Critics couldn’t stomp out female unity at the Women’s March

Women’s March on Washington. (Photo: Melissa Finley)

The biggest protest in U.S. history took place last weekend, and women made it happen. It was a massive demonstration of female political solidarity and a battle cry against male-supremacist power, embodied by the ultimate sexist pig, Donald Trump. The Women’s March yielded these fantastic results, despite bearing constant attacks since its inception: A march for WOMEN? How selfish.

The organization of the March began with an apology. Originally named the “Million Women March on DC,” it was accused of appropriating the title from historic anti-racist activism in the ‘90s. The 1995 Million Man March on Washington sought to unify, uplift, and demand justice for the pernicious racism faced by black men in the U.S., which later spawned the 1997 Million Woman March in Philadelphia — a female-centric iteration that drew hundreds of thousands of black women from across the country.

After it was brought to their attention, organizers of the 2017 march promptly apologized and changed the name to “Women’s March on Washington.” But this mistake would set the tone for media coverage deeming the event “problematic,” and became an obligatory preface to its discussion. Organizers proceeded by being as obsequious to liberal demands as possible. They de-centered women from their rhetoric, claiming that, although it was called “Women’s March,” it was actually for no one in particular and focused on no specific issues.

In a bitter irony, despite organizers’ desire to achieve intersectional credibility, they released an official platform supporting pro-prostitution rhetoric. The platform sanitizes prostitution as “sex work” — as if this racist, imperialist system of abuse is nothing more than a job like any other. This language and approach to the sex trade erases the way racism and capitalism function under patriarchy to funnel a disproportionate number of women and girls of colour into prostitution at the demand of (often white) men who are in positions of relative privilege.

In this act, the official march platform became a prime example of the hollow way “intersectionality” is interpreted by liberals to mean “male-inclusive.” While I’m sympathetic to the organizers and the amount of vitriol they received, pressuring them to water down any feminist message, it is still disheartening to see the extent to which women are made to shrink themselves within their own political movements. Even the official platform’s section on Reproductive Freedom is awkwardly sex-neutral and states that reproductive justice is about ensuring reproductive healthcare access for “all people.” (I could have sworn it was specifically about female bodies and that unique thing they do…
“Pregnancy,” I think it’s called?)

But when it came time to march, all that noise disappeared.

It turns out that  declarations of political fragmentation couldn’t override the power of what really was a Women’s March. Women from around the world heard the name and knew it was for them. They saw Trump — a man who made their stomachs churn with memories of every abusive man and every injury they’ve sustained under white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy — and knew they needed to protest.

This became apparent to me before I even got to D.C. The Philadelphia train station was buzzing like I had never seen before, and as I walked to the back of the line to board, I realized it was composed almost entirely of women! One group of women turned to me and asked, “You going?” I said, “Hell yeah!” and one of them yelled with glee and gave me a hug. We were total strangers, but on that day, the march had made us acutely aware that, politically, we were sisters. Every train car was a party — women swapped stories about how far they had travelled, their lives, and what the march meant to them.

When I decided to go to D.C. shortly after the event was announced, I had no idea what a global phenomenon it would become. Women united, not just with American women, but with all of womankind. Protest signs tapped into this commonality through symbols of our shared anatomy, signifying the way our female bodies are under attack in patriarchal society. A few of the countless signs I saw read: “Vulva La Resistance!” “You do Uterus,” and “Fight for Freedom!” beneath a fierce-looking vagina dentata.

Although the “pussy hats” were probably a result of feminine socialization teaching us to make even our political dissent non-threatening (cute, pink, and fluffy), the impulse behind the hats was noble. Trump’s bragging about sexual assault to his buddies was a performance of male bonding via female degradation, reminding us of our “place.” But women did not stand for it. Instead, women showed Trump — and men everywhere — that we will use our shared oppression to make common cause with one another. And having been so denied any culture or unifying symbols of our own (you can only do so many things with the Venus symbol), women worked with what they had (a slur and the official colour of girlhood) in order to create a new one for the March.

Some men were offended at the marchers’ frank and unashamed politicization of their female bodies, presumably because, for once, this political action had nothing to do with them and their penises. They argued that the marches should have been more “inclusive” — meaning that women should have shut up about femaleness. But as the reports of Sister Marches came flooding in from Mexico City to Nairobi, Melbourne to Kolkata, Vancouver to Cairo, and from across the U.S., the true inclusiveness of the feminist movement became clear.

It wasn’t an attack on “all genders” that inspired and mobilized the biggest protest in U.S. history and 673 sister protests abroad. When a movement is inclusive to the point that it is  about “all people,” it becomes about no one (thereby not including anyone). It was a worldwide response from and on behalf of women in particular, that elicited the mass anger and unity.

