White feminism apparent to many at march that begs for intersectionality

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By Molly Wampler

 

“Some problems we share as women, some we do not.” –Audre Lorde, feminist theorist

 

On the day following the inauguration of President Donald Trump, millions of women and allies joined Women’s Marches across the nation and the world to “stand together in solidarity” and communicate to elected officials the public’s expectation that they “act to protect the rights of women, their families and their communities,” as written on the Women’s March’s official website.

 

Initially planned for Washington D.C. alone, the idea of a post-inaugural march spread quickly, eventually with 673 “Sister Marches” reported globally in places like San Francisco, Oklahoma City, and Paris. Puget Sound students of all genders attended these marches, mostly in Seattle and Olympia, but some traveled as far as Washington D.C. to march.

 

In its early stages of planning, the march was criticized for its lack of diversity. In a New Yorker article by Jia Tolentino a couple days before the march, one woman was quoted saying, “I will not even consider supporting this until the organizers are intersectional, original and come up with a different name.” As a response to this widespread backlash, the organizers expanded to include a much more diverse staff; they also issued a press release emphasizing that “it is important to all of us that the white women engaged this effort understand their privilege, and acknowledge the struggle that women of color face.”

 

Puget Sound student Rose Pytte attended the march in Seattle, and wasn’t sure how successful the organizers were in communicating their new inclusive message to those actually marching. “The majority of the people there that I saw were white feminists,” Pytte recalls, speaking to the signs she saw at the event. “So did they actually achieve [their goal to be more inclusive]? It seemed like they didn’t.”

 

Many others noticed that the march seemed to lack the critical concept of intersectionality. Amanda Díaz, President of Latinos Unidos, explains that intersectionality is the concept of “overlapping and intersecting social identities and their relationship to systems of oppression, domination and discrimination.”

 

White feminism, the opposite of intersectional feminism, where often-white members fail to acknowledge the additional struggles faced by minority women (or as Pytte explains it, “feminism without intersectionality that only takes the needs of white upper- and middle-class women into account”), turned many protesters away from the march, including Díaz. “It disappoints me knowing that thousands of people showed up to this march because Trump became a danger to white women,” she said, “even though his danger has been very apparent in communities of color for years.”

 

Lavanya Ramanathan wrote in a Washington Post article in the days following the march that many people of color “saw privilege in the march that allowed hundreds of thousands of women — the overwhelming majority of them white — to march freely … never encountering police in riot gear, never having to wipe away pepper spray, never fearing arrest.”

 

Pytte had similar critiques. “I think that the fact that there were so many people in the march in Seattle isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” she said. “[But] what would make me really angry and frustrated is if us white women then stopped going to things, like … the Black Lives Matter march in Seattle in April.”

 

Díaz, too, is well aware of the problems of white feminism. “Will we see 250,000 people taking the streets again for Black lives? I would like to say yes,” she said, “but I can’t unless I see the support for intersectionality in these White Women’s Marches.”

 

Pytte also noticed a tremendous amount of cissexism (discrimination against individuals with a gender identity that doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth) at the march, embodied by the now-famous “pussy hats” and references to “pussy power” and similar phrases on posters. “There were so many signs associating pussies with being a woman,” Pytte explained, “that it seemed like that was kind of the core [of the march].”

 

Walker Hewitt, another Puget Sound student present at the Seattle March, pointed out how important it is to realize that “not all women have vaginas and not all vaginas belong to women.” The march’s general inability to properly acknowledge gender intersectionality created a general atmosphere of exclusive feminism, specifically targeting trans women among other identities, Hewitt said.

 

Going forward, there is much for the feminist community to work on in terms of inclusion. “The momentum needs to continue from this Women’s March,” Díaz said. “If these women truly care about issues like reproductive rights, the LGBTQI community, immigrants, and Black lives then they need to keep showing up.”

 

Pytte, too, worries that white women won’t protest in the future when the issue at hand may not seem to impact them directly. “There are problems with the march in Seattle,” she said. “But the bigger problem would be if white women didn’t learn anything from it and if we didn’t continue to be involved.”

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