It has been incredibly hard trying to navigate the difficult, uncharted waters of the US election, as a newcomer to the country, a liberal, and a feminist. One event which helped me to realise that hope was not lost however, and that I was surrounded by like-minded people was the Downtown LA women’s march. Standing in a crowd of tens of thousands of women, men and children all protesting peacefully, and refusing to give up their long fought for rights, was empowering and humbling.
Since the march however there has been widespread criticism and condemnation of these events which took place across all 7 continents of the globe, and united millions of people. Sadly, much of this criticism has come from women themselves.
Many women chose not to partake in the marches, and that was their personal choice; however many felt the need to go further and express why in their view these rallies were in fact, a waste of time and energy. Firstly, if you didn’t see the purpose or the alleged outcome of the march then that is okay – because the march wasn’t necessarily for you, it was for us. Too much emphasis has been placed on a quantitative goal or outcome to the day’s events, and this feels to me as though critics are somewhat missing the point. Yes, the description of the march was vague, but this does not need to be a bad thing – because of this women of all ages, backgrounds, races, religions and political views were able to unite, and each promote their own issues and agendas peacefully alongside one another. The final result was that of a feeling – rather than any affirmative action, and again, that is okay. People who have felt disillusioned, angry and resentful over the past few months, and after the election of Donald Trump as President, left on Saturday feeling re-energized and hopeful. Many women will go on to support one another in grassroots political action over the next four years; and made contacts and connections on Saturday which will allow them to do this. The ability to inspire and ignite the passion of millions of people in one single day, should not be underestimated.
Further criticism has been flung at the women’s march online, describing it as ‘self centered’, ‘superficial’ and ‘whiny’ with many keyboard warriors poking fun at marcher’s signs and the pink hats many chose to wear. Whilst I did not personally buy into the need to wear a pink hat, and neither did many participants, at the end of the day it is our event and our campaign – why should the attire some chose to wear bother anyone? Many commented on their belief that this was predominantly a protest for white, millennial women who just wanted to post some pictures on Instagram in the name of ‘girl power’; which is deeply insulting. The need that some men, and women, have to downplay and, to some extent, infantilize women’s rights movements, is a recurring and dangerous theme. Saturday’s events have been some of the largest protests in decades, and demonstrated months of organization, sleepless nights, and tireless political activism from the campaign leaders. Women traveled from nearby states, used their own money to pay for accommodation, took time off work, and stood in crowds for hours – if they had wanted a quick post and picture about ‘girl power’, they could have just gone to a Beyonce concert.
The original women’s march campaign never professed to speak on behalf of every woman, and therefore it was for each woman to decide whether or not this was an event she wanted to take part in – I have friends who said that this wasn’t their preferred form of activism, and that is their prerogative. It is absolutely fine not to take part, it is another matter entirely, to attack and try to devalue someone else’s means of democratic expression.
Out of the many reasons and explanations given by women for not joining the marches across the world on Saturday, there is only one that I cannot buy – and that is that they believe women are already equal, and that we do not have to protect the rights of women anymore. That is false. Women are still victims of domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault and harassment, lower wages, and a lack of representation in politics and the media, every single day. Yes, some of these issues do affect men, but they do so at a much lower rate. The western world is still an example of a highly functioning patriarchal system; and despite being reminded that life is much harder for women in other parts of the world (which is true) this does not make women forget the injustices they face here in the US.
Women for Trump attended many rallies during the election, stating that they did not find his words offensive or disrespectful to women, and some went further, saying they would give up their right to vote if it would ensure his win. I sincerely hope that these women understand that without thousands of their sisters protesting, fighting and in some cases dying, for our right to vote, in the past, then they wouldn’t have the platform to make these comments from. Without the women’s liberation movement you would not have the right to be at a political rally in the first place, you certainly wouldn’t be able to speak to the media – and that coffee you just paid for, using your own debit card, would be out of the question. When I hear women saying that they find Trump’s words acceptable, such as his infamous ‘grab them by the p***y’ controversy; I find it hard to believe that they actually mean that. Would you allow your son to use those words at school, and speak to girls in this way? Would you expect your husband or partner to remain quiet, or even laugh along, if someone addressed you in that manner? I highly doubt it. What you are actually saying is that you place this man’s politics, and your hopes for him as president, over his less than ideal rhetoric towards women. Which is fine in a way – you have the right to hold that opinion. But please remember it is an opinion you wouldn’t have been allowed to hold without women’s rights.
In no way do I wish to take away from what was an extremely successful and important day. In many ways I believe that critics of the women’s marches are hitting back especially hard, because they were caught off guard by the unprecedented amount of support shown for these events. The vast majority of media coverage has been extremely favorable, and news that no arrests were made in Washington where the main march took place, go to show that this was a peaceful, and positive form of protest. When people ask you what these marches were for, and what exactly they went to prove, I would say that it shows the president, and all politicians, that millions of people are watching and we have the ability to speak up. Anyone who takes issue with the fact that these events were named ‘women’s marches’ needs only to watch the news coverage on CNN of 8 men and 1 woman making up a panel to discuss the aftermath and implications of Saturday – proving that even when women create the news, they don’t get asked to comment on it.
Finally speakers from the White House have made comments to the effect that Mr Trump is not being allowed to ‘enjoy’ his first few days of presidency, after the protests at the weekend; proving that the rights, dignity and concerns of the world’s women should never interrupt the enjoyment of a older, white, male billionaire basking in his supreme power.