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The Women’s March on Washington was a wildly successful organized protest movement in the United States of America. The march originated as a protest against the numerous policies, statements, and remarks President Donald J. Trump has made and supported that are misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, racist, and crude. The march occurred on January 21, 2017, the day following the inauguration of Donald Trump, with over a million participants filling the streets of Washington D.C. The marches spilled over to other states and major cities, even internationally, with estimates between 3.5 million to 5 million participants across the globe marking this the largest single-day protest in history to date (Moss & Maddrell, 14). Anybody regardless of sexuality, race, ethnicity, gender identity, and dis/ability were invited to march if they supported the notion that women’s rights are human rights. More specifically, the protest was advocating for the rights, protection, and legislation supporting women’s rights, ending violence and brutality, reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights, environmental justice, racial equality, dis/ability rights, freedom of religion, and workers’ rights (womensmarch.com). The original intent and the essence of the march was rooted in intersectional and inclusive feminist beliefs and practices, however, as the march grew in popularity and size this important aspect diminished. Despite the original intent of intersectionality as a core tenet of the movement, the Women’s March on Washington adopted many ideals and beliefs set forth by second-wave feminist theories.
The election of Donald J. Trump united women and individuals across the United States and the globe as it was mind-blowing how an individual that had made so many predatorial, misogynistic, racist, and lewd remarks could be elected to the highest office in government. His behavior and remarks are inadmissible and would have most individuals endure grave consequences, however, in this incident the American public dismissed his remarks by rewarding him presidency. It was this exact circumstance that had ignited anger across individuals of all demographics in the United States as this was seen as intolerable. The protest was absolutely in response to the election of Donald Trump, however, it is important for it to be noted that the march was not a protest solely against Trump but rather for advocacy and solidarity in protecting women’s rights. For many, especially privileged white women, this was one of the first times they had felt first-hand discrimination and degradation so the unity and solidarity within this movement was eye-opening, awakening, and powerful. It was this exact population that occupied a vast section of participants and thus their perspective took over the march by means of social medias, advertising, slogans, signs, and merchandise. These individuals adopted the same train of thought as popularized by second-wave feminist theorists Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, and Anne Koedt, which is what shifted the focus of the protest away from intersectional beliefs.
Second-Wave Feminism and White Women
Simone de Beauvoir coined the integral belief of second-wave feminism in her book, The Second Sex, when she asserted that women are ‘othered’ and objectified as society views women as inferior to men, however in actuality, women are free and autonomous beings that, according to Beauvoir, “aspire to full membership in the human race” (Beauvoir, 39-40). Her writings brought to light that the status of women in society is ill-founded as women are not any less capable than men despite female anatomy and reproductive capabilities or processes. Betty Friedan built off of Beauvoir’s conclusion by proclaiming that domestication and child-rearing is not the sole and peak purpose of women. Society groomed women by glorifying femininity, which was defined by motherhood and marriage, which left women out of higher education and careers because they were seen as undesirable (Friedan, 17-19). Friedan asserts that this ideal of femininity and womanhood is leaving women feeling unfulfilled and lost as women need more than their children, husbands, and homes (Friedan, 32). Lastly, Anne Koedt confutes Freudian socio-psychoanalysis that is patronizing, phallocentric, and simply incorrect in her writing, The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm. This piece, like other pieces of second-wave theory, asserts that women are indeed equal and no lesser than men, however, this piece was much more radical for its time as it directly addressed female sexuality in a manner that was for females not for male objectification or pleasure. Freudian socio-psychoanalysis proclaimed that the vagina was shaped so that men, or a penis, could deliver the ultimate pleasure and if this was not the case then the woman was determined to be mentally ill or jealous of men (Koedt, 159). Koedt points out that the majority of female pleasure is derived from the clitoris, as that’s its sole function, whereas the vagina is responsible for reproductive tasks and is highly insensitive (Koedt, 160). Her writings advocate to women that their sexuality is not phallocentric as a penis or man is not important to any aspect of female pleasure. All three of these theorists point out that women have been conditioned, both socially, sexually, and economically, to be of aid to men and that in all three mentioned realms women are justly equal, capable, independent, and deserving as men.
