What the Women’s March can teach us about the Importance of the Humanities 

*Victoria Machado is a Ph.D. student in UF Religion’s Religion and Nature track. Ms. Machado contributed this blog post in her personal capacity. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Florida Religion Department, University of Florida’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, or the University of Florida.

I recently had the privilege of journeying to Washington D.C. to partake in the Women’s March on Washington. While I have past organizing experience, this particular event was unlike any I ever attended, far outweighing the local marches and rallies I was involved with in terms of attendance, energy, and sheer magnitude.

More than that, I realized the March signifies the importance of perspectives, more specifically the vital need for a humanities-based way of understanding the world.

Although the Women’s March recognized many injustices, perhaps the most notable issue it revealed is the trouble with dualisms. The problem of a binary worldview has been festering for a long time, manifesting itself not only through gender and race, but also through politics.

As we saw, this particular presidential race was not only extremely heated, but also very polarized. It was not the difference of opinion that caused this polarization, rather the narrow perspective on both ends of the political spectrum that caused dialogue to come to a complete stop at times.

While I realize a multitude of issues compound to form this lack of dialogue, as a graduate student and an educator, I wonder if this may be the result of how we teach/learn, rather than what we teach/learn.

For the past several years, public schools have pushed STEM. Subjects like art, music and social studies are usually first on the chopping block as tight budgets constrict the curriculum. This has reverberated throughout the educational system from grade school to college as liberal arts universities and departments have experienced the decline of enrollment in the humanities.

With this loss of the humanities, we lose a form of thinking about, and engaging with, the world in multifaceted and dynamic ways. We uphold the scientific method as the only way, essentially reiterating the idea that the world is black-and-white. Now, this is not to discredit the scientific method, which provides an essential way of understanding the world. However, the world is not simply black-and-white. With a natural science perspective, we must also give credit to the humanities, which present us with a structure of how to understand the human experience— a multifarious one at that.

I saw this humanities structure upheld in D.C. as women from a wide variety of backgrounds came together to march for change, progress, freedom and equality. Black, white, Latinx, Muslim, documented, undocumented, young, old, middle-aged, mothers, sisters, daughters, partners. They each approached the same March from different standpoints.

As a scholar of religion, I saw this through various physical signs. One marcher carried a sign that read, “keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” while another proclaimed, “One of the 99% of Catholics who use birth control.”

Similarly, I experienced this diversity with opposing viewpoints as counter demonstrators held anti-abortion/pro-life signs rooted in their Christian biblical beliefs, while liberal standing Christians rooted their resistance in the same book, as they upheld a women’s right to choose. Two opposing sides using the same foundation for support.

What does all this mean? The human experience is diverse. The issues we face are complex problems that require complex solutions. When addressing the human experience, reducing any opposing side to “narrow minded” or “backwards” robs us of solving these problems and acts as an injustice to the study of the humanities.

The marchers in D.C., and those around the world, signify this complexity and a variety of outlooks. We must have both if we want to approach this world in an engaging and dynamic manner.

The Women’s March presents an alternative way of understanding the world, apart from the dualisms. It recognizes the dominant power structures and the clear hierarchy that still exists.

Perhaps above all, this March gives those in the humanities fuel to support the work we do as it reinforces the importance of dialogue that only comes when we can acknowledge and engage a difference of perspectives.