March 25, 2017

Millions Join Women’s Marches Worldwide, Empowering Some Femme Voices while Diminishing Others

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Unicorn Riot breaks down the successes and missteps from Saturday’s historic rally.

Unicorn Riot

On January 21st, 2017, there were nearly five hundred Women’s Marches in the United States and two hundred internationally. Attendance at the largest marches, located in Washington, D.C., Chicago, NYC, Boston, Denver, and Los Angeles, were estimated to number between 100,000-750,000 each.

According to the official Women’s March website, the intent of the march was as follows:

In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us…We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.”

Although the combined marches had record numbers for a one-day event which created a powerful statement for unity, equality, and justice, the marches resulted for the most part in highlighting the voices and needs of the least marginalized people, leaving some to publicly proclaim their intent on being absent from the march.

Historically, feminism and women’s movements of the last several decades have been criticized for their lack of analysis of all intersections of womanhood.

Criticism and distrust of “white feminism” have been offered by scholars of varying intersections. Most mock the tendency of “white feminism” to always point to the lowest common denominator: assigned gender. Some problems with using assigned gender as a basis for unity among women are that for some, race is inseparable from gender, and for others, gender is not correlated to that which they were assigned at birth.

One of the organizers and speakers at the Women’s March on Washington was Gloria Steinem, best known for her leadership in the (white) feminism movement in the 1960s-70s, and lesser known for her work with the CIA. She reminded the crowd of mostly white people that to create change, they occasionally need to step away from their computers and smartphones:

Thank you for understanding that sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are. Sometimes pressing send is not enough.” – Gloria Steinem

During Saturday’s multi-city protest, millions of feminists worldwide took to the streets to fulfill the organizers mission to “send a message to [America’s] new government on their first day in office”. Whether or not that message was received by the new administration is yet to be determined, but the message sent to the women in the intersections, like Patience Zalanga in the video below, was clear.


For almost 250 years, feminism has been intertwined with racism, as pointed out by Brittany Oliver, a women’s rights activist and artist in Baltimore, MD:

During the suffrage movement from 1848-1923, Black women were not even seen as human. White women who led equality campaigns in Washington, D.C. requested that black suffragists walk at the back of their parades. As a result, Black women chose not to march at all and refused to participate. Isn’t it funny how history repeats itself?…Sorry, but I just can’t ignore Susan B. Anthony who stated, “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.” – Brittany Oliver

Photo Credit: Kevin Banatte

Because of the strong ties between racism and feminism, it is not surprising to some that approximately 53% of white women who voted (and 63% of white men who voted) cast their votes for Donald Trump. The privileges white people have in society are clear when looking at these voting statistics, because unlike most people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized people, the majority of white folks voted for someone who is overwhelmingly oppressive to every marginalized group.

Jenae Holloway, in her open letter to white feminist allies in Glamour, speaks to this topic:

Many of the white women who attended the march expressed feelings of alienation, disillusionment with American values, and, most of all, fear of losing their rights under a Trump administration. Girl, same. I GET IT . . . But for me, feeling scared and alienated didn’t start on January 20. Unlike many white women, I carry the burden of worrying about my brother, who could get stopped by a police officer for a traffic violation and never come home, and about the black and brown children who will remain trapped in the cycle of poverty as our new President and his unqualified nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, consider dismantling our public education system . . . people in marginalized communities don’t have the privilege to stop marching.”

The current popular rhetoric regarding critiques made of the Women’s March are that the critics are divisive. Organizers such as Nelini Stamp, who participated in the early stages of the NYC Women’s march, sees it from a different angle and stated that to celebrate how there were zero arrests during the day of marches is, itself, divisive.

In her assessment, Stamp pointed out a fundamental barrier to the type of unity that the Women’s March proposes as its goal; that perhaps the millions of feminists from Saturday’s marches are largely absent at the more intersectional marches because of a widespread misconception that issues faced by those in the intersections are “bad” issues.

