Photo by Olivia Montalto's "A Woman Who Doesn't March Attends the Women's March"
On the 19th of January, 2019, the third annual Women’s March took place in locations all over the world; from London to Los Angeles, iconic Pink Pussy hats were dusted off and placed upon the heads of many planning to march on behalf of their feminist values.
Equal pay, reproductive rights, and gender discrimination are among several reasons why protesters attend these marches, but many marginalized groups and allies sat out this year due to the white-washed nature of the Women’s March Organization.
In response to the election and inauguration of current president Donald Trump, the first march was organized by four women – one white and three women of color – who arguably had the intention of creating a space for supporters of an intersectional feminist movement. Their goals were to clearly demonstrate public disdain regarding Trump’s behavior toward women as well as signaling support for all those affected by gender discrimination, regardless of race, class, or gender identity. However, as the news spread of the event, more white women began to take part and take charge of the themes the march would produce, ultimately causing the protests to turn to generic demands that neglected the unique experiences of both non-cisgendered women and women of color.
How this happened is not surprising when one considers the history of feminism in this country; in the fourth chapter of Angela Davis’ Women, Race, and Class she identifies the birth of white feminism as synonymous to the beginning of women’s rights. Inspired by the abolitionists seeking freedom for black Americans, white upper-class women in the late 19th century began their own journey toward equality. While the opportunity for a coalition between white women and people of color presented itself, white women instead aligned based on race. Denying any overlap between their fight for enfranchisement and reform, white women rejected black Americans in favor of a more easy-to-swallow feminist narrative.
Since then, women of color have remained an afterthought even in mainstream feminist movements, and the Women’s March is no exception. Marchers from dominant positions in society (white, upper class, Christian, heterosexual, cisgender, etc) advocate for social change while failing to demonstrate their support for those who exist at the intersections of race, class, and gender. In some ways, this was inevitable; the everyday lived experiences of white women and women of color are drastically different, and social capital allows all white people to be ignorant to the imbalance. Nevertheless, a sense of accountability and allyship was absent from the majority of white women involved in the original march. Though many white women proclaim our understanding of intersectional feminism and its key role in the liberation of all women, we fail to support our sisters of color in their struggles.
Though many white women proclaim our understanding of
intersectional feminism and its key role in the
liberation of all women, we fail to support our
sisters of color in their struggles.
At the march, Pink Pussy hats symbolize the genitalia of white cis-women while signs and chants carry slogans created by, and for people of color, stolen by and for the continued white-washing of the feminist movement. The privileges associated with whiteness also allowed marches like these to go on, undisturbed — an advantage not offered to people of color protesting on their own behalf. Police officers stood by the masses of women with smiling faces, a stark contrast from the tear gas and brutal attacks faced by protesters of color.
When asked about their reasoning for marching in the Women’s March, many white women responded that they were advocating for equal pay, equal rights, and especially reproductive rights. Though women everywhere are affected by these issues, women of color continue to stand alone when fighting for their unique experiences as both women and people of color. What seems to be missing is an understanding that “women’s rights” means all women, and all the issues affecting them. Therefore, white feminists who continuously defend the same topics without paying the same care to those influencing the lives of women of color are not advocates for feminism or women’s rights. Women of color are just as female as white women, and yet at feminist rallies or movements like the Women’s March, their agendas are pushed aside by the mainstream narrative. The Women’s March has not been a march for women at all — it has been a march for issues experienced by all women, but not all the problems lived by all women.
The Women’s March has not been a march for women at all —
it has been a march for issues experienced by all women,
but not all the problems lived by all women.
The Women’s March in 2017 proved that little has changed over the years when it comes to feminism and race. While the march effectively communicated the protesters’ views on reproductive rights, economic and social inequality, few – if any – white women recognized the disproportionately high numbers of infant and maternal mortality rates, police brutality, incarceration, unemployment and other severe challenges faced every day by women of color. Arguments for economic equality between men and women completely bypassed the fact that women of color make less than all men and their female counterparts.
Though the 2018 Women’s March drew smaller crowds, its problematic nature continued to prevail and many women of color chose not to attend after being excluded and ignored in 2017. This trend extended into the 2019 march, which was even smaller than the two before it, partially due to reports of there being ties between the organizers of the original march with a well known anti-semite and bigot by the name of Louis Farrakhan. It was reported that the leadership behind the Women’s March Organization expressed to Jewish advocates that their community needed to take steps in confronting their own role in racism before being put on the same level as other women of color. The unity that originally inspired the organized event continued to crumble as Jewish women involved in the march were marginalized. Jewish advocate Vanessa Wruble states that she felt pushed out of the march, leading her to create another organization entitled March On, which held its own protest on the same day as the Women’s March in New York City. In contrast to the Women’s March, Wruble stressed the issue of antisemitism in society today.
The very existence of a competing march speaks to the racial and social barriers that prevent women from establishing a truly united front in our quest for gender-based liberation, proving that the interconnectedness of these issues demands an all-inclusive agenda. Though photos and social media posts documenting the 2019 event show people of all backgrounds proudly advocating for widespread systemic change for all oppressed peoples, many marginalized groups are once again left behind by the mainstream, white-washed agenda when the protest ends. The disinterest white women have shown toward similar movements that put race at the forefront, speaks volumes and sheds light on how easily the white male imperialist capitalist supremacy prevails even over shared oppression.
In this moment in history, we have another opportunity to come together on behalf of all oppressed groups and demand social change; the strength of a full, united front can no longer be ignored in favor of narrow, self serving agendas. The challenge of different social realities between people on the basis of race, class, and gender were designed to keep oppressed groups from organizing effectively. However, with this knowledge, we as a society may put movements such as the Women’s March to bed and replace them with conscious efforts to create a world that is safe and supportive of all.
As Angela Davis once said, "We must always attempt to lift as we climb."