The women's marches that sprang up across the globe in January marked an important cultural shift. The groundswell of activism was set off by a newly-installed administration with a dangerous attitude toward women, health care, and climate change. But, as it is with all movements, there were questions about how to maintain engagement, focus, and momentum. All of this came with the intensity of bridging personal and ideological divides that in many cases felt insurmountable.
Daring Discussions is a new project from several national organizers for the Women's March on Washington. It is an effort to keep the meaningful conversations moving forward from a place of empathy and respect. Below, Paola Mendoza and Sarah Sophie Flicker, two of the women behind the idea, discuss why we must nurture our communities, communicate while we resist, and be daring enough to be uncomfortable.
This week we hit the six month mark from Election Day. It's been said that we woke up on November 9 to a divided nation. The divide was not new. The divide did not emerge in this election cycle or over the last eight years. This fissure is the wound of our country's original sins, the sins of genocide of indigenous peoples, the sin of slavery, the sin of the patriarchy, the sin of our inability to hold space for our shared humanity.
In the spirit of the radical roots of Mother's Day, whose seed was planted by Ann Jarvis, a nurse during the Civil War, who brought mothers together from both sides in communion. In the invocation of Gloria Steinem's assertion that mothering is a verb, we are proud to launch Daring Discussions this Mother's Day in belief that we must mother this nation.
Paola Mendoza: One of the most beautiful aspects from the Women's March was that a group of women came together as total strangers and worked every day, nonstop, for two months. By the end we were sisters. I think the way in which we got to know each other was very true and very pure because we were thrown into a battle, and we had to figure it all out. We also had to build trust and having these daring discussions that were peaceful and beautiful, but exciting and scary and courageous. They only made us stronger.
We talked about daring discussions quite a lot after the march. And then we realized what we had learned could be useful to the rest of the country. Our country has been divided in the past and we continue to be divided today. Today we have a president that has inspired the worst in people, and simultaneously given people the strength to find the best in themselves. Examples of this are the Women's March and Indivisible, or raising $2 million in 24 hours for the Resistance. That's why this campaign is important to me, because of the potential that it holds.
Sarah Sophie Flicker: It began, for me, during the whole election cycle. Every day felt, and continues to feel, like being shot out of a cannon. As the election was going, everything was getting boiled down into traditionally masculine binaries of good and bad, winning and losing, and these simplistic narratives that Trump and his administration are championing. And what we've lost is nuance, and the ability to confront complication, and the ability to accept that many truths exist at once. And we even saw it within the Democratic party. You saw it happening during the election. You saw it continuing after.
When we stop having these complicated conversations, and start rejecting nuance, and rejecting everything that feels too hard when it's so much easier to just blame someone else for our problems, that is how you get, for example, 53% of white women voting for Trump. Their proximity to privilege and their fear allowed them to uphold a system that doesn’t benefit them. We have to be better at communicating complicated ideas to each other. We have to be better at recognizing our shared humanity.
SSF: Yeah, I have two sons and I have a daughter. My daughter is the oldest, and I realized, "Oh, I know how to raise a feminist daughter. That's something I know how to do." But boys lose in the patriarchy as well. They get completely robbed of complex emotions and showing vulnerability. The messages they get sent even over here in liberal Brooklyn are, "protect your sister," or "boys don't cry." Stuff like that. I realized that it's actually harder to navigate that stuff because their is no roadmap for it. What are age appropriate ways to start teaching my boys consent, gentleness, peacemaking? At a young age, will they understand? And what are the messages I can send about that? I'm curious to hear what you think about it.
PM: And so, do you feel like you're succeeding?
SSF: I have no idea. I hope so… I mean, do you?.
PM: I think it's an uphill battle. I think that ultimately, yes. I know because he will have spent the majority of his childhood with a feminist. I know that I will rub off on him 100%. But, I definitely see how things seep in, and he's four. So, I see how he doesn't want to play with girls or how he'll say, "That's something for girls." And we're in a household that is very non-traditional with regards to gender roles. You know, I cook; Michael cooks. Michael cleans; I clean. Michael puts them to bed; I put them to bed. It’s equal, but it still seeps in.
I think the idea of love, and kindness, and checking his language when he says certain things, trying to understand where it's coming from, and letting him come to certain conclusions, I hope will lead to him being able to do that when he's thinking for himself as a grown man.
SSF: Parents role-modeling equal parenting, if you are a parenting with a man, statistically has hugely positive effects on boys.
PM: You, actually, were the person that I first heard say the term “Creative Resistance." And it's what I have personally thrown myself behind since the Women’s March. This idea that, as an artist, yes I can organize, but my true power is in creation, in the Creative Resistance.
SSF: Yeah, a successful resistance is going to take all of us, and it's going to take all of us doing the things we know how to do. There isn't one strategy that's going to work. It's going to take everyone pushing from the cultural side, to the organizing side, to creative ways to show up for resistance.
Artists have been resisting since the first day of this. The artists who really sway culture and who make us think differently about each other and our relationships to each other, are not having anything to do with that administration. We may not have the power in the White House right now, we don't have the power in the House, we don't have the power in the Supreme Court, but we have culture. We have the power there.
PM: Art can reflect the society back onto itself, and that in and of itself is a very important job, but art can also be a hammer. Art can also be a chisel with which to create the world that we want.
SSF: That’s what I was going to say about art and its connection to Daring Discussions because I think there's a strong one. A lot of times art is an entry point, we often can’t hear a lecture or an argument in our hearts and minds, but art can seep in. Art is an entry point and a discussion starter in the resistance.
Andrew Solomon said, it's almost impossible to hate anyone who's story you know. So, we're going to have to tell our story and then we can start having Daring Discussions.