An Interview with the Woman Whose Protest Sign Led to the Resignation of a State Senator

Becky Haines shares her side to the story of how a retweeted photograph led to the resignation of Nebraska State Senator Bill Kintner.

 By Frida Oskarsdottir

Becky Haines headed home from the Women’s March on Washington on January 21st with a renewed sense of hope. Hours later, a photograph of her and her sisters carrying signs that read “Not this Pussy” and “Not Mine Either” was tweeted by conservative talk show host Larry Elder, with the caption “Ladies, I think you’re safe.” The tweet gained thousands of likes and was retweeted by Nebraska State Senator Bill Kintner. Many were incensed by Kintner’s endorsement of these remarks, and, amid the controversy, he resigned. Viral news of this nature often ignores the real people involved. We spoke to Becky to hear her side of the story.

How did you decide to attend the Women’s March?

My sister and I, I don’t know who said first, but we were like “Hey, we want to do this.” We invited our third sister to join us and we went together. We haven’t done anything together as sisters in a very long time, it was special in that context alone.

Had you ever marched before?

This was the first time I have ever taken a stand politically. I have never protested or marched or ever really cared about politics until now.

How did you decide on the signs?

My sister Nancy’s husband is an artist and he made us these beautiful hand-painted signs, one said ‘Treat Everyone with Respect. Period.’ and one said ‘United We Stand.’ And we flipped the signs over (laughing) and made our own signs because he refused to paint that for us.

So we actually had very beautiful politically correct signs on one side which we carried maybe 10% of the day and on the other side were more publicized signs that you’ve seen all over the place. And we are all very, we’re sort of reserved people and so that was big for us to carry these signs.

What was the reaction at the march? Did you see similar signs?

There were similar signs. Easily a hundred people asked if they could take our picture. We saw this wall behind one of the museums and said “Let’s get up on that wall.” So we’re above the crowd and not getting jostled but still can see everything that’s going on and be a part of everything. So we’re standing above everybody and people would stop and ask if they could stop and take our picture and yelled that they loved our signs.

How did you feel after the march?

I felt hopeful. I woke up Friday morning feeling depressed and afraid. Saturday after marching with my sisters I found my hope again. There are so many of us that are going to fight for each other. It was arm to arm people, no one shoved, no one said an unkind word. It was beautiful.

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 7.41.58 PM.png
Bill Kintner retweeted Larry Elder’s tweet after the Women’s March. Haines is pictured here, center, with her two sisters.

How did you find out about how your picture was circulating?

Originally a friend here (in PA) had posted it on my Facebook page but it was from a local conservative talk radio DJ and I could not figure out where he got the photo. At that point I had no idea that it had gone viral. And then my niece saw it on a blog and texted it to me in a panic because she didn’t know how to tell her mother. I said we had to tell them before it gets in the mainstream media and so we told both my sisters. I’m perfectly comfortable with it. It brought someone down that shouldn’t be in office. And even though it’s very indirect that I had any contribution to that I feel very proud that my photo helped to take him down. It made it worth the hateful comments.

The timeline was so immediate, he (Kintner) retweeted the photo, there was backlash, and a few days later he resigned. Were you following closely or just hoping the attention would go away?

I was following very closely. When it all came to light, my son posted on Facebook Mr. Kintner’s contact information and asked his friends to call and fax and write to ask for his resignation. He resigned that morning and my phone was blowing up.

I haven’t seen the video of his press conference but I read his response, he didn’t really take responsibility for his actions or ever apologize for what he did.

When you started hearing of the photos circulating were you surprised by the magnitude of it and the people who reached out to you?

Initially I was hearing only from people that I knew, and then I wrote a post to Pantsuit Nation that was published, and that was viewed over 33,000 times and over 2500 hundred comments, 99.9% were supportive and the people who expressed a negative comment were immediately challenged by someone else.

What would you say is the takeaway from this?

I feel like I made a difference. I feel like all of us becoming active, those of us who don’t stand with what the current administration is doing, we can make a difference. One little step at a time, but it gave me hope that we can turn the tide.

Are you going to go to any more protests in the near future?

I am! It’s funny I was just working on my sign, I’m going on Sunday in Harrisburg where I live at the Capitol, against the ban on immigration.

16491285_10209708465083454_1166539327_o.jpg
Becky Haines

What does your sign say?

It’s a picture of the Statue of Liberty with the words at the base, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses who yearn to breathe free.”

We have to remain united, especially women, we have to take care of and support each other. I know that the news this week was that Trump is not going to take away LGBTQ rights. I have a gay son and that’s extremely important to me and my theory is that that’ll change down the road.

So this is personal for you in many ways?

