This post is not meant to spread negative opinions about the March, but rather to criticize in a constructive way, and to encourage even more growth and change than the March has already achieved. The progress made by the Women’s March in promoting feminism around the country is admirable. I am proud to have stood in the crowd last year, and I am proud of my friends who went this year.
Today was the first anniversary of the Women’s March, and once again the streets of Washington, DC and other major cities across the country were filled with women, men, and children banding together to protest the misogyny present in daily American life. This movement is strong. It feels good to see the momentum it’s gained, and to see men finally being held accountable for their actions. I did not attend this year’s Women’s March, but I remember walking among the thousands of women this time last year and feeling the hair on the back of my neck stand up as I joined in shouting, “This is what democracy looks like!” I remember feeling a camaraderie with the people around me, and how valuable that feeling was after the devastating blow of watching the 45’s inauguration just the day before. It felt damn good.
But the movement is flawed.
And after reading the countless op-eds from women that did not feel represented or respected in last year’s march, I realized just how flawed. There were reports posted the next morning saying talking about how overwhelmingly safe this protest was, with not a single arrest — and there was a very clear reason for that! Last year’s march was a march for white women, a march for the societal norm, a march that did not recognize that feminism is a cause bigger than Becky with the good hair’s access to birth control. It was a march of privilege, one where intersectionality could be avoided as an uncomfortable topic by the majority present because racism and systematic oppression were not pertinent issues to them.
It’s complicated, though. Social causes are tricky waters to navigate. On the one hand, if you represent every subgroup in a minority, you can lose your focus on what your cause is truly about, and what it is working to achieve. On the other, if you don’t open the floor up to discussion and inclusion for women of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and gender identities, you leave yourself open to being attacked for not representing the very people whose rights you are defending. There’s no easy fix. There’s no simple way to promote a march such as this as being extremely inclusive without making it appear to many as “a queer thing,” or “a race thing.” But simplicity should not be the goal. This is meant to be a complex, multi-faceted issue. Any issue concerning real, living human beings is going to be messy.
The goal is to motivate people to think about their actions, their words, and their privilege. It is to hold up a mirror to all, so that we see our reflections and face the tough questions with honest answers. Of course, that process is ugly. It’s painful, and sometimes it makes you feel ashamed. It makes you feel like you’re not a good person for the things you have said or done, or the way you think about others. That’s the cost of getting real with yourself — you’re forced to understand that you’re not perfect. You come up short; we all do.
It’s hard to look at myself, a liberal Latina cis-gendered heterosexual white woman, a woman with a college education and a passion for the arts, politics, and social justice, and realize that in many ways, by many of my own words and actions, I am prejudiced towards certain minority groups. I’m ashamed of it. I don’t want to write the ways in which I have seen that prejudice in myself because I’m embarrassed to admit it. But that’s the goal, isn’t it? To get uncomfortable, to shake the system to its roots, and to create real, lasting change? By constant self-reflection on our own prejudices — whether we have learned them from our parents, from society, or simply absorbed them from others in the course of our lives — we are able to strip away the pride that is so often at the crux of dichotomy in progressive movements. How do we move forward alone and leave the rest of our sisters behind? How do we promote tolerance and equality but don’t practice it ourselves? Getting uncomfortable by realizing our inherent flaws and working to change them through building safe communities and fostering conversations is how we make change, and standing in the streets beside our trans* sisters, our Native sisters, our queer sisters, and our black and brown sisters to protest for equal rights for all of us is how we achieve progress.