In the days following the worldwide women’s marches, many have spoken out with criticisms or questions regarding the true intentions of the marches and how they were organized. This post seeks to address a couple of the questions we have received thus far, but we encourage everyone to ask their own questions, provide their own answers, and engage in a legitimate discussion to ensure this movement remains a productive one.
Aren’t American women the most privileged women in the world?
Many would agree that the majority of women in the United States are comparatively more privileged than in other parts of the world. That does not negate the fact that not all are equal and it does not eliminate the struggle that women across the United States continue to face. Just because someone else has it “worse” than you, are you not allowed to speak up for your own troubles?
Studies have been done year after year that rank countries around the world on a variety of topics, including “Best Countries for Women.” While some have the United States ranked in the bottom part of the top 15, others have our country ranked all the way down in the 40s. These studies are each based off their own wide range of criteria, yet consistently do not place the United States as #1.
In addition, even though white women are often some of the most privileged in the world, that does not mean that they did not need to march. As some of the people we talked to at the march said, worded by marcher Nancy Nee Hannifan, “we should all be sticking together because we have to raise up the least of us to protect the greater of us.” Inequality affects all of us, even if you aren’t personally discriminated against.
Was the march really inclusive?
The short answer: unfortunately, no. The women’s march inspired people representing a variety of issues. Knowing that, of course not everyone was going to agree on everything. The purpose of the march was to have your voice be heard, no matter what your motivational cause was. Despite the good intentions of organizers, sponsors, community partners, and participants, many of the women’s marches left other oppressed minority communities feeling ignored or over-written, or simply like they didn’t belong. In a movement meant to express solidarity, this is one of its greatest failings.
“Intersectional feminism is the future of feminism and of this movement,” said Bob Bland, one of the event’s co-chairs. “We must not just talk about feminism as one issue, like access to reproductive care.”
We must also not talk about feminism as it pertains only to one group. White feminism ran rampant throughout the marches, sparking a trend in critical articles written after the event. The march became not just an act of solidarity, but for many a chance to be humbled and address their privilege with respect to others. Brooklyn-based activist ShiShi Rose addressed “white allies” planning to attend the march, saying “For some people, their outlook of this country deeply changed on November 9th. For the rest of us, this is how it has always looked.” Her post continues as she says, “I want to remind you that no ally ever got very far, in any movement, without acknowledgement of their own privilege daily. … You don’t just get to join because now you’re scared, too. I was born scared.”
One of the women we spoke to at the Boston march, Sukriti, had a friend who made one of the most impactful speeches worldwide while at the Philadelphia march. Ericka Hart, a Black femme, breast cancer survivor and sex educator spoke about who this march was for and how we can all learn to create more intersectionality in our feminist movements. “If you don’t like what I’m saying, you might consider you are not here for all women,” she said. “Have you noticed who is NOT here? I ask that you notice moving forward and get intentional about inclusivity. Start asking in all of the spaces you occupy and take up: Who is this for? And then make it for them.”
Meant to be a unifying aspect of the march, the pussy hats and related signage also highlighted the isolation of the transgender and non-binary communities from this movement. They sent a “clear and oppressive message: having a vagina is essential to womanhood.” While many marchers pulled together and created their own hats and signs, others still withdrew from the activity because it was no longer a welcome space. Jade Lejeck was one of many who decided not to participate for this reason, but said “”It’s better to fix any problems now before [Trump and his administration] use them against us — not to mention that fixing them will mean even more people fighting for the same cause.”
At the Washington March, transgender activist and author Janet Mock addressed intersectionality with particular regard to trans women of color and sex workers. “Our approach to freedom need not be identical but it must be intersectional and inclusive. It must extend beyond ourselves,” said Mock. “Our liberation depends on all of us, all of us returning to our homes and using this experience and all the experiences that have shaped us to act, to organize, to resist.”
Activist and comedienne, Franchesca “Chescaleigh” Ramsey summed it up, saying “good intentions don’t absolve negative impact…performative activism isn’t going to cut it. If your allyship is reliant on never being held accountable for your screw ups, you’re doing it wrong.”
Does it matter if other people’s rights to their beliefs and free expression of them are counter to the outlined goals?
For further context, the examples provided for this question were the goal of migration as a basic right and there being no such thing as an “illegal immigrant” or gender being completely fluid and without any recognizable norm.
This particular topic has been a sensitive one for years, with individuals, companies, political organizations, and religious communities taking stances on dividing issues and debating the balance of non-discrimination with freedom of speech. The trouble with this question is that the answer depends on the circumstance. The laws in place that draw the line between freedom of expression and ability to discriminate will depend on the state and the context of the situation in question.
Of course it matters if the outlined goals infringe on the rights of others who disagree. However, when it is simply a question of challenging someone’s beliefs, not their constitutional rights, there needs to be some perspective. One person’s beliefs do not outweigh another’s livelihood.
None of these principles are new, what’s going to change this time?
While these principles may not be new, where would we be if the activists before us gave up because it had all been done before? If oppressed groups stop talking, stop marching, stop acting, nothing would ever change. We may only see a little change at a time and it may take an entire lifetime, but every little bit of change should be celebrated.
In today’s connected world, it’s easier than ever to communicate with larger communities, to mobilize, to act together and move towards change. Like with any large project, getting something done takes a lot of time and persistence. If people gave up, nothing would ever change. That’s why we keep fighting.
Non-Fiction Feminism is posting a series of articles with contributions from marchers on why they attended and how they plan on continuing the movement, answering questions the inclusive women’s march raised, and next steps to keep the momentum going. Check in and consider contributing by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with why you marched and how you plan to keep the momentum going!