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.

Why Michelle Obama Speaks To Me

By Christelle Saint-Julien

When Michelle O. drops by your city, you answer that call. That is what no less than 10 200 ( more than for President Obama, who visited Montreal a few months prior) somewhat did on a February evening, eager and earnest to hear from one of the most influential women in the world.

Michelle Obama is as inspiring and charismatic you can imagine. But the reasons why we are so drawn to her go beyond these two qualities.

It is somewhat ironic that in the press, the former FLOTUS is praised for her sense of style and poise before her accomplishments. Being interested in fashion undermines your ability to be anything else. The way she carries herself is absolutely compelling, but as an enviable status of a style icon, Michelle Obama achievements include being an advocate for social change, education, gender equality.

She is the role model I longed to have and that I constantly look up to. It is quite a rare feeling to relate to someone you have never met, is famous (for all the good reason), lives in a different country and whose last title I couldn’t envy less. But Michelle — given how close I feel to her, calling her by her first name feels more appropriate — has demonstrated a strength of character through her career path, as a self-made woman followed by an extremely public life, which I think is exceptional. But Michelle breaks it down for us on how to amount to greatness as well.

A brilliant communicator, Michelle Obama’s advice are simply words to live by. Unsurprisingly, she says that all good things come from hard work. “Know something”, she tells us. It’s a command to not only educate ourselves but to put some force in it. “Miracles don’t happen,” Michelle says. “You have to put the effort in”. Compromise also weights in, the willingness to concede is necessary. “Issues are not black and white”, according to Michelle.

She also urges us not to be afraid of failure. “Success is made of them”, she explains. “Failure doesn’t define you”. She Also implies that the key to success is failure and perseverance. And then, passion is the thing that keeps fueling that energy. “My passion is social change” declares Michelle, reflecting on her career. It is what makes her go, and the reason why she is not running for president: she is busy pursuing the things that give her purpose.

Michelle Obama’s clear vision is also fighting gender inequality. Through the efforts made by women, she also points out also the space allocated for them by the men in power.

“There are limited seats at any table,” she declares. “Men have to ask themselves, are they willing to make more seats at the table, or are they will give up some seats?”. She tells us that The status quo is not acceptable. “I say that to all the fathers, brothers and husbands in this room,” Obama said. “If you are not making space for women in your offices, just think about what that’s doing to the girls that you think you love. “Right now, women are so absent at so many tables. People of colour with different experiences are so absent.”

All of these voices need to be heard to reflect the society in which we leave it. That leaves of needed more women in need more women in politics and leadership, and according to the activist, we need to look at the youth and instill these values, as they are the leaders in the making.
Michelle Obama’s story is one that resonates with all of us paying attention. She is telling us that you can be whatever you are. You can be married to someone if you want. You can be black. You can be a woman. You can be ambitious. You can be who you are and accomplish what you want.

Michelle started out by attended Harvard Law School and other elite institutions on scholarships, defeating the odds of her lower-income background, growing up in Chicago. Later, after quitting corporate law, she worked in public service and non-profits until this day. At the beginning of the conversation, she reminds us that she was doing these things before her husband was elected. “Education is the foundation for any and everything I’ve been able to accomplish in my life,” she says.

She also urges us to fail, and not to be afraid of failure, as success is made of them. Michelle only started to feel confident at a certain point in her life, stating that is is something we need to teach young people, to invest in them and push them to be successful. Things are currently set up for some people only to succeed, as women of minority background are taught to have lower standards and expectations, and that their voices don’t count. These assumptions on what we could do or not are invalid. In all her authenticity, Michelle Obama is rooting for us.