I’m always happy, personally, when there are no arrests, but I think that it’s a little bit harmful because it invalidates and separates what’s a ‘good’ protester and what’s a ‘bad’ protester.” – Nelini Stamp

An indigenous woman known as hokte on Twitter posted a string of tweets highlighting her “disturbing” experience at the march with white women gawking at her and the group of indigenous women she was with:

In Brittany Oliver’s blog post entitled “Why I Do Not Support The Women’s March on Washington” she voices her disappointment:

As a Black woman, I am once again let down by people who call themselves feminists. I have been marginalized by the movement and now, my guard is up. Despite my posts being deleted from the national Facebook event page, I’ve continued to be very vocal in my disappointment in the political co-optation of the “One Million Women,” now known as the “March on Washington” scheduled for January 21, 2017 in Washington D.C.”

The One Million Woman March in 1997, inspired partly by The Million Man March two years earlier, was organized by Phile Chionesu and Asia Coney, women of color who were Philadelphia grassroots activists.

According to BlackPast.org, the march had an estimated 750,000 people in attendance.

Although the march was portrayed as a gathering of black women, other groups were represented as well. Their common goal was the rebuilding of black communities. Chionesu and Coney hoped the march would counteract negative images of African American women in popular culture and the media. 

Unlike the Million Man March two years earlier, the Million Woman March did not rely on big names or the celebrities of the civil rights movement to fuel attendance. Nonetheless several influential black women attended and spoke including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of South African President Nelson Mandela, and California Congresswoman Maxine Waters.”

The march introduced a platform of twelve issues, the first of which was called for by Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who was president of the Congressional Black Caucus, to investigate the accusations that the Central Intelligence Agency had helped to introduce crack cocaine to American cities.

In a New York Times article published on the same day of the march on October 26th, 1997, other platform issues are mentioned:

“Other issues included a call for separate black public schools, more programs to help women leaving prison adjust to the outside world and new ways to help end homelessness.”

The official website for the Women’s March makes no mention of The Million Woman March, nor the March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., effectively erasing these historical events which laid the foundation for the Women’s March.

Charity Avé-Lallemant, who was the Maryland State Admin for the march, resigned from her role publicly on Facebook on November 16th, stating:

“Although I wholeheartedly support the spirit of the march, there are numerous organizational issues that concern me gravely.

The core organizers of this proposed march:

• Co-opted names from two distinct, renowned and historic Marches, the 1963 ‘March on Washington’ and the 1997 ‘Million Woman March’ and are unwilling to entertain alternative nomenclature;

• Are ignorant of historic civil rights movement dates and events;

• Silenced my voice when I raised concerns about a lack of inclusion of WOC and LGBTQ+ in core leadership roles on a national organizing level.”

Another organizing leader, Rosie Campos, stepped down from her position as co-organizer of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the march for similar reasons, including a lack of inclusion and transparency.

Jamilah Lemieux, writer and vice president of Men’s and News Programming for InteractiveOne, wrote an opinion piece for ColorLines entitled “Why I’m Skipping The Women’s March on Washington.

Of course, much of the post-election news cycle was dominated by White folks wringing their hands: How could this happen? Why did it happen? There was lots of weeping and wailing from women who could get the answers to those questions by simply asking their relatives, friends and partners who put Trump in power. As fearful as I am for the lives that are most vulnerable in the wake of a Trump presidency (including immigrants of color, Muslims, LGBT people and, of course, Black folks), there was a tiny, tiny part of me that felt a tiny, tiny bit of satisfaction at seeing how sad many White women were. Finally, they got to know some semblance of the pain and anguish that accompanies our lives in this country.”

If the Women’s March is using the noun “women” to be a blanket name to cover all types of women/femme-identifying people, then they must recognize that there are many different types of “women,” and therefore they must understand and acknowledge that not all the people under this erasure blanket are on equal playing fields.

According to the Pew Research Center:

White and Asian women have narrowed the wage gap with white men to a much greater degree than black and Hispanic women. For example, white women narrowed the wage gap in median hourly earnings by 22 cents from 1980 (when they earned, on average, 60 cents for every dollar earned by a white man) to 2015 (when they earned 82 cents). By comparison, black women only narrowed that gap by 9 cents, from earning 56 cents for every dollar earned by a white man in 1980 to 65 cents today. Asian women followed roughly the trajectory of white women (but earned a slightly higher 87 cents per dollar earned by a white man in 2015), whereas Hispanic women fared even worse than black women, narrowing the gap by just 5 cents (earning 58 cents on the dollar in 2015).”

