Positive Living: A Male Feminist at a Woman’s March

By : Greg Stemm
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GregStemmHeadshotIt all began one bright Florida winter-warm December morning at a Quaker meeting in St. Petersburg. An 81-year-old spitfire of a woman stood up and said something like, “Isn’t it wonderful that there is going to be a women’s solidarity march in Washington?

“Like many of you, much as I would like to go, making that trek is impossible for me right now. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we had a march of our own in St. Petersburg?” We all pretty much said to her, “Yeah that would be great. Why don’t you make it happen?” We had no idea of what we were about to unleash.

I was the first person who approached Suzanne Benton that morning and said, “If you do that I’d like to help.” Suzanne says she thinks it says a lot about St. Petersburg that the first person who stepped forward to help with a women’s solidarity march here would be a gay man. But I’ve considered myself a male feminist for decades. I then found myself the sole man on the central planning committee.

As it turned out we had completely underestimated Suzanne Benton. Two weeks later I am standing in the Quaker Meeting house with representatives from Planned Parenthood, NOW, Moms Demand Action for Common Sense Gun Law Reform and about 200 people who have shown up for a volunteer planning session. Meanwhile a hastily constructed Facebook page began seeing the number of those who planned to attend pass 1,000, then 5,000, than amazingly 10,000, and they just kept coming.

These women didn’t fool around. Egos were left on the shelf and women (and men) stepped forward by the dozens to take on the multitude of tasks required for putting on a big event as this was growing into rapidly. Our time was short but our enthusiasm was growing by leaps and bounds.

By the day of the event we had over 18,000 people just on Facebook alone who had said they were coming. We knew that there were likely more that would show up who hadn’t signed up online. When it was all said and done, the St. Pete police estimated that 25,000 people participated, making it the largest march in Florida and giving St. Pete even more street cred in its evolving role as a hotbed community of progressive values.

While there were a number of other male feminists like me who helped in various volunteer roles, it was the women who were clearly leading the charge. Their organizational skills were impressive and collaboration instead of competition was the hallmark of the spirit of these planning meetings. I’ve always been impressed by how differently women are in their interactions with each other than men, but this experience really brought these truly remarkable differences to light for me.

I believe one statistic speaks for itself. On that amazing day there were 661 marches across America in cities both large and small and there were absolutely no instances of violence and incredibly no arrests. We also felt the kindredship of marches on all seven continents including in Antarctica. I felt like I was a witness to history and more importantly I felt like we were throwing a pie directly into Donald Trump’s face. That made me very happy indeed.

In the assembly area on Demen’s Landing I saw just about every kind of person you can imagine. From elderly lesbians to straight couples pushing strollers with handmade signs affixed to them. Here are a few signs that really made an impact on me: A beautiful Muslim woman wearing a hajib holding a sign that read “I hope this registers before I have to”; an adorable 10-year-old boy holding a sign reading, “I stand with my mommie and my grandma”; a middle-aged man who on the surface looked like he could be a Trump supporter carrying a sign reading, “Bad Hombre Supporting Nasty Women Everywhere”; and my personal favorite sign, “I’ve met God. She’s Black.”

And pussy hats everywhere! Including for a time on my head until I passed it along to a vibrant college age women who asked where she could get one.

From the stage before the march began were a bevy of inspirational speakers, some giving messages harking back to women’s struggles for equality for decades. Some even shared personal stories of how their grandmothers and great great grandmothers had fought for the women’s right to vote less than a hundred years ago. Most moving was when St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman read a city proclamation naming January 21, 2017, as Women’s Rights Day in the city. He went even further “As long as I’m your mayor, every day is Women’s Rights day in St. Petersburg.” Kriseman, who is also a strong ally of the city’s huge LGBTQ community, is up for reelection soon.

I am so grateful to all my women friends for making this day so special for me and for our nation. We have a long four years ahead of us. But you inspire me and I stand together with you in the Resistance!

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