There was Sister Marches on all seven continents for one reason: females exist on all seven continents. We’re in the East and the West, the epicenters and the ends of the earth. Even as we lay in the cancer ward, there are other women with whom we band together. Our subjugation under male supremacy includes all women, but so can our resistance.

As I stood in D.C.’s jam-packed-with-angry-women streets, I wondered what it would be like if we set our sights on accomplishing something tangible — not just demonstrating, but actually seizing power. Thanks to the Women’s March and all who made it happen, I’m sure other women have also had their curiosity sparked and will join the feminist movement with the desire to see just how mighty we truly are.

Susan Cox
Susan Cox

Susan Cox is a feminist writer and academic living in the United States. She teaches in Philosophy.

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  • Karla Gjini

    love this! thank you Susan!

  • Marla

    “Cissexist” is a relatively new term to me. Some part of me wants to be quiet on this issue because it feels like fighting a battle you can’t win. Personally, at the march I attend I didn’t see much in the way of transmale aggression. Oh, they were there dramatically accentuating their defensive, pseudo-left politics with their hook-and-slogan “sisterhood unity” bullshit as they prohibited, restricted or demanded “cis” women don’t introject anything that has to with actual female social issues. So rape and abortion are “cissexist” now. Who knew? Combine that with the word “pussy” and it seems a trans will look at you like you just killed a defenseless puppy.

    • Just Passing Through

      No, please do NOT be quiet on this issue. That is exactly what they are hoping for….that we will all shut up (like all little women are supposed to do; be seen not heard) Fuk that! BE LOUD BE PROUD and never let them shame you into speaking up!

      • Marla

        I’m not sure if I have the energy anymore to where there is always a conflict with the trans “revolution.” From my perspective, this is a “revolution” of aggression that bases itself on the negative and unsatisfying aspects of anything female.

        Being groped, cat-called, harassed sexually, told how to dress, not to dress, what to say, think write and feel by a patriarchal-generated mindset that also despises anything female along comes “cissexism” because – and I don’t care who here thinks I’m wrong on the issue – the real reason for this march was to voice contempt for Trump AND that thousands, if not millions of women don’t feel safe of being confined to a trans “revolution” which is nothing more than penis patriarchy wrapped in a designer dress.

        And what really pisses me right the fuck off is how so many women fall for this pseudo-left influential horseshit claiming [women] lack moral principles and education because they don’t want men who wear dresses in the same public rest room, changing room, or ever want to engage in a sexual relationship. “Cissexist as fuck” they exclaim. Odd, since they are all for “sisterhood unity” yet cannot define their own slogan except of course, to attack the women there whose voice didn’t quite agree with theirs. I guess penis neglect will do that.

        I could not believe some of those post from the link Susan posted. Then again, I should not be at all surprised. What a way to guilt-fuck a movement that was largely positive
        (despite some of the so-called celebrities and their own anti-female, all-inclusive sewage) and opened my eyes that all is not well in the “sisterhood.” Far from it.

        One example was seeing female ex-vets from all branches giving support to other vets who are homeless because the horrors of war has deeply disturbed them to the point even a thunderstorm terrifies the hell out of them. Many end up killing themselves.* They were the only organization I came across I found to be legit and gave money to. Yet they were largely ignored. Why? The trans “revolution” of course.

        From what I saw, this revolution (okay, I’ll stop placing it in quotation marks) wanted women to takes sides, not only for a day, but for their lifetime. Sounds like another male threat to me of do what we say or we’ll soil any march that fails to solely recognize us.

        I’ll continue to fund any cause that truly supports women out there who are suffering be it violence or social neglect but my days of arguing with a revolution that only seeks to serve itself are over.

        *Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act published a 2015 study that 10 percent of the female veteran population, commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of civilian women, and have nearly four times the elevated risk of suicide compared to male veterans.

        I cry for my sisters in arms. This should not be happening.

        • FierceMild

          Stay strong, sister, you know you’re right.

          • Marla

            To be honest, I had a rotten time at the march. Here’s some shit that certain males were yelling on the sidelines from what I recorded on my phone (a but paraphrased and apologize if triggering) when I joined in a small line that was shouting “Dump Trump”:

            ‘Want to bet? You’ll be re-electing [Trump] in 4 years. Unless someone smashes your face in…finishes the job the next time.’

            ‘Pence doesn’t need to destroy you dumb ugly cunts. You idiots do a fine job of that on your own.’

            ‘Hopefully you join and put a towel over that fucking face of yours, so nobody ever has to look at it again.’

            Why bring it up? Because it’s bad enough to hear to from one side and then to hear it from another that I’m “cissexist” now?

            I’m done fighting.

