for their children who wouldn’t dream of one day living a better life. She had a family, supported her husband’s career, put her own on hold to stand by his side, and yet she became one of the most qualified presidential candidates this country has ever had the privilege of putting on its ballot.
Still, she lost. She was accused of being detached and unemotional, even though this façade was essential to climbing a ladder dominated by men. She was criticized for being too aggressive, too shrill, even though she never yelled louder than her male peers. I can’t help but feel that the scrutiny she faced was unfair, just like it was unfair that my mom was marginalized in the office, and that I might one day struggle to access the medical care and resources that my body demands. These small oppressions are the reason I wish I had marched alongside the millions of women who gathered in streets all over the world last Saturday. They are things we often overlook in our daily lives, but upon reflection, they are blatant and disquieting. For women like Hillary Clinton, for women like my mother, they are impossible to forget, because great strides have been made in recent years, but it still is not enough. It is not enough, because my mom shed a tear when she voted for Hillary, and because the disappointment of Clinton’s loss was so overwhelming.
It is not enough, because when I think about who my sister may have been, I see her marching in the streets, exposing injustices that would have been far more disparaging to her than they are to me.
That, to me, is why we march.