Professor Laila Sakr
Film and Media Studies 189DA
March 21, 2017
“White Women Elected Trump”: The First Women’s March
The Women’s March on Washington, an event rivaled only by the ratification of the 19th amendment to the constitution as the single greatest moment in feminist history, is particularly significant because of how it was able to demonstrate the true power of those fighting for progress. The march was organized almost exclusively on social medias and because of this was able to access millions of people not just in the United States, but all over the world. The wildfire-like nature with which the plans spread also allowed it reached individuals from every niche of society. What resulted was a nationwide campaign of unprecedented size fueled by a makeup of untold diversity. But as effective as the movement was for galvanizing such diverse support, so too was it quick to point out that the mainstream feminist crusade actually did little to support its own minority champions. Differing feminist agendas came to clash at the Women’s March on Washington and it became increasingly apparent that what was often dubbed as “white feminism” was actually a very real issue. The creation, promotion, and execution of the event all served to underscore the racism within modern feminism. Since the march and the subsequent social commentary that came along with it, however, modern feminism has begun to look inward to address the issues that plague its own advocates. Because of this, the Women’s March on Washington has been able to achieve something never before done in the history of the Women’s Rights movement. The marches of January 2017 were able to finally make aware, to all members of the issue, the plights of the minority woman. Moreover, they were able to create a forum in which all participants of the discussion were granted equal power when debating the facts and thus it finally presented “white feminism” to the mainstream as more than just an ignorant annoyance. Because the Women’s March on Washington, the first Women’s rights demonstration in which finally all women were empowered equally, was able to highlight the shortcomings of the popular feminist movement, it has since enabled a more inclusive approach to its activism. The fact that the January marches were able to spawn uncomfortable yet necessary dialogues between different advocates for women’s rights, that have since begun to shift the way in which popular feminism is tackling societal issues, makes the Women’s March on Washington with all its flaws, the most important event in modern feminism.
There were many flaws with the inception, promotion, and execution of the Women’s March on Washington but none as troublesome as the blatant ignorance of the white protestor. As Bob Bland, a brainstormer of the event pointed out, “The reality is that the women who initially started organizing were almost all white” (Willoughby, “Signs at the Women’s March on Washington Called Out White Feminism). Because of this not only was a large emphasis directed toward the struggles of the white female, but not nearly enough attention was placed on recognizing the roll that white women had in the oppression of minorities. “According to online news source Vox, approximately 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump” (Willoughby, “Signs at the Women’s March”), yet this was failed to be addressed by the mainstream feminist rhetoric of the January marches. This did little to surprise Asian American and Gender Studies professor Grace Hong who reasoned that, “for decades, white women didn’t have to consider any interests beyond their own because ‘historically, the category of “woman” has, implicitly meant white women” (Bates, “Race and Feminism: Women’s March Recalls the Touchy History”). Something else that was made blaring apparent by the participation of white women in the Women’s March on Washington was their absence in minority movements leading up to January, 2017. Most simply put, “some of the same white women who were so adamantly dedicated to the Women’s March were nowhere to be found when it came to the Black Lives Matter Movement” (Willoughby, “Signs at the Women’s March”). This was something that became a major issue with minority participants like Instagram user @lrpeoples who begged the question, “Where were you when our babies were being shot in the streets, locked away in prison, deported away from the only home they’ve known?” or @mstharrington and @elsajustelsa who held protest signs that read “White Women Elected Trump” and “White Lives Matter Too Much” (Willoughby, “Signs at the Women’s March”) respectively.
Despite the fact that the Women’s March on Washington itself initially failed to address the racism inside feminism, however, individuals like Elsa and Ms. Tharrington were immediately able to recognize it as the perfect opportunity to finally address an issue that has been plaguing the feminist movement since its formative years. As Ashley Farmer, a historian at Boston University, observed, “When we actually get down to representation or creating a list of demands or mobilizing around a set of ideas, it tends to be that white middle-class or upper-class women’s priorities get put above the rest. It was that way in the 1850’s when some feminists split over whether to champion abolition or women’s rights” (Bates, “Race and Feminism”). This disputes directly the “comforting fiction that the women’s movement grew, untroubled, out of the struggle for the abolition of slavery” (Daniels, “Trouble with White Feminism: Racial Origins of U.S. Feminism”). Instead, champions of minority rights would have it be known that often times “the suffrage movement…caved in to the racism of the surrounding society, sacrificing democratic principles and the dignity of black people if it seemed advantageous to white women’s obtaining the vote” (Daniels, Trouble with White Feminism”). And so the Women’s Rights movement evolved from a history of pushing other minorities down only to get ahead themselves. This racial aggression continuously manifested itself over the coming century, ignored by the popular feminist agenda until finally during the marches of January, 2017 it was presented for all to see.