As shown by these feminist theories, second-wave feminism advocates for equality from a single-issue lens based on single-issue oppression. It is important to be noted that certain second-wave feminists were completely unaccepting of queer women having a place in the movement and the prospect of race plays a miniscule role in second-wave feminism. More simply, second-wave feminism is concerned with advocating for the equality of women in a patriarchal system that consistently favors men and masculinity. It is this same basis that many individuals, namely white women, joined and advocated for during the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. These women advocated for the same rights and issues set forth from the movement, however, an intersectional perspective was not advocated for by majority of this population. Because of this, the protest promoted messages that superficially touch the real issues at heart by diverting attention away from the most marginalized individuals.
Loss of Intersectionality
As stated above, the Women’s March on Washington gradually became less intersectional as the movement grew and became more mainstream. Disproportionate attention was given towards white attendees and their messages while people of color, dis/abled individuals, LGBTQIA and queer identified individuals, and other marginalized communities and individuals did not have the same platform nor was their messages embraced and publicized to the same extent. The protest functioned as its own microcosm of American society where white cisheteronormative messages were prioritized. One of the most popular slogans shouted by participants of the protest was, “Grab them by the pussy!”. That slogan came from a leaked blurb that Donald Trump had said regarding a woman he found attractive and his tactic in getting the woman to have relations with him. The leaked blurb is absolutely revolting as it is extremely predatorial, sexist, non-consensual, and unacceptable which is why the Women’s March endorsed the slogan to show how horrific, lewd, and predatorial the President of the United States is and how prevalent rape culture is in society. This slogan manifested in the creation of hats, shirts, posters, and other signage signaling outrage while connecting female identity, pride, and womanhood with having a vulva. The march was filled with propaganda like this that only further white cisheteronormative ‘feminist’ messages in our patriarchal society.
It is conceivable to believe many of the attendees that endorsed these white cisheteronormative messages had no ill-intent or consciousness behind their actions. This is foreseeable as many of these individuals are confronting direct mass discrimination for the first time as their privilege has guarded them from these experiences. Moreover, just like second-wave feminists, these individuals are most concerned with how their gender interacts within patriarchal society hence their single-issue lens on many topics. However, intersectionalism, a central tenet of modern-day feminism, states that various forms of social stratification do not exist separately from one another but interact in a compound manner (Brewer & Dundes, 50). This is the key aspect that separates apart the objectives of white feminists that do not see or advocate beyond their own privilege and more marginalized folks. It is extremely important for white feminists to understand that they are “both oppressed and the oppressor” (Brewer & Dundes, 50-52). If this was fully understood and embraced, then more marginalized individuals would have had more of a platform and influence during the Women’s March. Perhaps then the protest would have then encapsulated a more pertinent discussion regarding the needs and rights of the most marginalized individuals in our society rather than the comradery brought about through pussy hats.
The 2017 Women’s March on Washington was revolutionary as millions of individuals stood up against remarks, policies, and ideals that they saw as unjust and wrong. Millions marched in solidarity across the United States and globe against sexism, misogyny, homophobia, racism, and bigotry which is a powerful response to the election of the President, and the implication or threat of implication of unjust policies and legislation. However, the march acted as a microcosm of the same society its protesting by prioritizing the voice of the privileged and whitewashing to movement while further silencing the most marginalized individuals and communities. As explained, the Women’s March on Washington gradually abandoned intersectional beliefs as the movement grew adopted many ideals and beliefs set forth by second-wave feminism.
- Beauvoir, S. D. (1949). The Second Sex.
- Brewer, S., & Dundes, L. (2018). Concerned, meet terrified: Intersectional feminism and the Womens March. Womens Studies International Forum,69, 49-55. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2018.04.008
- Friedan, B. (1963). The Feminine Mystique. New York: W.W. Norton.
- Koedt, A. (1968). The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm. Somerville, New England: Free Press.
- Moss, P., & Maddrell, A. (2017). Emergent and divergent spaces in the Women’s March: The challenges of intersectionality and inclusion. Gender, Place & Culture,24(5), 613-620. doi:10.1080/0966369x.2017.1351509
- Women’s March on Washington- Our Mission. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.womensmarch.com/mission/
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