SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
Early December 2019
“Get your hands off her… what are you, the fucking Gestapo?” The man’s angry voice echoed through the crisp air, a sharp contrast to the serene waterfront setting. Folds of fresh fog filtered through the palm trees lining the Embarcadero.
“She’s unlawfully demonstrating,” barked the policeman as he handcuffed the woman’s wrists.
“And peacefully protesting against taking children away from their parents is unlawful because?” the man asked with an incredulous tone.
“You’re next if you don’t back off,” the cop shouted back.
“So much for freedom of speech,” mumbled the man.
Three cops came barreling ahead, yanked his arms behind him and applied a zip tie to cuff him. The sign he was holding crashed to the ground, which announced: “I.C.E. detains Children to Enrich Corporations.”
We watched as waves of people got arrested for being human rights activist. A group gathered around the action, shouting at the cops to stop harassing innocent people. “The only ones disturbing the peace are you freaking stormtroopers!” shouted someone from the crowd.
Caryssa uttered, “See, Anna, this is the reason I’ve never done protests.”
I admired the sailboats cruising the San Francisco Bay, trying to ignore the mob scene. I wondered how cold it was out there this time of year and realized they likely wore wetsuits. The smell of freshly baked bread wafted to my smiling, uplifted face as I took a deep breath. “Do you want to go back into the Ferry Building?” I asked.
We had enjoyed oysters, wine, and shopping throughout the marketplace rather than joining the throngs of disgruntled marchers. I carried a baguette under one arm and wore a stylish navy-blue beret I bought in Paris. Caryssa carried a basket of gourmet chocolates, olive oil, soy candles, and handmade soaps.
“No, I like the fresh air but don’t want to see a bunch of whiny pussy hats bitching with signs demonizing males,” insisted Caryssa. “These marches seem to cause a more needless divide. It becomes women versus men, left versus right, even white women versus black women bullshit.”
“But… it’s not only about women. It’s about immigrant rights. Social justice and climate change. It’s about democracy. It’s about stopping our gun violence—look closer!” I urged.
“Yup… it’s about him,” remarked a guy passing by as he pointed to the adorable little boy riding his shoulders. “It’s about my kid’s future. The entire next generation.”
I smiled at him. “See Caryss? It’s about your son and my grandson! It’s for anyone who stands up for communities and human rights.”
We surveyed the mix of signs: “Patriarchy Means War, Corruption and Greed,” one woman held high over her head. “Protect Our Children, not Guns,” demanded another sign. “Build Bridges, not a Wall.” A chorus of men, women, and children chanted, “Keep Families Together!”
“OK, these signs seem germane enough,” declared Caryssa. “But I’m still relieved Julie wasn’t here to talk us into marching. These cops—desensitized to violence—give good cops a bad name.”
“You’re happy Jules is too sick to have come into the city with us?” I asked.
“No! Of course not, just that she wasn’t able to talk us into doing this,” Carryssa retorted while waving a hand toward the advancing crowd.
I understood in a flash what Caryssa referred to in the oyster bar. She didn’t want to get caught in any crossfire of police with batons, rubber bullets or pepper spray. And, neither of us shared the intermingling anger about some vulgar words said more than a decade ago about grabbing pussy—there are bigger issues facing the world.
All this reference to the violence of our nation reminded me of the dove Caryssa told me landed in her backyard last weekend. A dove that had to be sent by Ava Ramírez with the olive branch and Picasso quote. Where is she?
The mob had turned off Market Street and seemed to dissipate the closer it got to the Ferry Building. As we watched the sea of pink Caryssa declared, “I tire of the overly done ‘empower girls’ thing. Contemporary feminism is becoming meaningless. It’s based on past perceptions rather than today’s reality.”
“And what’s wrong with being a feminist?” asked a woman dressed in a giant vagina costume. I couldn’t help but laugh. Talk about a flamboyant political distraction. I was half expecting Effie Trinket of Hunger Games to walk by in a pink wig and purple glittered dress with ruffles, feathers, and a painted-on face declaring in her manically upbeat tone, “the games will continue.”
Caryssa responded, “There’s nothing wrong with feminism as long as we stop dishing out free programs for STEM or financial management tools to girls while excluding boys. Then it becomes gender discrimination! We can’t build one gender up while breaking down the other.”
The woman rolled her eyes and whined. “But the tech-world is male-dominated.”
“Have you ever worked in the high-tech industry?” Caryssa asked.
“No.” The simple word escaped from huge pink lips swathed with pubic hair. It was difficult to take anyone seriously in such get-up. Until we got a good look at the face popping out of the vagina.
“Holy crap, it’s the PTSA President at Tyler’s school,” Caryssa whispered into my ear.
“Better be on your best behavior then, Caryss.” I hushed. “Wouldn’t want to rub the powerful parent-clique culture the wrong way.”
Caryssa ignored my advice. “I have worked in high-tech Becky, made it to senior management level. Any woman can do it—we could decades ago. Being male-dominated is not a reason to exclude boys from learning to be future coders.”
Becky looked momentarily shamed and shocked when she recognized Caryssa who advocated many of her own daughter’s school programs through twelve years of selfless volunteer work. She shook her head and marched her furry vagina forward, then turned and shouted. “So, as a woman yourself, Caryssa you don’t stand for equal pay and reproductive rights?”
“I do stand for ‘equal pay’ which women get when we work for it—and Planned Parenthood is about boys as much as girls. The point is, gender equity is a human rights issue that affects everyone.”
