How the Women’s March Failed Women

The need for intersectional feminism

Femme Fatale

On Saturday, Jan. 21, millions of people took to the streets for the Women’s March on Washington to protest against President Donald Trump and his bigotry. Women’s Marches were also organized in cities across the United States and in other countries, making it the biggest one-day protest in United States history. Millions of people from all around the world came together to fight for equality and justice.

And yet, something doesn’t feel quite right.

Many of the marchers wore pink “pussyhats,” donned pink vagina costumes, carried the signs that depicted uteruses holding up middle fingers or saying things like “Pussies Against Fascism”, and also held posters that said things like “Bow to My Magical Vagina,” “Vaginas Brought You Into the World, Vaginas Will Vote You Out,” “Leave it to the Beavers,” and “Viva la Vulva.”

The message being sent here is that being a woman is not only synonymous with, but also contingent upon, having a vagina. The pussy hats and vagina costumes were intended to bond women together, because they operate under the assumption that womanhood is defined by genitalia.

But this biological essentialism is nothing more than cissexism, because it conflates gender with genitals and reinforces the idea that there are only two genders. And, by upholding the gender binary in this way, the pussy hats and uterus signs are also transmisogynistic, because they discriminate against trans women and gender nonconforming people. They tell transgender women that they are not “real women” because they do not have vaginas.

Unfortunately, cissexism and transmisogyny are nothing new within allegedly “feminist” circles. Many of the most renowned feminist scholars are TERFs—Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. TERFs define womanhood solely in terms of vaginas, wombs, periods, and pregnancy. And, in doing so, they enforce the gender binary, perpetuate structural violence against the transgender community, and essentially “do the patriarchy’s work while calling it feminism.”

I doubt that most of the marchers realized they were participating in gender essentialism and violence against transgender people. But if your feminism is not inclusive of transgender people, if your feminism does not acknowledge that women who have penises are also “real women,” then who are you fighting for?

Furthermore, the vast majority of marchers were white women. White women came out in droves for the Women’s March—it would have been an inspiring sight to see, if it wasn’t for the long history of white women choosing to side with whiteness rather than side with their womanhood. Ninety-four percent of black women voters cast their votes for Hillary Clinton, while fifty-three percent of white women voters chose to vote for Donald Trump. When faced with choosing between their womanhood and their whiteness, they chose to uphold white supremacy, by voting for Trump.

It also would’ve been more inspiring if white women had shown up in such large numbers for other social movements as well—or even shown any awareness of them. But when activists at the Women’s March on Washington held up portraits of black women who had died at the hands of police and chanted “Say Her Name,” a middle-aged blonde woman was puzzled and asked, “Say her name? What does that even mean?”

Some white marchers even wore suffragette costumes and signs that said “Same Shit, Different Century,” disregarding the fact that the women’s suffrage movement was deeply racist, putting black women at the back of their marches. Susan B. Anthony, for example, once said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”

If your feminism is not inclusive of women of color, if your feminism doesn’t include protesting racialized violence against black women, then who are you fighting for?

White feminism prioritizes the experiences and voices of cisgender white women, while marginalizing the experiences and voices of women of color and transgender people. White feminism is not intersectional. And in this way, white feminism is not revolutionary. Feminism without intersectionality is just another manifestation of white supremacy and patriarchy.

This is the reason why the atmosphere at the Women’s March was so jovial and light-hearted. It felt more like a charity 5k than a protest. People were dressed up in elaborate costumes, singing and dancing, chanting about love and unity, and chatting with each other over cups of iced coffee. There were barely any police officers around. Some of the officers were even wearing pussy hats themselves. Protesters thanked the police officers for protecting them.

This protest looked nothing like Black Lives Matter protests, where large numbers of police officers patrol in riot gear, deploy pepper spray on protesters, and forcibly arrest peaceful protesters. This protest looked nothing like the Standing Rock protest, where police departments from 24 counties and 16 cities swarmed to confront the protesters and used water cannons, tear gas, and even rubber bullets against the protests. This protest looked nothing like the peaceful demonstrations during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, where “the police [used] high-pressure fire hoses and police dogs on men, women, and children alike.”

The Women’s March was largely white, it was largely cisgender, and it was largely content with the status quo. Millions of people were mobilized all over the country and the world. But at the end of the day, millions of people—mainly white cisgender women—finished sharing their photos on Instagram, dropped their posters on the ground, and went home feeling satisfied with the good work they did.

The Women’s March failed the women who are most vulnerable under Trump’s administration—women who are not white, women who are not cisgender. And unless white cisgender women can dedicate themselves to protecting those communities of women as well, then they have failed all women.

Nian Hu ’18 is a government concentrator living in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.

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