If You Saw A Preschooler Commanding The Crowd At The Women's March, It Might Have Been My Kid

by Matthew Koehler
Originally Published: 
Matthew Koehler

There was a moment when I looked around, and not knowing what to do, I donned a smile and started bouncing to the beat. I was ringed by 15 to 20 people taking pictures of us, with maybe a hundred more answering in concert to my nearly 4-year-old daughter’s chants, “My body, my choice!” To which the crowd enthusiastically responded, “Her body, her choice!”

Instead of being caught up in this moment, I felt a slipping from reality, as if I were watching this happen from afar and had no control to stop or change it. Yet I was both necessary to this moment and a prop. My daughter had commandeered the attention of all the people within shouting range, making them chant with her, and I was her physical podium.

This happened multiple times throughout the day, and once my daughter discovered she could instantly gain the attention and adoration of the crowd, she enthusiastically started other chants. The chants were mostly pro-woman (a good thing), with one anti-Trump chant (unsure about this even though my personal views on the new president are far from favorable). Her chanting and marching went on until we were completely free of the crowds and nearly home.

All of this happened at the Women’s March on Washington, the day after the 2017 inauguration. We live in DC, so we went. But we also went because my wife and I ardently support the cause, and we’re raising a powerful little girl.

The purpose of the march was in solidarity for all aspects of equality; it was also a march against misogyny, sexism, and disenfranchisement. While I don’t think it was the stated purpose of the march, many people were indeed marching in protest against the new president, who has not only said degrading things about women but also admitted to preying on them. He’s also accused of using America’s racial divisions to foment anger in his white base in order to get elected.

Judge me how you want on these facts and disagree if you must, but there was no question about taking our daughter. She would be there to witness the march.

I expected she would scream, cheer, maybe even chant (she’s very much into dancing, rhythm, singing, and chanting), but I didn’t expect she’d pick up a sign and do what the adults did. She was in her element though, and once she learned the chants there was no stopping her.

You’re probably thinking we’re horrible parents — not for bringing our daughter to the Women’s March, but for allowing her to participate in aspects of the march that only older people would understand: the chanting. Is this not cultural indoctrination on some level?

It is, to be sure, but two things first before you judge:

1. My daughter picked up the “My Body, My Choice” sign because she wanted to be a part of the march and that meant getting a discarded sign.

2. She liked the colors on the sign, not the message, but since she’s a reader-in-training, we had to tell her what the words meant.

Little did I know she’d start chanting. Less did I know the power of a toddler to garner support from a large crowd, a fact that was hammered in more when she started chanting, “Hey hey! Ho ho! That Donald Trump has got to go, hey hey!”

At first, I was appalled. A preschooler mindlessly chanting at a march for the adulation and attention of the crowd, was cringeworthy. Had I not railed against misguided parents who used their kids as props at other sorts of rallies and marches? (To fact-check myself, I had.) I kept thinking that we were doing something dangerous and profoundly misguided.

But this was the moment I came face to face with my own privilege. I’m a white man whose struggles in life have almost no contact with misogyny, sexism, harassment, racism, and sexual assault. My understanding of these is secondhand — mostly through friends, family, and especially my wife, who is biracial.

In this, I looked at what was happening with my daughter (and wife) through my eyes and instantly thought that this was not the answer. This is precisely the indoctrination we should be avoiding. It’s not that I disagreed with the messages, but children need some foundational knowledge before they can go out and protest. They need context.

This was me talking, however. Not having experienced the shame, fear, betrayal, and disenfranchisement that come with these abuses, the outrage isn’t a lived experience for me. I will likely never experience any of this, but it’s real for my wife. Sadly, it’ll be real for my daughter too.

Then another thought occurred to me. My daughter wasn’t chanting something harmful or untrue (an argument that all parent activists no doubt use), and she wasn’t harassing anyone (presidents are not exempt from scorn, here).

In truth, her body is her own, which is foundational knowledge we’ve been instilling in her since she could talk. She’s young and vulnerable, and we live in a permissive culture that continues to make excuses for (mostly white) men who assault women. And, according to the new administration, “grabbing a woman by the pussy” against her wishes, is just locker room talk — nothing to have a national conversation about.

The earlier and more forcefully she learns that no one touches her without her express consent, the better. The earlier in life all little girls learn that their bodies are their own, the better off we’ll be.

This even extends to women’s health care issues, like abortion. My wife and I are pro-choice (not to be confused with pro-abortion, a misnomer), but our daughter might not grow to espouse this ideology. This is okay because we encourage self-discovery, but at least she’ll grow up knowing the choice is hers.

With that, I’m not sorry my little girl became an activist at the Women’s March, holding up her sign. Her body is her own, and don’t you forget it.

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