For transgender people who don’t “pass” as one of the two accepted gender identities in society, “man” or “woman,” one in four will lose their job.

According to National Center for Transgender Equality:

Refusal to hire, privacy violations, harassment, and even physical and sexual violence on the job are common occurrences, and are experienced at even higher rates by transgender people of color. Many people report changing jobs to avoid discrimination or the risk of discrimination. Extreme levels of unemployment and poverty lead one in eight to become involved in underground economies—such as sex and drug work—in order to survive.”

Janet Mock, writer, TV host and advocate, who as part of the Women’s March policy table pushed for the addition of the line “we stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements” to the march’s vision, wrote in a blog post before the march:

It is not a statement that is controversial to me because as a trans woman of color who grew up in low-income communities and who advocates, resists, dreams and writes alongside these communities, I know that underground economies are essential parts of the lived realities of women and folk. I know sex work to be work…My work and my feminism rejects respectability politics, whorephobia, slut-shaming and the misconception that sex workers, or folks engaged in the sex trades by choice or circumstance, need to be saved, that they are colluding with the patriarchy by ‘selling their bodies.’ ”

A person who asked to be quoted using their psuedonym, Syren, shared their thoughts with us on the flip-flop stance of the Women’s March on sex worker’s rights:

I did not participate in the Women’s March. I woke up that morning to lazily scroll through my social media feed of gleaming white cis women taking selfies in pussy hats while throwing words like “resistance” and “revolution” around in ways that felt careless and cheapening. I live in a city that declares itself to be the most progressive city in the state, a sort of liberal utopia with 5 non profits around every corner. I am no stranger to this white, liberal, heteronormative feminism that this breeds – infecting our movements and silencing the work of trans women, women of color, and non-binary femmes. As a sex worker, I felt particularly disturbed by the national Women’s March “Guiding Vision” that silently removed the line “…and we stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements” – it felt personal, and to be honest – it hurt.

They also explained their decision not to attend the march:

Without being connected to a strong solidarity network in my city, I felt further uneasy about showing up alone to an event whose principles had retracted visibility for me. I pictured myself lost amongst a sea of pantsuit Becky’s showing up to their annual “feel good” event. (This is in no way meant to suggest that all of those in attendance was a Becky, but judging from the photos and report backs from friends afterwards – they were the overwhelming majority.) Furthermore, I felt that if I chose to be present at the event, I would be required to fit into this narrative of “woman” that did not actually represent my life or experiences as a person whose gender is fluid. I feel no solidarity with the obsession of equating feminism to having a vagina. Though I love my body, vagina included, I cannot talk about vaginas in the context of women-focused events as if celebrating vaginas doesn’t have terrifying implications for people that I love. To put it frankly, I am angry and I am tired and I am terrified – and the Women’s March was no place for me to find solace. Instead, I will continue to build affinity with those around me whom I do not have to prove my worth. I will continue to quietly organize and take the streets on my own terms.” – Syren

 

While trans people are at high risk for discrimination and assault, with 21% of trans, genderqueer, and nonconforming college students having been sexually assaulted in 2015, Indigenous people, no matter their gender-identity, are at the greatest risk of sexual assault.

According to the Department of Justice, Native Americans are two-and-a-half times more likely to experience a rape/sexual assault compared to all other ethnic groups in the United States.

That horrific statistic was one of the motivations for Denver artist, Sky Yarbrough, to create the Earring Exchange Project, which she showcased at the Women’s March in Denver.

Photo Credit: Megan Sena

Sky Yarbrough created the life-size statue, pictured above second from the left, for her project. She explains she had dreams and visions of this image and knew that she had to share it with her community.

What it got me thinking was how we get interrupted when it comes to healing, especially when it’s sexual trauma on any level, that we’re shamed to this place of having to do this hard work [of healing] in isolation and that includes forgiving… The representation of the statue that’s being created is a place where people can hang ribbons and earrings and leave an aspect of hurt and to start their journey without being isolated. So they give up something of themselves, an intimate object like an earring.”

