“Firsts” is a series of conversations where women share moments that aren’t always talked about, in the hope that they inspire, encourage, and comfort.
This week we’re talking to the truly inspirational activist, author, mama muse and one of the organizers of the Women’s March, Sarah Sophie Flicker, who has most recently been using her presence to alert her followers to any and all news relating to the criminalization of abortion in the US. For All The Pretty Birds, she shares moments of power and vulnerability, and explains why people need to get over their privilege.
Images by Tamu McPherson.
Makeup by Cate Ureña using M.A.C Cosmetics.
The first time…I felt that the world treated women differently. It’s funny, and sad. I remember being on the beach when I was 9 years old with my parents, I was wearing a bathing suit and I remember recognizing, for the first time, that men were looking at me. I realized that it was both something I could use as an asset and something that could be detrimental, something that could be used against me – and I felt really confused by it.
When I was around seven, I used to do a ton of local theatre; I was really into acting, dancing and singing, and took part in a lot of adult productions. My friend and I were the only kids in this production. I remember a guy who was always there, always dressed in a military uniform – which was weird – and he would always have us sit on his lap. The adults had to intervene and I remember feeling so much shame, like it was my fault. I think this creation of shame is almost a tactic; it keeps women in a certain place. Now that I have kids I realize that it happens so much earlier than we all like to think it does.
The first time…I noticed that the ‘sisterhood’ doesn’t always include every kind of woman, every color. I’ve always been a girl’s girl and a woman’s woman. I don’t have a ton of male friends. I’ve always been much more in community with women. That said, I was born in Denmark and my extended family in Denmark is black. Denmark has many, many problems with race and immigration – similar to here [the US]. But in my personal life, I noticed this division early on. I’ve always considered myself somewhat of a feminist and I was very lucky to land at Mills College, which is a very feminist all-women’s college in Oakland. I think the first class I took there was on intersectionality, so the way I was taught about feminism was never divorced from it.
Where feminism has failed and not gotten it right, and where it continues to not get it right, is all about the parents, especially white parents. The more we have this as a topic of conversation in our households and with our kids, it becomes something that people won’t be as defensive about as they grow up. My understanding of the women’s movement is that you’re talking about over 50 percent of the population, so we’re all going to have different issues, different lived experiences. The theory of change should always be that you listen to and put in leadership, the people who are most marginalized. If you lift from that space, you uplift everybody. If you only lift from the most privileged place, you’re only lifting those people up. So, if you’re committed to women, you have to commit to all women.
The first time…I knew that white privilege existed. When I was growing up, people didn’t really talk about privilege, but my parents did talk about the fact that we had financial stability and were white, and that this meant that we had opportunities that others might not have. I was always aware that being a white woman was different to being a white man. Today, with three children, I’m a real advocate for talking about any issue with my kids, in an age-appropriate way. Privilege doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It just means you have it, and you must be aware of how you use it, and when you’re a white woman with privilege the best thing you can do is listen.
The second you notice your privilege and own it, and aren’t ashamed of it, it’s not a big deal. So much of it is rooted in our egos and how we’re taught to be defensive when things feel difficult. But with feminism, if it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, you’re probably not doing it right.
The first time…I realized the Women’s March was going to be huge, was when my friend, who worked in the office of the Mayor of DC at the time, sent me the numbers of the buses coming in. She had the buses that came in for the inauguration and there were maybe 300, and she had the numbers for the march and they were in the thousands. A week before we were being told that we [the organizers] wouldn’t be able to march because there were too many people; we thought we were going to be front and centre with a banner, but even the day of we were amending the route.
There were 1.2 million people just in DC. We knew it was going to be big, but we didn’t know how big the international numbers would be. It was so humbling, it brought me to my knees. With Brexit, we should have seen all the connections early on and seen that there was a real possibility that Trump could win, but this just felt like a real moment of solidarity.
The first time…I knew vulnerability was my strength. I am surrounded by women who are really powerful speakers, and that’s not who I am. For better or for worse, I know that when someone who I love and respect is being super hardcore, I can go in and smooth the edges and get people to listen, where they might be defensive otherwise. It takes all kinds to get people onboard.
This interview has been edited and condensed by Tahirah Hairston.