At a rally for women’s rights to mark International Women’s Day, a few passerby shouted “bitch” and “shut up” at speakers who assembled in the rain on Saturday afternoon at the 24th Street BART Plaza.
“You’re a bitch,” one man shouted at Frank Lara, a teacher at Buena Vista Horace Mann school nearby and one of a handful of men to attend the rally, as Lara encouraged men to support women in their pursuit of equality.
As speakers addressed rape culture, violence against women and economic and racial inequality, every once in a while a voice could be heard shouting back trying to silence them – unsuccessfully.
Claire Schlecht, an organizer with Women Organized to Resist and Defend — the primary organization behind the rally — attempted to rebuke the hecklers as she concluded the rally.
“Maybe they mean that we are asking for something that we don’t deserve. I think they’re wrong,” she said. “I see all these men starting to build up this mob mentality…this attack on women is also an attack on men.”
In fact several others at the rally made a point of addressing men’s role in advancing the rights of women. Lulu Reboyoso, a women’s rights activist from Mexico, brought up the plight of female workers suffering abuse in the workplace — or, in the case of agricultural workers, in the fields. But she also called out to men to ask for their support in advancing women’s rights.
“It’s not a fight against them. It’s a fight against a system,” she said.
Lara, the Horace Mann teacher, called on other men to support women in their push against discrimination. He noted that as a teacher, conversations with the families of his students often involve only the mothers, many of whom are working two jobs to keep their families afloat.
“Men, instead of trying to be helpful, we’re often an additional weight,” Lara said. “It’s the women who have fought and struggled…the men need to get with the program.”
The rally, which proceeded unhindered by the hecklers, was organized by a group of activist organizations advocating for women’s rights, socialism, and social justice and drew a crowd of some 30 people during the Saturday afternoon showers to listen to speakers, listen to the music of Vixen Noir, and garner support and interest from passerby.
One speaker took particular aim at men who abandon the mothers of their children and at governments that legislate restrictions on abortion and women’s health services.
“There are laws that dictate what I can and cannot do with my body,” said Rosa Peñate, a Mission resident. “We, the women, are governed by laws created by men who basically make up the government.”
Tina Landis of the Party for Socialism and Liberation also attributed the oppression of women to systemic economic problems.
“Workers are being squeezed more and more every day…and women often bear the brunt of this system, especially women of color,” she said.
Sexism also contributes to the creation of “rape culture,” an especially pronounced problem on school campuses, one speaker said.
“I’m 17, and in my high school I know many people who have been sexually assaulted” said Ruby Elson, who helped facilitate and animate speakers at the rally. She decried the attitude that women owe men affection or sex in exchange for courtesy, saying, “women are not machines to put kindness coins into until sex falls out…We don’t owe anyone anything. Not a smile, not a giggle, not our time.”