By Sunday morning, the Women’s March 2017 had a Wikipedia page. It became a historic event, with people all over the world marching in response to the inauguration of Donald J. Trump and the threat to various progressive values that it meant. Although, it should be noted that the march was framed as pro-woman generally, focused on intersectional feminism rather than being solely anti-Trump. The photos depicting the hundreds of marches from every continent left me in awe. Responses from many UNC students who travelled to D.C., or any of the other sister marches across the country described the gatherings as moving, inspiring, a sense of true solidarity. But amidst the celebration of successfully spurring a worldwide phenomenon, there have also been many voices decrying the hypocrisy and perpetuating division associated with the feminist movement.
I have heard so many different opinions about the march, and the feminist movement in general during the last few days. I will not denounce the march, but I won’t call it a total success either. I am proud to have marched in Asheville, and I am proud of my friends who travelled all over to march too. It is important that we discuss how the march succeeded, but also how it failed.
The actual messages of the organizers of the march and those who spoke were beautiful and inclusive. America Ferrera gave a powerful speech reminding everyone that the US is made up of far more than the people who voted for the current government: “The president is not America. His cabinet is not America. Congress is not America. We are America. And we are here to stay. We will not go from being a nation of immigrants to a nation of ignorance.” Janelle Monae began the chant “Sandra Bland! Say her name!,” joined by the “Mothers of the Movement.” One UNC student I spoke to who travelled to D.C., said that she thought that the most poignant words were from Tamika Mallory: “Welcome to my world, welcome to our world … for some of you it is new, for some of us it is not so new at all.” In other words, for all the women there who suddenly felt oppressed by the election of a man who has spewed such blatantly sexist rhetoric, remember how long women of colour have dealt with far worse struggles.
Despite such intersectional messages and reminders, there can be no denying that many women did not feel motivated to participate because of their long sense of alienation from the feminist movement. As Jenna Wortham of the New York Times Magazine put it, “who didn’t go to the women’s march matters more than who did.” We have to take note of why many women felt that a march, framed as representing all women, did not actually represent them. One of the most frequently shared images from the march was of a woman holding a sign saying, “don’t forget white women voted for Trump.” It’s true; 53% of white women did vote for Trump and 94% of black women voted for Hillary Clinton. Black women “show up for white women to advance causes that benefit entire movements; the reciprocity is rarely shown.”
It is severely problematic that many many women of colour do not feel included in the feminist movement and as the results of this election demonstrated, many white women value their racial privilege above seeking gender equality. Finally, there also needs to be a much larger push to include transgender women in conversations about gender equality. Many people felt that the emphasis on symbols of vaginas, uteruses and ovaries excluded transgender women. Cis women need to acknowledge that the fight for gender equality extends far beyond their day-to-day interactions with sexism, and transgender women are currently fighting for basic rights and freedoms.
White women need to realise that their cause is much stronger if they treat minority and transgender women as true sisters and embrace the beautiful notion of intersectional feminism for ALL women. Most feminists in theory agree that women of colour and transgender women should be welcomed, but they must be more active in pursuing those beliefs.
Another UNC student I spoke to said that she was disappointed that the turnout of people was not more intersectional. However, she hoped that the speakers emphasizing an inclusionary message was an indication that in the future, it would be more likely for women of all different backgrounds to stand together.
I loved that there was one mass response to the divisiveness and hatred that Trump used to win the election. However, those women need to open their arms and be more outspoken about their support for the women and men fighting for Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, refugee rights, immigrant rights and disability rights. I think this march was a step towards improvement, not necessarily an accomplishment in itself. We should acknowledge how wonderful such a massive, peaceful demonstration is, but also realize that it shouldn’t be enough. I hope that it is a sign that women will acknowledge one another’s differences and varying priorities and stand up for one another and all social justice causes together.
Edited for clarity on 1/25/17 at 12:00pm.