Marching into the future

Earlier this year saw the second edition of the Women’s March. Thousands of women took to the streets in protest against gender discrimination.

The Women’s March on Washington was created in 2016 by retired lawyer Theresa Shook sparked in the wake of the American election night, prompting women to gather to take a stand against a system allowing men in power to ignore injustice against women.

Following the unprecedented response from thousands of attendees, activist took over the coordination of the event, allowing the movement to spread to cities across the United States and Canada.

“This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up”, we read on their official Facebook page. “We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognising there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.”

The Women’s march calls for women to stand together. However, a few incidents highlight that this mission statement falls short. Aiming to be rallying, it the mobilising event is also controversial.

At its inception organisers first named the protest, ‘Million Woman March’. The name originated from a 1997 protest in Philadelphia organised by the black activists for black women, a gesture appropriating black intellectual labour and efforts by white feminists without the acknowledgement of its history. The lack of intersectional feminism caught the intention of community activists Linda Sarsour, Tamika D. Mallory, Carmen Perez who worked in cooperation with the Co-Organizer Bob Bland, and Co-founders Teresa Shook, Vanessa Wruble, Evvie Harmonwas, who renamed it “The Women’s March” on Washington, a reference to a 1963 demonstration for civil rights, which received the blessing from MLK’s daughter Bernice King.

Then no one could ignore the oblivious pussy hat, which has become a symbol of the march, meant as a reclaiming of female sexuality. Donned by thousands of women during the march, the hat missed the mark: it has been called out as yet another demonstration of white feminism, notably because not all women have vaginas, and not all vaginas are pink. In Harlem, during the march, the Harriet Tubman Memorial was coiffed with a pink hat by enthusiastic protesters. Tubman (1822 –1913) was an important black activist born into slavery who worked on the Underground Railroad, actively fighting for the rights and freedom of enslaved black people. She also took part in the woman suffrage movement, a conviction shared by fellow suffragettes, many of them being overtly racist. That includes pioneer Susan B. Anthony, who said, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman”, meaning that black women were not considered as women.  Needless to say, putting a pussy hat on Tubman demonstrated ignorance and disrespect.

Recognising that no one is ever free of making any mistake, it is not only encouraged  but a responsibility to correct the path that has been taken when these errors of judgement occur, however hard it may be. Most initiatives, like the March are born out of good intention, but their impact is not something as controllable.

Taking action, from everyday actions to movement building requires the acknowledgement of what unites and divides us, and to consider the social, racial, gendered, and historical factors that give voice to some while silencing others. This realisation is needed to work towards intersectionality and inclusivity in our movements. Taking a quick glance at a few events punctuating the march’s short history, we realise The Women’s March is a prime example that we still need to better educate our collective conscience.

Saying that “just a name”, or “just a hat” is a refusal to have a conversation. Such actions like these have consequences going beyond excluding people. They impact the possibility of improving conversation. Because yes, in order to change things, representation matters. We must collectively and individually put efforts into broadening the vision before  we boasting about speaking for all women. That vision means hearing, considering and inviting all voices to be heard.

Protesting is not about instant gratification, such as posting a status or an Instagram photo, it is a deep act of resistance. Let’s keep this in mind as we move forward.

 

Christelle Saint-Julien is a Montreal-based writer, translator, and musician. She has a Stockholm syndrome for the internet and may have responsible for the copy that subconsciously made you buy the pants you are now wearing. She’s always working on multiple Word documents and thinks never thinks she has anything to say but can’t stop writing about it.

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