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