“Women’s rights are human rights!” she screamed over her shoulder, waving her pussy sign. It was like a political porn-show out here.
“And men’s rights are human rights!” Caryssa shook her head, thinking of all those innocent boys marched off to war. “Where are the blue hats if we’ll turn this into a needless battle of the sexes or—”
“For fuck sakes, Caryssa, do you realize they’re pushing for the death penalty for women who have abortions?” Becky shrieked.
My heart lurched at the casual mention of such Draconian proposed law as if life is so disposable. My daughters’ lives were never disposable. My daughters…”
I chased the memories away, living in the present. I have Jared. “Hey, chapeau bleu,” I interjected pointing at my blue beret with a smile. “I’ll gladly represent men’s rights today. Obviously, we need to inspire and invest in both.”
“One of the many qualities I love about you, Anna—Your ability to show human compassion for all….”
Caryssa’s voice trailed off and it left me silently finishing the thought: Even with the tragic loss of my daughters.
“So why don’t you stick a penis over your head?” ranted Becky as she finally marched away.
“Oh… no more giant genital costumes, please!” Caryssa joked. It was all so ludicrous. Caryssa and I held no anger and merely mocked the street show.
The absurdity of it all. Our nation is bombing away severing whole body parts as women march down the streets of San Francisco—dressed as private body parts. Realizing I didn’t want to be part of this charade any more than Caryssa, I was about to walk away as the man with the cute toddler boy on his shoulders circled back.
He gestured toward the overly vigilant squad of cops waiting for otherwise peaceful protestors to give them an excuse for abuse and said, “If that irate woman wants more ‘power’ have her sign up as one of them.”
We turned and cringed at the riot-geared policemen and possibly women—it was hard to tell with all their vile trappings. Covered in black padded gloves, full body armor, helmets with chin straps and visors, they looked like they were ready for a frontline battle.
Helmets that held faces in. Faces that held emotions in. Masquerading as peacemakers.
“I thought we had a victory against militarized police in San Francisco,” Caryssa questioned. “Isn’t this supposed to be a progressive city?”
“Unfortunately, the federal military surplus program keeps rearing its ugly head. I’m Ken,” he held out a hand of which Anna and I both offered a friendly shake. “I’m the Executive Director for a non-profit focused on human rights. Most of our projects support civil rights for men, as there’s now a higher demand for that.”
“Thank you for what you do,” Caryssa offered. “We’ve always marginalized the lives of males, time for it to stop. As the mother of one child—a boy, I see how we discriminate against males. They can’t even get financial aid as freely as girls without a cruel militaristic stipulation of registering for some inhumane potential draft.”
“Daddy look!” the boy joyfully yelled.
We watched as a guy juggled while riding a unicycle. Ken lifted his kid off his shoulders, “Go closer if you want Matteo, I’ll be right over.” Matteo ran to a corner close by where a group of other children sat watching the show.
“Thanks,” Ken continued.” People don’t get why I’d fight for men’s rights. It’s ridiculous. I’m a widowed father. I loved my wife.” He spoke softly as if not to let his kid hear him. “We lost my wife last year to cancer. I instill the need to respect women to my son. But the patriarchy has hurt boys and men more than anyone. I march for my kid.” He took a small blue sign out of a duffle bag that read, “Boys Lives Matter Too.”
“I love it!” I exclaimed trying to absorb Caryssa’s comment about marginalized lives. My daughters’ lives vanished before even breaking out of the tween and teen scene. “Why’d you stuff it into that bag, be proudly waving it.”
“Because I was getting weird looks from people as if I’m a misogynist or something.”
The thought of my father being sent off to Vietnam made my heartache. “It’s horrific how advocating for men’s human rights is seen as ‘misogyny’ while we see women’s rights signs all over the place. May as well call it ’misandry,” I declared, surprising even myself.
The march ended and there was a scattering of people enjoying the waterfront and activities. The sunshine warmed my soul and the air smelled of cinnamon and sage.
“I’m going to lounge on that bench,” I announced. I sat nearby and people-watched, deciding to eat some of my baguette. Two other women were beside me drinking red wine out of tiny cups. I was hoping they’d offer me a few sips to blend with my bread. No such luck.
Ken’s voice echoed from the sidewalk. “The patriarchy has nothing to do with men. It’s a system. A system that has to do with dominance, submission, and control, not gender. It brutalizes boys in ways girls aren’t—to prepare them for positions of dominance they may not want. The Future is male and females working together.”
“Interesting,” Caryssa answered. “Seems the patriarchal system makes boys learn to wear a mask—the word itself embedded in masculinity.”
“A good analogy. We don’t expect them to express feelings due to the sexism defined as being male. Boys give up their true selves with dehumanizing deceptions like ‘big boys don’t cry.’
“I could never socially-emotionally abuse my son by expecting him to hold feelings in. You know, there’s one nation I’ve traveled to in which a patriarchal system might hurt women as much as men; Israel. There, both genders are expected to do two years in the military after high school. If that was ever enforced here, I’d take my kid out of the country in a flash!”
“I’d be right with you, protecting my own kid from such forced extremism. Hopefully, it doesn’t ever come to that—yet looks like we are dangerously close.” We both glanced toward the militaristic-looking police and nodded in unison.
Overhearing the conversation, I couldn’t help thinking of my grandson Jared. How he won’t talk about his feelings losing his mother as an infant. He locks up, tries to be “brave.”
“It’s soul murder,” I declared.