Since January, 2017 many observations have been made regarding the Women’s March on Washington. Criticisms of its failure to promote intersectionality have since been recognized by those that spearhead the Women’s Rights movement. On the Women’s March on Washington website itself the creed of “women have intersecting identifies and are therefore impacted by a multitude of social justice and human rights issues” has been adopted to the platform. The co-chairs, Breanne Butler and Tamika D. Mallory, who organized the January marches, have been quoted as saying, “We are all uplifting the voices that have been marginalized for a long time,” and, “ We can’t receive justice if we are not able to collaborate with other races, people from different backgrounds, to stand in solidarity” (Brinlee, “11 Quoted From Organizers of the Women’s March to Kick Your Feminism Into High Gear”). The Women’s Rights movement has continued strongly past the January marches and already the question of intersectionality within feminism is being addressed. On March 8th, International Women’s Day, the Women’s March on Washington organized and effectively executed the Day Without a Woman Strikes. The strikes which were described as an act “for equity, justice, and the human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people, through a one day demonstration of economic solidarity,” (A Day Without a Woman, Women’s March on Washington) were exactly that: an exercise of solidarity. Those who were able to strike and have their absence felt did so not because they were privileged, but because others were not. As described by the March on Washington website, “We strike for them.” This simple four word mantra signifies the turning point in the fight for Women’s Rights. The call for action clearly states a cooperation between those who are more privileged and the ones they fight alongside. For the first time, the popular feminist movement is recognizing its countless moving parts, it’s millions of different contributors, and empowering all of them by sharing the benefits that white women old in the social hierarchy.
The Women’s March of January 2017, which should be renamed the First Women’s March for what it was able to achieve in terms addressing the issues of intersectionality between all feminists, was instrumental in continuing the progression of the Feminist Movement. With the election of a president who was recorded saying, “grab them by the pussy,” more than ever the female body has been under attack. The First Women’s March for all its faults reaffirmed the strength, anger, and passion of those fighting for the equal rights of all genders. In doing so it provided a platform for the countless number of perspectives within feminism. The Women’s March on Washington saw for the first time not only men, women, and children coming together on a massive scale to fight for the same rights, but men, women, and children of all social backgrounds coming together as equals in the fight. Young black women were finally able to address certain issues they felt ignored or glossed over by older white women to those persons directly. Gay individuals were able to communicate how they felt misrepresented by the popular feminist agenda. Transgender citizens who did not identify as women were still afforded the opportunity to occupy the same space as other people they were protesting alongside. The demonstrations birthed countless of heated discussions even within themselves. Signs declaring “White Women What the Fuck?” or “White Women Elected Trump” that were carried proudly by some were not so well received by others and yet it created a necessary dialogue between all the champions of feminism. The demonstrations provided a space in which all individuals could finally physically speak to each other instead of insulting each other online and because of this the lack of intersectionality in the movement could no longer be ignored by popular feminism. So while the “First Women’s March”, in its inception and initial execution, failed to represent a true fight for the equalities of everyone, it created a forum in which feminists could finally talk about what “feminism” really means. It created a model that future activists could modify and enhance to stand for all oppressed individuals more effectively. Something that is evidenced by the emphasis on solidarity with which the organizers of the January marches approached the Day Without a Woman strikes. Most importantly, the Women’s March on Washington demonstrations worked to display the true strength, passion, and rage of progress. The success of the January marches, the First Women’s March, will forever be an inspiration for Women’s Rights marches still to come. Marches that must continue now more than ever. Marches that need to become fixtures in society not just over the next four years but beyond that until true equality is achieved. Marches that wouldn’t have the space, strength, or support to thrive without the First Women’s March.
Bates, Karen Grigsby. “Race And Feminism: Women’s March Recalls The Touchy History.” Code Switch: Race and Identity, Remixed, 21 Jan. 2017, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/01/21/510859909/race-and-feminism-womens-march-recalls-the-touchy-history
Booker, Bobbi. “Millon Woman March: 1997 Philly event equally significant.” The Philadelphia Tribune, 2 Oct. 2015, http://www.phillytrib.com/news/million-woman-march-philly-event-equally-significant/article_50ac7b03-3586-559b-9fcd-4f25ff008381.html
Brinlee, Morgan. “11 Quotes From Organizers Of The Women’s March To Kick Your Feminism Into High Gear.” Bustle, 16 Jan. 2017, https://www.bustle.com/p/11-quotes-from-organizers-of-the-womens-march-to-kick-your-feminism-into-high-gear-30351
Crockett, Emily. “A Day Without a Woman was about solidarity, not privilege.” Vox, 9 Mar. 2017, http://www.vox.com/identities/2017/3/8/14850984/day-without-a-woman-strike-privilege-solidarity-international-womens-day
Daniels, Jessie. “Trouble with White Feminism: Racial Origins of U.S. Feminism.” Racism Review, 18 Feb. 2014, http://www.racismreview.com/blog/2014/02/18/trouble-with-white-feminism/
Willoughby, Vanessa. “Signs at the Women’s March on Washington Called Out White Feminism.” Teen Vogue, 23 Jan. 2017, http://www.teenvogue.com/story/signs-at-the-womens-march-on-washington-called-out-white-feminism
“A Day Without A Woman.” Women’sMarch, Mar. 2017, https://www.womensmarch.com/womensday
“Race Issues and the Women’s March on Washington.” NYTimes, 12 Jan. 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/12/opinion/race-issues-and-the-womens-march-on-washington.html?_r=0