Absolutely. I was in an abusive marriage; the verbal abuse of women is a huge point for me. I’ve had mental health issues which would preclude me, god forbid, from getting insurance if I ever switched employers. They are too numerous to mention the reasons why I’m willing to march out in the snow on Sunday.

Thank you, Becky.

Thank you and keep marching!

 

Scenes from the Women’s March in New York City

On Friday, January 20th, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. On Saturday, January 21st, a record-breaking amount of people took to the streets on every continent to participate in peaceful protests in solidarity with women’s rights. We joined the hundreds of thousands of women marching through the avenues of our city and felt the hope and momentum to keep fighting, learning, and organizing. Even if you’ve already leafed through plenty of photo galleries over the last few days, what harm is there in taking a look at a few more bad bitches shutting it down? Here are our favorite sights from this historic day, shot by the High-Strung team.

Single With a Side of “Torshideh”

For Iranian women, the pressure of marriage comes with a sour twist.

By Sara Afzal

 

All the children sit around the table as their grandmother prepares the traditional Iranian feast. The pickled sour vegetable garnish known as torshi is placed alongside the steaming saffron rice with green beans and beef. The youngest girl finishes everything on her plate except the green mush. “Sara, eat your torshi!” the grandmother commands.

As a child, I never really liked torshi. It looked like a dark green compote with the occasional carrot and tasted too sour and vinegary. As a twenty something woman, torshi became less about questionable veggie spread, and more about the word torshideh–literally meaning soured, but used to describe an unmarried woman whose clock is ticking into her 30s. Think of it as the Iranian term for “spinster.”

The term torshideh haunted most Iranian women who suffered through tremendous marriage pressure from their families. My parents pushed me less in that department, a positive side effect from their divorce. Still, I was not immune to the term. My older male cousins threw the jabs as soon as I was in my early 20s. “Sara, you don’t want to become torshideh now. Learn how to cook Iranian food so you can be a good wife. Oh, and go pour us some tea.”

Think of it as the Iranian term for “spinster.”

The pressure to get married is overt for all young Iranian men and women, but the taboo is especially faced by unmarried women, as the word torshideh demonstrates. Yet, while women are encouraged to marry young, divorce is still frowned upon. In Iran, women are not legally permitted to attain a divorce as Sharia law gives men the sole right. In the U.S., about 40 to 50 percent of marriages ended in divorce, and in Iran, about 20 percent of marriages result in divorce. Of course these stats don’t imply that marriages in Iran work better than in the US, it just means it’s harder for women to get out of them.

Luckily, my parents were far from traditional. They left Iran during the tumultuous political years that would soon tip into the chaos of the 1978-1979 Islamic Revolution, and they were determined to build a new life in America. My mom, Nahid, was raised by Muslim parents who disapproved of her living with my dad, Ali, without being married. So the two students studying art and film at UT Austin decided to tie the knot spontaneously with no planned wedding ceremony. They got hitched wearing faded Wrangler jeans at the courthouse in Austin, Texas. On their wedding day, instead of a traditional ring, Ali gave Nahid a set of multicolored plastic bands that was later passed down to me. The retro pink, red, blue, and white rings once all worn on my mother’s ring finger sit inside of a small jewelry box I still have today. The rings may have lasted, but the marriage didn’t.

In Iran, about 60 percent of its 80 million people are younger than the age of 30.

My parents’ unorthodox marriage and eventual divorce has given me a complicated relationship with the Iranian way of looking at marriage. Like most children of a failed union, I can’t think about marriage without thinking about divorce. The truth is I’d rather be labeled torshideh like expired milk than get married for the wrong reasons, and I think this is a modern concept that is not accepted by an older generation of Iranians. Arranged marriages are still common in Iran, but at the same time, there has been a strong shift towards dating around and marrying at an older age, much like in the U.S. These contradictions between the modern and traditional are very apparent in Iran, a country where about 60 percent of its 80 million people are younger than the age of 30. The emergence of this youth population has been linked to the loss of young men fighting during the eight year war with Iraq in the 1980s, and also the government’s encouragement of larger families during the beginning of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Living in the U.S. makes it easier to avoid the anxiety of being called torshideh. Surrounded by powerful women who look at marriage as an option and not a compulsion has empowered me to feel confident in my own hesitation. It’s more of a “if it happens, it happens” with no impulse to dream up a wedding day fantasy. I’m most thankful that my parents have not adhered to the norm and pressured me to marry “a nice Iranian boy,” but that doesn’t mean the rest of my family is as lax. The last time I went to Iran my grandmother, who loves to arrange marriages, said, “If you come back again, I will find you a husband.” I haven’t been back since.