What was the role of men at a march full of women?

By Lisa Bonos

Kevin Grant, 30, with his girlfriend, Annie Werner, 27, at the Women's March on Washington. Photo / Washington Post
Kevin Grant, 30, with his girlfriend, Annie Werner, 27, at the Women's March on Washington. Photo / Washington Post

"Kevin!" Annie Werner calls out to the crowd on Ninth Street NW, grabbing her boyfriend's hand as they're reunited on their way to the rally before yesterday's Women's March on Washington. "We don't want to lose our feminist boyfriend," she said with a smile.

When Werner, 27, first asked Grant, 30, if he wanted to trek from New York to Washington to join her for the march, he was worried he might get in the way.

"If you're going with a bunch of girlfriends, I don't want to be the boyfriend who's getting in the middle of something that's really special and close to your guys' hearts," he said the day before the march. The couple drove down from New York with friends and co-workers.

This past week, Werner told Grant: "I don't want to shut you out of this experience because you're a man."

It's a sentiment that Linda Sarsour, one of the march organisers, also emphasised, saying that "this is a movement that is led by women, but it is not just for women.

It's for all people".

It wasn't their day, many male marchers acknowledged. Rather, they were serving as the support team - to be allies not just in name, but in action.

So once Grant, who was raised by a single mother and single grandmother, realised that he wouldn't be the only boyfriend marching with Werner and her friends, he was eager to come along. Grant says his upbringing has primed him to support feminist causes.

"I'm learning (that feminism) is a lot more than going through the motions," he says. "It's taking an active role and not being complicit in the anti-women rhetoric or behaviour that comes up in everyday life - at the office, in friend groups." Grant said he was marching to support the people he cares about, whom he saw as disrespected in the presidential election.

Some men were there not just as support but to call out their fellow men, carrying such signs as "Crush the Patriarchy," "Men: Time to Listen" and "Toxic Masculinity is Killing Our World."

Others held signs bearing anatomy they don't have. Kyle Morford, 31, wore a "Nasty Women Unite" T-shirt and carried a sign his wife painted, with the menstruation-themed message "Shed Walls. Don't Build Them".

"When I have a daughter," Morford said, "I don't want her to have to worry about having equal rights," which he views as threatened under the Trump Administration.

Michael Tobin, a 57-year-old man who came from Ohio with his wife, lent his sewing skills to the cause. He made the pink felt hats that he and his wife were wearing and said he he was marching because "it shows that there's a solidarity with women and with people in general."

Matt Gannon, a 27-year-old gay man who marched with friends and their mothers, drew a connection between reproductive rights and LGBT rights. "Who are people to tell me whom to love? So who am I to tell people what to do with their bodies?" Gannon, a Janet Jackson fan, held a sign proclaiming "This Nasty Boy Supports All the Nasty Women."

Grant, Werner's boyfriend, cited access to Planned Parenthood as one of the main reasons he was marching, an organisation that he considers threatened under the Trump Administration. "I don't need Planned Parenthood, per se," Grant acknowledged, noting that he could afford birth control or an abortion if his partner needed either. "But I'm aware enough to know that not everybody can. And by not having those things, you're suppressing people who can't afford them," he said.

Some of the men marching in solidarity with the women in their lives saw the event not as a gendered gathering but as a mass reaction to President Donald Trump.

Arunbha Chakravarty, 32, came from New York with his girlfriend, Molly, and some of her friends. "I see all these things - the social-justice issues that are represented here as when one thing is threatened, everything is threatened."

He wouldn't call himself a feminist, but his girlfriend thinks he is. "I don't like it when men say that (they're feminists). It feels like appropriation," Chakravarty said, as if men bestowing that title upon themselves is just another example of male privilege in action. But for the record, his girlfriend thinks he's a feminist. "We've talked about this," she said, responding to his hesitancy to claim the term as his own.

Similarly, Werner, 27, emphatically says her boyfriend is a feminist, but he's less certain that's a title he can claim for himself. "I would like to say yes, but I'm fallible," he says. "I think I probably still make mistakes. I probably still do things that are suppressive in nature by accident."

Even in a sea of "This is What a Feminist Looks Like" T-shirts and signs, the F-word is still a controversial term. When asked if she was raising her 16-year-old son Cameron to be a feminist, single mother Wanda Jackson said "No," though her explanation seemed to imply otherwise. "I'm raising him to be equal and fair to all people," she said. "The world is segregated when it comes to women - all rights are equal rights."

- Washington Post

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