Why a Cape Girardeau Woman is Marching in Washington

Jan 19, 2017

Nearly 200,000 people are gearing up to join the Women’s March on Washington this Saturday. The grassroots movement has garnered widespread support from women all over the country to stand in solidarity for women’s rights. Dr. Julie Ray, the Department Chair of Elementary, Early and Special Education at Southeast Missouri State University is one of many women from the Southeast Missouri area making the trip to D.C.

Recently, she penned an open letter on Facebook explaining the importance of a march like this. Ray, noted her own experiences of gender inequality, professional accomplishments being undermined and more personal stories of being physically harassed at a sporting event. KRCU's Marissanne Lewis-Thompson spoke with Dr. Ray about the march and why she’s going.

Read Dr. Julie Ray's open letter "Why I Am Going to the Women's March on Washington" below.

Why I Am Going to the Women's March on Washington

I was recently asked why I wanted to attend the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21st, and I couldn’t put it into words. So I’ve been pondering that question to try to be able to explain. However, this explanation is not to try and rationalize my decision or to seek other’s approval or affirmation about going. It’s really written for me. When I first heard about the event, I instantly knew I had to attend. However, it’s taken me awhile to process and understand why I felt that way.

First, I am not attending to protest a Trump victory or a Clinton loss. I didn’t particularly like either candidate. I have voted Republican in my life, and I have voted Democratic in my life. While I was often repulsed by Trump as a Presidential candidate, especially after listening to his bragging about grabbing women’s bodies because of his power and wealth, my motivation to attend is so much bigger than this one election or a single political party.

I am attending to speak for women – for my grandmother, my mother, my daughters, granddaughter and nieces, my girlfriends, female colleagues, students, and all the little girls out there. I want to publicly state that their lives have value and worth, and that none of us are objects to be possessed, fondled, discredited, or considered less capable because of our gender.

I am doing this for the teenage boy who grabbed my butt in the crowd at a Cardinals game while his other friends watched and laughed and thought my body was fair game for their pleasure and entertainment.

I am doing this for the male co-worker at a former institution who always called me “Miss Julie”, and called all my male co-workers “Dr. ___”, even though I also had a doctorate. It’s not a matter of him being politically incorrect or me being overly sensitive, it’s a matter of disrespect for my accomplishments, when compared to my male colleagues.

I am doing this for the state legislator who, when I went to his office to talk to him about funding for children’s issues in Missouri, brushed off my points and asked what my husband did for a living.

I am doing this for my co-workers in early childhood, a primarily female dominated occupation, who make significantly less money, than other occupations because caring for or teaching young children is “women’s work” and doesn’t deserve the same pay as more male dominated occupations.

I’m doing this for all of the women I know who have been raped or sexually assaulted. Their stories are different, but similar in the pain and emotional anguish they felt and in some cases still feel. Their experiences seriously impacted them and shaped who they are as women, and no one should have that kind of power over a woman.

I am doing this because of my BRCA1 positive status that led me to have my breasts and ovaries removed because of their cancer risk factor. That caused me to think a lot about what it means to be a woman and whether I was actually still a woman without the body parts that most distinguished me as a female. I’ve come to realize that women are so much more than body parts, and I want others to know that.

I am not protesting a Trump victory, because I believe in the democratic process and accepting election results. However, I am doing this to state that it’s not acceptable to excuse bragging about sexual assault as “locker room talk”, and that our President and other male leaders should set the example of what it means to respect women in their speech and actions.

I am doing this to be a part of something bigger than me, to be a part of history, to become one of those in the long line of women who have spoken up for issues like the right to vote and equal pay. According to political historians, there hasn’t been a march by women of this size since 1913 when 5000 women marched at the Woodrow Wilson inauguration for the right to vote. Women have only had a right to be a part of the political process by voting since 1920, less than 100 years, and the battle for equal rights is not over.

I am not anti-male. I love men, especially my husband, who is a wonderful supporter. When I told him I wanted to do this, he accepted it immediately. His response has been to remind me to take his Metro card so I don’t have to buy one for $5. I’m so grateful that he accepts and values me, my ideas and opinions, even if he doesn’t always agree with them. I also respect my male colleagues, who work in a low paying field, but do it because they love education and children.

I am Christ follower, and my faith matters more to me than anything. I look to the Bible for guidance and I see examples of godly women who were brave and defied their situation to speak up: Esther who was willing to perish to save her people, Deborah, the judge who was a fearless leader, but listened for God’s directions before going into battle, and Mary, who accepted a pregnancy as an unwed teenager with its subsequent shame, with a brave trust in God’s plan for her life. I see Jesus treating each woman he met with tenderness, respect, and love. When the crowd was ready to stone the prostitute (with no consequences for the males who chose to sleep with her), Jesus silenced and shamed them with one sentence, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” There is not a disconnect for me between my faith and the passion I feel about attending this event and marching for women everywhere. I have been praying for my new President and other elected and appointed officials. It’s literally the only thing that I think will make a difference and can give me hope for the next four years. I will be praying during the March for them, as well as for my fellow marchers. I will pray for wisdom, love, and respect for all those involved and that our country can move toward reconciliation and becoming “one nation” again.

There are over 100 interest groups participating in this march, and I know there will be people participating in this event who have beliefs and convictions with which I disagree. However, the wonderful right and freedom we have in this country is the ability to speak up for our convictions without fear of oppression. I will listen with respect and hope I gain a new understanding of viewpoints that are different from mine and am hopeful that others will do the same for my beliefs and convictions. I am looking forward to participating in one of the biggest privileges we have in a democratic country – the privilege of making my voice heard.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated Dr. Julie Ray was the Department Chair of the College of Education. She is the Department Chair of Elementary, Early and Special Education. Correction added 7:56 p.m. January 20.