Nurturing. It’s so often a feminine term, bringing thoughts of mothers, sisters, daughters; of Gaia, the Mother Earth. For a synonym, my thesaurus gives me “motherly.” It’s a term linked, too, with gentleness and tenderness, which in turn are associated with deference, docility and mildness.
But in the past few weeks, I’ve seen nurturing become an act of strength — an act of resistance and assertiveness. And not just for women.
On January 28, I sat in Northampton’s First Churches where every seat, including the balcony, was packed with people to discuss the environment during a forum on Climate Action in a Time of Crisis. A nationwide march is also being organized on Earth Day to stand in support of science. Following the lead of the Women’s March, it began as the Scientists’ March on Washington, but has since been renamed the more inclusive March for Science.
Recently, a friend of mine critiqued widespread ideologies he believes have led us to this historical moment. “It’s not a very American thing,” he said, “to see yourself as the mulch from which the flower will grow. We all want to be the flower.”
Gatherings like the climate forum are opportunities to serve as mulch for one another, helping both each person and the earth grow and bloom. But I can’t fully agree with my friend. We should, in fact, be nearing a point where each person can be the flower.
The United States is replete with resources, though those resources are still highly unequally shared. Technology helps keep us well away from the edge of survival. We should be able to give each person space to fulfill their individualism — but without sacrificing the sustainability of the earth, without sacrificing the child and her need for attention and love and learning, without sacrificing the neighbor, without sacrificing developing countries.
There’s so much possibility in this country if we approach from a position of collaborative action, of giving and protectiveness for one another, rather than preventing others from having things because we think it will protect those things for us.
In this political moment, what is more vital than expressing our need to nurture one another — to come to the defense of nurturing against a clutching individualism that pretends the single, aggressive, grandstanding male is what the human species needs for success?
I saw that defense of nurturing in person at the Women’s March in January. The feeling of power, putting on a pink knit hat with pussy ears. The three friends who came with me — all men, as it happens, though many of my women friends attended the march separately – wore pussy hats too, lending me a feeling of solidarity.
More than just solidarity, I felt cared for, taken care of, encouraged to grow, to shout, to march, and to make myself seen. I offered the same to my three friends and the attendees of the Women’s March in Boston and beyond, simply by showing up.
Our walk to the march in Boston wasn’t without incident. On the outskirts of the city, as we headed to the subway already wearing our hats, one man leaned out his car window. “Morons!” he shouted.
Another man got off several stops before us on the subway, which was filled with marchers identifiable by hats and signs. “See you later, snowflakes,” he said, ducking immediately out the door to fend off any dialogue or pushback.
A snowflake, as defined by the indispensable Urban Dictionary, is: “An overly sensitive person, incapable of dealing with any opinions that differ from their own. These people can often be seen congregating in ‘safe zones’ on college campuses.”
Later, on social media, some people seemed offended by the very existence of the march. One woman said she saw the participants as “full of anger.”
But I think such critics fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the protest.
The marchers were people whose primary desire seemed to be to steward the world for others. “ReEVOLution” spelled out one of my favorite signs – but with the E and the L written backwards so it read “Re — LOVE — ution”. The dominant message of the march was We care about one another. And added to that, we care about all people, and about the earth.
“We know that climate change is real and we have a moral responsibility to protect our children,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren from the stage in Boston, where she and other speakers also insisted on the rights of all Americans, be they brown, black or white, male or female, LGBTQ or straight, immigrant or American-born, to be treated fairly and equally, to receive adequate health care, to gain a living wage for full time work.
Moreover, the marchers were not the fragile “snowflakes” accused of hiding on college campuses. They were ordinary Americans of every stripe, people brave enough to show up.
“You know things are messed up when librarians start marching,” read one sign. “Now you’ve ticked off grandma,” read another.
Hundreds, thousands of men marched alongside the women. “I’m with her, and her, and her, and her,” read a common sign they carried.
Marchers were courteous and smiled at each other. People apologized when they bumped into each other, even though bumps and crashes in such a crowd were inevitable. At the end of the march, there was almost no litter left behind on Boston Common — prompting a thank you on Facebook from the Boston Parks Service — and although some cans were overflowing, I spotted people carefully stacking their trash alongside the cans to keep it neatly consolidated.
Adherents of both left and right, I should think, can agree on a need for community and care for one another.
Even conservative writer David French, criticizing both feminism and Trump in a 2016 National Review essay titled “Trump’s Counterfeit Masculinity,” recognized that both men and women need an instinct toward nurture in this moment.
“The answer to feminism is and always has been manhood properly defined,” he wrote. “It is not — and never will be — the toxic masculinity of the arrogant. The answer to the predator [Trump] is the protector.”
It’s an instinct we now all need to feel for one another, male or female — the urge to protect one another and stand together.
Some people have said that a march isn’t the same thing as substantive political action. I couldn’t disagree more.
In this moment where the new administration is choosing to act outside of legislative and even judicial approval, just standing forth is a vital act. It shows our willingness to put our bodies where our ideals are. It allows us to remind each other that whatever our differences, we will stand with one another in the face of an administration that wants to drive us apart.
These are the vital splinters of that first explosion of energy. Over and over again we must remind one another: we care. We will protect and defend one another. We will nurture each other and the earth.
It is the antidote to fear: a statement that we have one another’s back in a moment where action takes courage against those who respond with name-calling and violence.
No matter how often it has faltered, that’s the America I’ve seen in the past few weeks.
And that will always be the America I love most: generous, big-hearted, inclusive, and unafraid.
Naila Moreira is a writer and poet who often focuses on science, nature and the environment. She teaches science writing at Smith College and is the writer in residence at Forbes Library. She’s on Twitter @nailamoreira.