Women's march

Peaceful Protests Brought By Privilege: The Women’s Marches

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Kristen Pellot

22. Intersectional feminist writer and flailing, fangirling nerd.

I think it’s safe to say that few people anticipated the scope of the Women’s Marches around the world until it happened. As a feminist I was awestruck and inspired by these marches, but, like many, I take issue with the lack of intersectionality. Though The Women’s March brought millions together and stretched to every continent, it’s unsurprising to me that it presented a bit of conflict because of intersectionality. Despite collective efforts, there is still a lot that is excluded from mainstream feminism–women of color, trans women, sex workers, just to name a few. And though these groups were represented at the Marches, the focus was still on whiteness, on cis women, and on topics we have decided are acceptable. White, cis, “respectable”, middle-class women are seen as the pinnacle of feminism, while all other groups have to be grateful for any meager recognition.

Almost ironically, Trump revived an anti-abortion policy days after the Marches. But still for some reason, I have the faint feeling like this doesn’t affect me. It’s the same feeling I’ve had for years as I’ve seen, and taken part in, feminist meetings and rallies. It’s a slight disconnect like women’s issues don’t affect me because they still feel like white issues. I was hesitant around feminism for years because it felt white centered and so I believed I could never be a part of it because I’m naturally excluded. It’s a real problem that even as a feminist who is writing on a feminist publication, I not only feel like feminism has no place for me, but I feel that women’s issues don’t belong to me. Because what the media, mainstream (white) feminism show is that “woman” is white and “woman” means vagina and “woman” is the opposite of “man”.

Whenever issues are discussed, I feel the need to seek out labels specific to me–Black, Latina, Afro-Latina, bisexual, etc.–because unless those words are said, I still assume white, cis, and straight are just implied. The Women’s Marches from all over the world, regardless of how powerful, were spearheaded by white faces. Alone, this isn’t an issue, but within the context of feminism as a greater socio-political movement that advocates for the equality of all genders regardless of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, religious affiliations, or other identifying labels, there is a huge issue about who is included in this equality.

Feminism needs to include everyone. We have spoken about intersectionality in so many different ways, on so many different platforms, and with so many different subjects, but somehow we are still having trouble grasping allyship. Progressive ideals need to be progressive. Associating “woman” with “vagina” is not only exclusionary to trans women but is also stagnant. Having white women be the primary focus of feminism in any capacity is not only exclusionary but is also stagnant. Upholding ideals that either bring certain groups down or in any way does not accurately represent them prevents us all from making progress. We need to keep moving and growing and learning from each other. We need to be doing better.

I know that people want to express their specific situations especially when they protest. But as a feminist community, we need to have the forethought to understand when specificity becomes exclusionary. For instance, there’s a lot of backlash about the exclusion of the trans community because of all the signs equating vagina to “woman”. And while cis women are allowed to express their specific experiences, we can’t pretend that anatomy has anything to do with gender and therefore that having a vagina is a requirement to be a woman. On the same note, we can’t pretend that white women speak for or represent all women.

We get complacent because, let’s be honest, socio-political activism is a headache. Even those of us who are very active and always seem to know the right thing to say and do can feel overwhelmed by the task. But, we slowly have to have intersectionality become part of our way of thinking and have that bleed into our activism.

We need to keep this in mind when we praise or criticize movements and works. It’s great that there was no violence or arrests made during these marches. But, white women who were the focus of the Marches do have white privilege. White women do not make people nervous. This isn’t to say that white women have never experienced physical or emotional violence when protesting and rallying. But, people of color and several other groups are inherently a threat to the status quo in ways white women are not. We are seen as a violent threat that makes the police jumpy which triggers violence at our peaceful protests. I hope we move forward with the understanding that the unprecedented phenomena presented with The Women’s Marches still does not deter its lack of intersectionality. Millions coming together to protest a fascist and advocate for liberty and safety cannot be ignored. But, we should question who actually benefits from this advocation.

Part of my activist journey has been realizing that more generalized terms (like “woman”) do include me and should include me. I wonder how many people feel like certain feminist issues are inapplicable to them, even if it’s far from the case. It feels like a dangerous side effect of exclusivity. I hope that in this politically turbulent time we push for the physical, emotional, social, and political protection for as many people as possible. Now more than ever we can’t excuse a lack of intersectionality and cry “divisiveness” when people don’t feel like they, and their issues, are not properly represented.

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