[The Stories of America editors: This article is part of the International Women’s Day Pairing. To read the other story, click here.]
Growing up, Marilyn Agner didn’t do as well in school as some of the other kids her age.
Both of Agner’s parents didn’t go to college. Her dad dropped out of school after eighth grade, and her mom didn’t finish high school.
Agner said she was teased and told she was not smart enough to go to college. And for a while, she believed that.
“I remember thinking, ‘Gee, I am too stupid, why even try?’” Agner said.
After graduating high school in Ohio, she went to work at a factory. But the work was not fulfilling, and after eight years, she reached a tipping point, she said.
One night, while Agner was overseeing an assembly line for garbage disposal parts, an engineering issue interrupted the workflow. Her supervisor came out screaming, blaming her for the problem.
“I just remember being so angry, thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’” Agner said.
The next day she decided to start taking classes at the Ohio State University. She eventually quit her factory job, graduated from Ohio State, got another degree from Maharishi International University and found a career in the financial services industry.
But recently, Agner, now 63, got to be a part of another assembly line – one that made pink fleece hats.
When President Donald Trump got elected, Agner said she felt devastated.
“All the things Trump would say: the pussy grabbing, the nasty women, all the negativity he expressed about women…it shook me to my core,” she said.
Agner said her father was abusive, and she said she knows how it feels to not have control over her body. Because of that past, Agner said she has been an avid women’s rights supporter.
“It’s your body, and it should be your choice – that’s so important to me,” Agner said. “The whole thing is not a political issue. It’s a personal issue.”
To Agner, Trump’s victory signaled a disrespect toward women’s rights.
So when she read on social media about the Women’s March events happening around the country the day after Inauguration, Agner, who lives in Fairfield, Iowa, decided to go to the one in Des Moines with her sister.
“It sort of snowballed from there,” Agner said.
As she prepared for the march, she yearned to contribute more. That’s when Agner found out about the Pussyhat Project, an idea a group of women launched to make pink hats that would connect those passionate about women’s rights.
“I wanted to do something, and this was a way of channeling some of that energy,” Agner said.
Agner bought a big stack of pink fleece and, together with her sister and friends, sewed over 225 hats.
“We almost had like an assembly line going,” Agner said. “It was fun.”
But this time, no supervisor yelled at her.
Agner gave the hats to friends and random strangers she met at the march in Des Moines. Some of Agner’s hats made it to the march in D.C.
“It was amazing to be in the midst of all of this unity and positive energy,” Agner said.
After the march, Agner went for the first time to a meeting that a chapter of the Democratic Party’s chapter organized in her town. She hopes to get more involved in her community in order to stand up for the women’s rights and other issues she’s passionate about, such as immigration rights.
“All of this divisiveness…it’s not gonna stand,” Agner said. “It’s just not what America is about.”