Why Making a Witty Sign and Going to the Women’s March Just Isn’t Enough
Around this time last year, I was scrolling through social media to see hundreds of women protesting at the Women’s March. I was so incredibly inspired by powerful women coming together for a cause, and I thought that the feminist movement was making strong steps towards the common goal: equality for all women. However, because I only saw the effects of last year’s march from the comfort of my home, I decided to attend in 2018.
When I arrived, my sign reading “Feminazis vs. Actual Nazis” held high, I began to realize something. As I looked around, I read an array of signs that read “Tiny hands, huge asshole,” or “Trump likes Nickelback.” I looked at my own sign and thought, what exactly was this doing for the movement? As a white woman, yes I experience certain degrees of oppression, but not nearly as much compared to marginalized groups. I should be using my privilege to help others, not as entertainment – in the form of a witty, instagram-able sign. In simpler terms, the Women’s March and overall movement is mainly focused on first world, cisgender white problems - and white feminists need to expand their perspective to include all women.
You may now be wondering: “How is the Women’s March harmful to the feminist movement? How can I, a hopeful and accepting feminist, work to improve this protest?” Well, I’m here to tell you!
First of all, the intent of the Women’s March is to, of course, empower women. However, there seems to be a lack of inclusion for all different types of women. Hollis Westling, a member of The Girlie Project (Emerson’s all female/feminine identifying comedy troupe), describes the Women’s march as “TERFY,” which she then defines as Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism. “There’s the whole pussy hat thing,” Westling explains, “and all the signs were about vaginas, and centering around vaginas equaling women. Which they don’t.”
The stigma at these marches that women are all similar in this way – all of them being biologically similar, is evidently harmful for the movement. If feminists really want equality for all sexes and genders, then the lack of representation for transgender and non-binary women is absolutely not helping to achieve this goal. So, step one to becoming a better, more inclusive feminist: remember to be considerate of the different anatomy of all women. Expand your idea of what a woman is to anyone who identifies with femininity. Do not limit women to people with vaginas! Your pussy hat may be cute, and make you feel like a total badass, but it may be time to hang it up for the year.
While also being considerate of other women’s anatomy is helpful, it is extremely beneficial to understand the issues of transgender women as well as your own. Transgender women (AND men) face the most amount of hate crimes throughout the entire LGBTQ+ community: according to the 2013 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) report on hate violence, 72% of the victims of LGBTQ+ related hate crimes and/or homicides in 2013 were transgender women. In 2017, according to the Human Rights Campaign, 80% of fatal violences against transgender people in the US were transgender women. The human rights campaign also reports that when approaching police or law enforcement, most transgender people are hit with physical assault, sexual assault, or simply not supplied service because of their identity. These are issues that need equal amounts of representation in the feminist movement, if not more.
Second of all, the Women’s March protest is not giving quality representation to women of color. “It’s really centered around the first world,” says Samara Debruyn, a member of Emerson Muslim Students Association. “And [global feminist issues] are kind of an afterthought, not anything other than that.” Maysoon Khan, another member of the organization, added “We don’t even focus on women’s human rights at all within these marches, which is the main issue that’s at hand, right? The main thing we need to fix are these human rights issues…but we focus on everything else, and that’s the root of the problem.”
Internationally, women are still denied the basic human rights of safety and to their own bodies. According to the Feminist Majority Foundation, some large-scale issues happening globally are FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), sex trafficking, honor killings, acid attacks, and child marriage (to name a few). Also, the National Women’s law center reports that women of color in the US face an even larger pay gap than white women; making 63 cents to every dollar a white man makes (while white women are making about 80 cents to the dollar). These issues are extremely important to discuss at protests such as the Women’s march, but they are overpowered by white feminist issues.
The main issue with the Women’s March is that the protest is given this huge platform to speak for change, and they are not using it adequately. “White feminists need to realize their privilege, and use their privilege as a tool,” Westling added. “We need to stop thinking of women as cis white women.”
So, yes, speak out about gender inequality, but say more. Speak about change for black women, muslim women, LGBTQ+ women, non binary women, all women. The only way we will achieve true equality, is if we work together to reach equality for all - not just some.
Photos by: Megan Ellis