The evils of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar have been difficult to digest, particularly as a parent of daughters aged 10 and 14 who are both involved in sports. It was the kind of news you watch on TV while your skin crawls and you experience intense sadness, slightly tempered by the relief that it isn’t in your circle.
Well, no longer. Last summer, my family was exposed to the horrors of child molestation in our softball community and elementary school. The father of a softball teammate was arrested for molestation of two 10-year-old girls. The nauseating turn of events left us dismayed. Not only did we know the accused perpetrator and his daughter, but one of the alleged victims shares a classroom with my daughter. As the event unraveled, it filled our lives at every turn. I fumbled and cried through conversations with my girls, addressing questions about how a dad could not “know better,” and “Why didn’t his heart stop him?”
Back up to January 2017. Donald Trump’s inauguration was approaching, and my gut was howling for us to join the first Women’s March in Santa Ana. We had a soccer match that Saturday, so it required some juggling of our busy family schedule. We raced up the freeway after soccer, while the march was well underway, and for 45 minutes drove in circles looking for parking. Once on foot, we rushed to join the celebratory crowd of women, kids, fathers, grandpas, and grandmas, walking peacefully together. I just knew we needed to be among them.
My teenager was a bit nervous and self-conscious, and she quietly soaked it all in. My free-spirited youngster immediately joined the chanting crowd, dancing along to the live drumming. Though we were only able to march for about two blocks before the end, we stayed and listened to several speeches, not wanting to leave the spirit and energy of the crowd.
The atmosphere that day—and the cause—made an impression on their developing minds. When I asked my 10-year-old if the march made an impact on her, she said, “I loved being with other people who believe what I believe—standing for women’s rights. Women have a right to decide if they want that baby or not. Women have a right to be whatever they choose. Men have made it unfair for far too long.”
Since the march, and also because of it, my daughters have grown from naive and wide-eyed to ambitious, soulful, and eager to prepare for the next peaceful protest. My teen, the awkwardly quiet one throughout, invested her time in learning about women’s rights and is suddenly speaking up. She has become vocal and passionate in her Honors World History class discussions about women. She devoured and now proudly totes her copy of the book “Full Frontal Feminism” by Jessica Valenti. Her friendship with a young man recently ended because of his incessant teasing about what he calls her “feminist” viewpoints.
Little did any of us know what the year had in store for us and how we’d continue to draw on the experience of the march. We got our first peek in late August with the arrest of the softball coach, and in the following months with the unmasking of the behaviors of Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, and so many others. The startling bravery of the women who outed them further motivated us.
At breakfast, over the morning news, we’d go silent as we listened to the anguished voices of Aly Raisman, Reese Witherspoon, and Jennifer Lawrence—all familiar faces to my girls. We’d shake our heads in disgust and talk again about standing strong and using our voices. While I never could have predicted the unfolding of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, we had our experiences at the march to draw on for these conversations. We recalled the signs we had photographed: “Our bodies and our rights are not up for grabs!” I was proud my girls were exposed to the passionate protection of these rights.
Given all that unfolded over those months, we were eager for the 2018 march. We still had our normal busy sports Saturday, but this time the march took priority. My shy teen, well on her way to becoming a well-researched women’s libber, chose her outfit days before. It included a self-made “feminist” T-shirt and the “Full Frontal Feminism” book she carried like a badge of honor.
Arriving long before the 9 a.m. rally in Santa Ana, we popped into Starbucks. The place was packed with women of all ages wearing warm smiles and looks of determination, their signs propped against the wall. As the crowd headed to the Civic Center for the opening speeches, the sun appeared, the sky turned blue, and the air was T-shirt temperature.
The crowd grew, and things got more lively and animated. We snapped pictures, pointed out the clever signs, and remarked on all the wee ones donning pink hats. It felt like a reunion, though I knew only two people—my daughters. My teen kept drawing us through the crowd, closer to the stage, as if she needed to feel the event pulsate. This time, she was a participant. Though the speeches ran long and the crowd got antsy, we finally marched through the streets.
That night my girls hung their posters in their bedrooms while I researched the 30 female political candidates in Orange County, the three of us determined and eager to stay active. Unlike the first march—a reaction to a new president that in no way represents women’s interests—the second felt like a movement, fresh off Oprah’s cry at the Golden Globes that “a new day is on the horizon.” It had morphed from a frustrated reaction to being marginalized to a chartered course for change—a reunion of souls determined to create parity.