  • occupylove

    Susan, any plans to address the aggressive trans lobby attacks on the women’s march? They accused the women’s march for being transphobic for talking about our body parts like vagina, pussy, uterus, etc. and claimed we should not do so as that excludes transwomen. When i protested by saying that we have the right to talk about our own bodies in any way we see fit, I recieved violent threats.

    • Tired feminist

      Those fuckers. If this has one silver lining is that thousands of women might have achieved peak trans.

    • Just Passing Through

      So SO SO very sick of these assholes trying to shut us up and take us over. How very MALE indeed! Go start your own movement jerks! Sorry. (not sorry)

    • Morag999

      I’m upset and disgusted to hear you received violent threats from transactivists. Was this at your local march?

      Susan did, however, address the aggressive trans lobby attack on the march. She wrote:

      “Some men were offended at the marchers’ frank and unashamed politicization of their female bodies, presumably because, for once, this political action had nothing to do with them and their penises.”

      … and included a link with a collection of transgenderists squawking about how references to female bodies and reproductive health/freedom exclude males and fail to put men at the centre of the feminist movement.

      The point being that, in spite of all the nonsense about “all genders,” and in spite of all those entitled and deranged males who are ordering us to shut up and to scrub out all references to our female bodies, women marchers, on the whole, did not cave in. Instead they came together as FEMALES.

    • Just Passing Through

      …..and of COURSE you received violent threats. They are MEN! That is what MEN do…they threaten us with violence and rape to “keep us in our place” and they have been doing that since the dawn of time.

  • Great article! I’m so proud of all the women who put the concerns of women right out there for everyone to see. We can’t let the neoliberals and trans cult shut us up.

  • Cassandra

    This made me tear up.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I’m glad and was pleasantly surprised too!

  • DeColonise

    Thank you for this. This article is awesome. This view on what was in the actual march is something the corporate/mainstream media and the whole “queer theory approved” so called left don’t want to talk about.

  • shy virago

    Just curious – where did you go?

    • Bleeps3

      I was in one of the flyover states (sorry, I’m paranoid about sharing info online while commenting on feminist stuff). The speeches in D.C. though, were different than what I’ve seen before. There was just more of a raw quality. The amount of people who came out worldwide was what really blew me away. I was expecting to be really embarrassed and further depressed by the numbers.

      • Just Passing Through

        Isn’t it sad we have to self censor everything we say online because of violent men?

  • Yisheng Qingwa

    Gee, I guess I’m not the only woman who is “too angry”, according to my Narcissist POS ex-BF. Huh.

    (Drown in boiling snot, Max-hole.)

  • Just Passing Through

    FUCK inclusiveness!

  • Tired feminist

    I know. The level of disregard for females it took for this collective madness to achieve the proportions it has today. It’s fucking unbelievable.

  • Meghan Murphy

    White dudes (seemingly the kind who live in their parents’ basements and spend a lot of time on Reddit) run Rational Wiki and Wikipedia. Which means any and ever radical feminist and radical feminist idea is consistently smeared and misrepresented. It’s horrible. I wish we had some allies in there… I certainly don’t have time for Wikipedia editing, unfortunately…. (Nor do, I’d imagine, many movement women who are likely focused on other work, survival, etc.)

    • Rich Garcia

      I’ve noticed a pattern (even though this is nothing new) where (straight) white men in particular really have it out for white women, and are hell-bent on silencing and erasing all of you since you represent the greatest and most personal opposition to their power. They are only playing nice with minorities (and LGB people) as part of their divide & conquer tactic to undermine every progressive movement of the 1960’s and 70’s.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Yep yep!

      • Just Passing Through

        Absolutely. Sad, innit? The hatred runs so very deep. However misogyny knows no color…but you are right the most vicious part of their hatred is reserved for white women.

      • Just Passing Through

        All you need to do is look at the glowing definition of the Men’s Rights Movement….lol . Totally ridiculous. We are well aware that men control all forms of media and what information reaches whom and how that media is represented. If it’s woman related= negative….. men= positive.

        • Rich Garcia

          @disqus_vvyZtkyemr:disqus As long as Feminism is around there is always going to be a “Men’s Rights Movement” (despite doing to zilch to address male issues) to oppose it. But I agree that just like religion, the media we are presented with today has become the new opiate of the masses. And like religion the images of men’s and women’s “roles” remain the same, even if the faux-feminist messages of “empowerment” and “Maybe she’s worth it” are shoehorned in to give folks the impression that society has come a long way RE: women’s rights.

  • Tired feminist

    I’m LOLing because their “definition” of radical feminism was the first peak trans of my life (it was MUCH worse back then). So, thanks, Irrational Wiki!

  • FierceMild

    Me too!

