The Psychology of Stronger Together
Understanding the Women’s March
Posted Jan 22, 2017
I live about 300 miles north of Washington, D.C. on a small street with about a dozen houses. By my count, at least four women from my little road made the trek to D.C. to join the Women’s March on Washington to protest the incoming administration. That’s just my little street! From my small town of New Paltz, it looks fair to say that hundreds of people made the trek to D.C. to take part in this event. This makes sense as all estimates show that nearly a million people made the pilgrimage to DC to express themselves (many wearing the snarky pink “pussy cat” hats—to underscore their concerns regarding Trump’s past actions toward women).
And that’s not all. They were out on the streets in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Savannah, Portsmouth, Poughkeepsie, and more. And that’s not all. They were protesting in Paris, Brussels, and even in the Antarctic. Wow, that was some event!
One of the greatest things about being human—which separates us from all other kinds of mammals—is our capacity to form organized coalitions and groups that cut across kin lines (see Wilson, 2007). Forming well-functioning groups of unrelated individuals to work toward a common purpose is rare in the animal kingdom—largely because there are few evolutionary routes to such non-kin-based coalitional behavior.
This said, in humans, we form non-kin-based coalitions all the time. And this great evolutionary leap (see Wilson, 2007; Bingham & Souza, 2009) has allowed members of our kind to build cities, write symphonies, and put humans on the moon. Perhaps the greatest tool in the human social toolbox is this feature of human psychology—the ability to form real, powerful, meaningful, and organized groups beyond kin relations. In short, humans are stronger together—and this feature of our species is foundational to how we operate.
The Women’s March as Evolved Community Psychology
One person may be able to scale a mountain. But a large and well-organized human group can move that same mountain. And the Worldwide Women’s March of January 21, 2017 was an effort designed to do just that. Armed with a common cause and a shared set of values, people from all over joined together to make a large-scale point about the importance of women’s rights. There is power in numbers, and the highly organized and well-implemented Women’s March fully exploited this feature of human psychology. And this ability to organize a group of non-relatives to work toward a common goal is one of the secrets to being human.
What Are Women Fighting For?
While this post is primarily about how the Women’s March provides a picture-perfect exemplar of the human ability to organize across kin lines, it’s worth mentioning here what the issues on the table are. After all, the March was dedicated to women’s issues. The fact that the current administration’s stance on women’s issues led to a world-wide protest begs for elaboration.
While there are many facets to this topic, I recently read a Facebook post by my alumna, Sara Hubbard Hall, who bottom-lines the problem this way:
- When all of the laptop bags are kept in the men's department, women do not have equality.
- When there are 12 different options for basketball shoes and shorts for boys and men in every store, and none for girls or women, women do not have equality.
- When insurances pay for Viagra, but deny every treatment option for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, women do not have equality.
- When a man, talking about women, says, "Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything," and then is elected President of the United States of America, women do not have equality.
- Women are important not because we are someone's sisters, or mothers, or wives. Women are important because every woman is someone. And we have a long way yet to go.
Words of Thanks to the Marchers and to Move Forward New York
People who take their time and energy to help out with a broader social cause rather than spending that same time and energy on things that will primarily benefit themselves are seen as selfless and altruistic. We need people like that! Selfless and well-organized groups of individuals working toward goals that benefit the broader group are essential for all of us. So thanks to the Marchers, all around the world, for fighting the good fight on behalf of all of us.
And special thanks to Move Forward New York, a recently created organization designed to positively shape our nation’s future moving forward. Move Forward New York, led by the formidable Debra Clinton, played a major role in organizing our regional Women’s March efforts—and I’m glad to be able to say that I’m a founding member of this forward-thinking organization.
Going back well before the creation of the great Egyptian pyramids, humans evolved the ability to create large-scale, coordinated social groups that cut across kin lines—groups that are capable of creating products that could never be created by any individual alone. This critical feature of our evolutionary story is one of the basic elements of human uniqueness. The recent Worldwide Women’s Marches betray this basic feature of our humanity. Working together, with the help of forward-thinking organizations such as Move Forward New York, millions of people around the world got together as one to make a singular point: Women are people too—and we will NOT stand for any government that is poised to go backwards when it comes to women’s rights. And we are many and we will speak our minds. And we will act when necessary.
To my mind, this is pretty powerful and inspirational stuff. So claps to everyone who used their time and energy to stand for women’s rights across the globe yesterday. There are some days when our shared humanity simply shines. And January 21, 2017 was, without question, one of those magical days.
Bingham, P. M., & Souza, J. (2009). Death from a distance and the birth of a humane universe. Lexington, KY: BookSurge Publishing.
Wilson, D. S. (2007). Evolution for everyone: How Darwin’s theory can change the way we think about our lives. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.