Opinion

Opinion | Margery Eagan

Guilt-free, shame-free empowerment fuels the Women’s March

WASHINGTON

In Washington today I saw a sea of in-your-face signs — “Nasty Women,” “Viva la Vulva,” and other more raunchy sentiments — carried brashly, boldly, gleefully and unapologetically by young, old, and middle-aged women in pink hats with what many described as “pussycat ears.”

That’s in reference, they said, to what President Donald Trump infamously said he could grab because he’s famous.

And I saw a crowd that’s not giving up its rights without a furious fight. Nothing shy, staid, polite, or grandmotherly about it. Still, in the D.C. streets Saturday, lots of fed-up grandmas were packed almost cheek to cheek, frustrated that 44 years after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, they’re still fighting to protect the same right.

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“Now you’ve pissed off granny,” read the sign Laverl Mason, 87, of Batesville, Ark., carried above her wheelchair.

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“Hello 1955,” read the sign of Mary Johnson, 69, of Shady Valley, Tenn. She was one of many to point to Trump’s turn-back-the-clock stance on women’s reproductive rights. “It’s 2017. Why does it feel like 1917?”

Susan Shortsleeve, 60, of Newburyport, said the same thing on the sold-out, 80-person Amtrak car on the overnight train from Boston’s South Station to Washington arranged by Congressman Seth Moulton, the 6th District Democrat. Moulton, leading the group to the march, said he could’ve filled a second car easily, but Amtrak didn’t have one.

Yet many baby boomer women today said they wouldn’t dare carry signs with such raunchy references to genitalia back in their day. No, back then girls were considered either good or bad, virgins or sluts. Good teen-aged girls weren’t supposed to be hungry for sex with even one boy, never mind a new boy every few months.

Times, clearly, have changed. Young marchers today talked of guilt-free, shame-free empowerment, of expecting respect and equality with men at work and husbands at home.

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Stevie Sweet, 18, of Ventura, Calif., in her “Nasty Woman” shirt, explained how it’s “so important not to underestimate the power of being able to get birth control.”

Olivia Sheen, 16, of Portland, Ore., with classmates and chaperones on her high school trip, waved high her own provocative sign that proclaimed her confidence in her body and her voice. No hesitation, no problem.

I’m old enough to remember those very different days of guilt and shame. Before Roe v. Wade, girls all over my high school were getting pregnant. One girlfriend snuck off in a Greyhound bus, to New York City and back in a single day, because abortions were legal there. Others married fast, or disappeared, or raised babies alone.

I’m old enough to remember too that when your creepy uncle hugged you too close, no one would believe it. And when a powerful boss grabbed your, well, whatever, it was your fault: the price paid for your outsize ambitions, for insisting on working with the big boys.

Today in Washington those days seemed like ancient times. These women seemed too powerful, determined, and organized to ever, ever go back.

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Vaginas “are for our pleasure,” actress and activist Ashley Judd shouted from the stage today, to deafening applause. “And for birthing new generations of nasty women!”

I asked 27-year-old Caroline Yates, 27, of Baltimore, what her father might think if he saw her waving around her massive, raunchy sign. “I think he’d be fine with it,” she said.

Of course, as speaker Gloria Steinem, 82, told the ecstatic crowd today, women don’t have to worry about “asking daddy” anymore. Or any other man, either.

Margery Eagan is co-host of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.’’