  • Brandi86

    I’ve never even seen the word cis used outside of feminist websites or articles related to transgender people. That’s it, otherwise no one uses it. Probably because most people don’t even know what it means and no one wants to use a special term when refering to a majority of people of either gender.

  • Raysa_Lite

    I just wish that I had an answer.

    I hang about in several libfem spaces, and I know that I have managed to change a few viewpoints. I know that I have.

    And I have a lot of online libfems friendly relationships. I am kind and polite, for the most part. Sometimes I fail in that.

    For a long time, I have just outright refused to leave them behind, because they are women. And I can’t get past my own feelings that, if they could just understand, that their lives and views would change, just like mine did, when I would tout the same stupid bullshit.

    Do they know that they are actually pandering to males? I want so badly to give them the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes I think that they absolutely know what they are doing. Not all of them, but some.

    Maybe I am coming to understand that some women are just going to side with males and their own oppression no matter what. No matter what they know or don’t know, no matter what facts or knowledge comes their way. And that it really doesn’t matter why they do it.

  • Liesl Broke My Camera

    I was just listening to a recent podcast about the march… I couldn’t help but get stuck when they mentioned how the pussy hats and talk of female anatomy was making some folks (trans & otherwise) feel excluded by this.

    Well guess what. This was a women’s march. Yes, all sorts of people were welcomed and encouraged to join. By all means, join us and unite against all these terrible things! But don’t try to change this march and make it all about you.

    References to uteri and vaginas and reproductive rights and whatnot were a huge focus during the march BECAUSE they affect women’s daily life so much and are huge issues. We shouldn’t have to change our focus just because an issue that affects most women doesn’t personally affect everyone. We’re already told to shut up and sacrifice our well being on behalf of other causes all the gd time.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Right on, sister!

  • Just Passing Through

    What you are saying is not far fetched at all and I almost expect it. Silencing of our voices is the ultimate goal… And speaking of forces converging against women: I am sitting here and my local “news” is on (I know turn off the dumb box lol) and they are getting ready to, for the 3rd time in 3 days, promote “Sugar Babies” the hook up site for college women who need $ for college….. none of these spots have been in the least bit critical or analytical about what they are promoting….and believe me, it is very promotional. I am just disgusted with the world we live in right now… yes the women’s march gave me hope, but knowing (most) men….they are hard at work figuring out how to clamp down on us and this movement.

  • FierceMild

    Same here. I stopped hedging and curtailing my speech and it seems like more women agree with what I have to say (though they could be silently beseeching somebody to rescue them from the scary woman for all I know).

  • FierceMild

    I’m not sure I properly follow you. Radical Feminism is the only ideology I’ve come across that recognizes the daily reality of women (white or otherwise) and tries to do something about it. Do you mean Liberal Feminsim ignores the realities faced by white women?

    • Bleeps3

      Yes! Sorry, I meant Liberal Feminism, and I meant that LF finds many ways to shirk class analysis, except when it comes to justifying sex work (and usually the focus is on financially secure sex-workers who looooove it). So in the accusation of ‘white feminism’ there is usually an assumption that white women who are feminists are financially secure, and have no idea what life is like outside of a sheltered upper-middle-class experience where everything in life goes according to script.

      I’m a horrible writer, and it’s difficult to talk about without sounding like you want women of color to stop being angry at white women for failing to step up and help out, which isn’t what I mean. It’s just that the popularized images of white women are usually not very sympathetic (narcissistic asshole shops a lot, does 3 hours of yoga a day, doesn’t care about anyone but herself, etc.).

      • FierceMild

        I’m with you now! And I totally agree.

  • Just Passing Through

    The “white feminist” trope is just one more tool to divide women.

  • Rich Garcia

    @bleeps3:disqus The myth of the “privileged white feminist” is one that is rooted in racism and misogyny. It’s propaganda meant to turn women against each other based on perceived differences in appearance, economic status, and cultural norms. But the mistreatment of females and male entitlement to their very existence remains the same.

    Here is one feminist blogger who highlights in excellent detail the growing liberal trend of anti-white misogyny:
    https://storyendingnever.wordpress.com/white-girl-series/

    And the intersectionality of misogyny:
    https://storyendingnever.wordpress.com/2016/04/23/they-are-all-the-worst/

  • Cassandra

    I hear what you’re saying but to me even “gender conforming” makes it seem like there’s a) a “normal” “gender” to conform *to* and b) that we’re okey-dokey with it. The theory behind “cis” is inherently a non-theory of voodoo nonsense.

  • Cassandra

    I agree with you completely. I do think women are waking up a little bit. I used to be utterly paranoid about it all but I couldn’t care less any more.

  • FierceMild

    I think it’s okay for you to brag about your uterus if you want to. I mean, if your uterus is ballin’ it’s ballin’. Not your fault for being a bearer.