On January 20, I joined the hundreds of thousands of people marching down Central Park West in the second annual New York City Women’s March, which fell on the anniversary of both the first Women’s March and Trump’s inauguration. While taking part in the march, sign in hand (I opted for the Michelle Obama quote, “History has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own”), I noticed certain aspects of the march that were either empowering, or subject to criticism (both in person and online).
Here’s where the 2018 Women’s March succeeded, and where it failed.
1. Success: It brought together strangers both old and young.
While my group was taking the subway back to campus after the march, two older women sitting near us on the train asked to read our signs (I, personally, opted for a shortened part of a well-known Michelle Obama quote), and complimented us on them, before noting how wonderful it was to see marchers gathering all over the country. I was glad that although our generation often clashes with older generations, especially on political and social issues, many of us were able to agree that coming together for feminism (although that didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped – but more on that later) was something that needed to be done.
On the other end of the spectrum, the event was full of children marching alongside parents. I saw some holding up their own signs, and many sitting atop the shoulders of their parents, reminding me of the common slogan: “Here’s to strong women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.”
My favorite sign? “We’re marching for our daughter, due May 2018.” Now that’s what I call starting early.
2. Failure: Certain signs and points of focus alienated many women who ultimately decided not to show up.
Unfortunately, many of the women who participated in the Women’s March this year either didn’t hear or didn’t listen to criticism that surrounded the march last year, and I’m not talking about conservative backlash. Women of color and trans women in particular were among the groups that felt the march doesn’t do an effective job of being inclusive to all those who identify as women, and ultimately many of them opted out of marching this year. Sound confusing? Let me explain.
You know the signs that a bunch of women brought that have vagina imagery? Or the ones that use vagina- or ovary-related puns? What about those pussy hats that became the symbol of last year’s march? Now think about that not all women are cisgender, and not all women even have vaginas or ovaries. How would they feel when they see something that says, “Power to the pussy” or “the future is female” (since female refers to biological sex, and not to gender identification)? It’s a catchy, alliterative slogan, but it gives off the message that having a vagina is a fundamental part of womanhood, and as such, that this march is centered around the goals and needs of cisgender women only. Not a good look for something that claims to be inclusive.
Women of color also felt sidelined by these efforts. To bring up the pink pussy hats again, it’s not a good idea to use those as a universal symbol for women, because guess what? It’s not universal. Not all women’s vulvas are pink; most white women’s are, though, and of course, it seems like their representation always takes priority.
Celebrating your own genitalia is all well and good, but when you generalize the entire gender and assume that they all share your experiences, think about who you’re excluding.
3. Success: It called more attention to issues currently in the national spotlight.
By now, the #MeToo movement is making its way into daily conversation, and the reactions to sexual harassment and assault are finally having (what seems like) longer-lasting effects. Especially with the shifts in attitude happening in Hollywood, people are starting to approach these issues differently, but Hollywood is an industry that operates pretty differently from those that most of the marchers work in.
That’s why it was nice to see so many signs centering around these issues of consent, harassment, and assault; it indicated that this “reckoning,” as the media likes to call it, isn’t only at the forefront of celebrities’ minds, but also those of everyday citizens. Sexual assault was a topic that many used to shy away from because it didn’t seem like a palatable topic, but hopefully we can keep up this momentum and continue to change the attitudes that have let this behavior continue for so long.
4. Failure: It looks like the Women’s March will become an annual tradition, but what about the rest of the year?
Another point of criticism toward marchers over the past year has been the general inactivity since the 2017 Women’s March. People showed up in huge numbers and took their cute Instagram pictures with their signs and talked about how much of a feminist they are. Great. But then what?
The feminist “lifestyle” is another aspect of white feminism that has been called out in the past, because of its performative aspect: these women love to smile for the camera and take credit for “doing good,” but after the flash goes off, not much happens. They go back to their lives, unaware of their privilege, and don’t partake in making sure the spark that starts with the Women’s March is sustained.
There are absolutely ways around this. You can volunteer for organizations like Planned Parenthood, you can call your representatives when politicians make important decisions that affect not only women, but women of color, trans women, and the LGBT community, you can donate to the #TimesUp movement or any movement of your choice. You can also listen: listen to the women who have been pushed aside, to the women whose voices are being drowned out. If we take criticisms into consideration and move forward instead of continuing exactly as we did last year, we might see a brighter future sooner.