Her art piece is interactive and collaborative and encourages people to hang a single earring onto the statue, and then take a stranger’s single earring which they hung. The act of taking an earring symbolizes the hope and solidarity community can and should provide for one another. It is also a statement against sexual assault and rape culture highlighting the most affected populations – indigenous women, women of color, trans women and non-binary identities.

The taking of an earring is just as important as letting go. So taking an earring is you’re also accepting the idea and the commitment that you’re going to help someone carry their forgiving prayer. And in turn what happens is that you’re counteracting the isolation. You have this intimate object of somebody else’s story, and you really don’t know the story, but you know that something happened, so you’re going to help them in spirit by a symbol–carrying their earring. You’re going to help them carry that process of healing.”


Aside from any apparent disconnections between the women and femmes who are all proclaiming their beliefs in true equality and justice for all, with some greatly concerned that others need to become more educated on intersectionality, most of the attendees at the marches across the country and the world are strongly united against one issue –Trump.

In our video below from the march in Minneapolis, Miriam, a Muslim woman spoke of her concerns:

I’m out here today because I’m a Muslim woman wearing Hijab. The things that he’s said and the door’s that he’s opened, that’s what I’m scared of. Especially wearing Hijab, we have to go and take self defense classes just in case somebody comes and attacks us and tries to pull off our Hijab or tries to even kill us or hurt us. So the fact that he has made it normalized and his whole agenda and platform is on dehumanizing people, so that’s kind of what I don’t really like about him.

Tricia spoke about her fear of losing healthcare:

It’s important that I’m here. I don’t feel lonely anymore. On election night I felt lonely. Part of the reason why I am so afraid of this administration is because Trump has said that he wants to repeal “Obamacare,” and that scares me. That scares me that I’m not going to be able to take care of myself and my health. My life, and my liberty, and my pursuit of happiness should not be limited by my ability to pay for my healthcare.

Patience spoke of her concerns with the Women’s March and the “white feminism” she saw dominating the march:

Now, we’re in the state of Minnesota, so that means it’s pretty white but then also I think it’s very telling of who gets invited into these spaces and who’s not present and why. So, it looks great–still skeptical. White feminism is trash, I will say that. It looks really, really impressive in numbers but again, it’s only numbers. Black people are still dying, people of color are still dying, incarceration is still a thing. I think it’s great that people are coming out here and posting pictures on Facebook, ’cause it’s really important for people to know where you were. This is important and at the same time, don’t let it be just that picture, you know? It’s kind of frustrating, to be honest with you. I know that it’s empowering for different people and I think that’s also just as important as well. For some people this might be their first time. I will also continue to question why is this your first time because this has been happening, we been struggling for a minute now, so we’ll see. We’ll see where this takes us but I’m definitely struggling to get fully behind it. And you start talking about intersectionality, you start talking about some of these issues that specifically affect Black and Brown women and they’re like “Whoa, whoa, whoa! But, like, what about me?” And I’m just like, “Yo, stop centering yourselves.” So these are a lot of the same women that are out here. It’s the same women that I’ve experienced all my life who say that they’re for women’s rights but don’t do shit when Korryn Gaines, Penny Proud, Eric Garner, all getting killed by the police and all of a sudden wanna be political and wanna be out in the streets, even though they’re the same people that are telling us, “Why are you blocking the freeway?” So it’s just really frustrating, honestly. I’m really trying to look at the positive side of this but I’m struggling . . . Fuck Donald Trump”

In Washington, D.C. the young attendees had a lot to say about the future and how they wanted to come together to fight the divides created by bigotry.

From youth attending the Washington, D.C. march interviewed in video below:

Women have the right to protest against what we hate. and what Trump’s doing… so when we grow up, when children grow up, the can be whatever they want and no one can tell what they can do.”

It’s about women of color, it’s about transgender women, it’s about people of color, it’s about everyone who has been disenfranchised by the people in the white house, by the people in the congress, by the people in the senate, by the supreme court. We are not here for just one group of people, we are here for everyone!”

…them trying to regulate reproductive rights, our president making sexist remarks and everyone dismisses it” (When asked what the most important issues are)

“I’m just scared because I have so many friends are families that are in different communities, I don’t want any otherness….one day this won’t be necessary.”


 

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