In her 2015 memoir, “My Life on the Road,” Gloria Steinem writes about the wisdom she gleaned from Florynce Kennedy, the great civil rights activist and lawyer, on dealing with detractors.
The two women lectured on college campuses together in the 1970s, and the crowds invariably included a heckler or 20. Kennedy’s advice?
“Just pause, let the audience absorb the hostility, then say, ‘I didn’t pay him to say that.’”
Steinem worried less about hostile responses after that. “Ultimately,” she writes, “they educate an audience.”
Which brings us to last Saturday’s Women’s Marches, specifically the response to them.
It would be lovely, of course, if the peaceful nature (zero arrests reported in Washington, D.C., New York or Chicago) coupled with the sheer size (a few million protesters around the world) would have won over critics who viewed the worldwide marches as divisive, hostile or simply pointless.
But critics remain.
Who’s in the mood for a recap?
Park Ridge-Niles school board member Dathan Paterno stepped down Monday after catching heat for tweeting: “Most of these vagina screechers didn’t vote, but they mean business. Riiiiiiiight. What a farce.”
Earlier, he tweeted, “Alas, the 300 million pound Women March provides a strong argument for doing away with women’s suffrage.”
In Nebraska, Republican state Sen. Bill Kintner is in hot water for retweeting a suggestion that marchers weren’t hot enough to be sexually assaulted. (Same Sen. Kintner who used a state computer to have cybersex, in case you’re keeping track.)
In Indiana, Republican Sen. Jack Sandlin found himself trying to explain how a meme that reads, “In one day, Trump got more fat women out walking than Michelle Obama did in 8 years” showed up on his Facebook page.
And Piers Morgan says he’s planning a men’s march to protest “global emasculation of my gen der by rabid feminists.”
A post is making the rounds on social media that questions why women feel the need to protest in America. The origins aren’t clear; I’ve seen it credited to an author named Christy; I’ve also seen it credited to someone named Liz. Regardless, women who didn’t participate in the marches are sharing it on Facebook in solidarity.
“I can make my own choices,” the post reads. “I can speak and be heard. I can VOTE. I can work if I want. I control my body. I can defend myself. I can defend my family. There is nothing stopping me to do anything in this world but MYSELF. I do not blame my circumstances or problems on anything other than my own choices or even that sometimes in life, we don’t always get what we want. I take responsibility for myself.”
That is good news. This should be our goal for all women and men. This is, I would argue, the goal of the majority of those millions of women and men who marched.
We’re not there yet.
We’re not yet living in a time or a place where all women feel as protected and empowered as the author of that Facebook post. Sexual assault statistics prove that. Domestic violence statistics prove that. Wage gap statistics prove that. The fact that this country is 51 percent women, and the Congress elected to represent this country is 19 percent women, proves that.
So women and men marched — for hundreds of different reasons, admittedly. But at the core, they marched to make their voices heard.
And their voices have been met with name-calling, taunts and anger — anger that women would take to the streets to exercise their constitutional rights.
And that anger, as Steinem and Kennedy learned, can educate.
Kennedy was used to skeptics who didn’t see the point of all her women’s lib talk. Women have it fine, they’d tell her in the ’60s and ’70s. She had an answer at the ready, and I think it applies here too.
“Just because you’re not feeling sick,” she would say, “doesn’t mean you should close the hospitals.”
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.