Unite Women, Don’t Divide Women

On January 21, 2017, over 5 million people rallied around the world to stand up for women’s rights during the Trump administration. Rallies took place in every major city, from New York, to Los Angeles, to Washington DC; in small towns across the United States including Skagway, Alaska and Murray, Kentucky; and even around the world in places such as England, Bulgaria, and Burma. The 673 total marches targeted President Trump’s hateful rhetoric towards women and other minorities throughout the election cycle. During the campaign, Trump mocked a reporter with a physical disability, openly called women pigs, and even called Secretary Clinton a “nasty woman.”

When Donald Trump won the presidential election in November, his derogatory attitude towards women became the de facto ‘new normal,’ sparking what some see as a severe ethical drift within our nation and around the world. The Women’s March was a call to action for all women and people in general who felt victimized this past year. The mission of the march was to rally, not to protest, in order to unify our country under the message that women’s rights are human rights. However, after the march, it was evident that this rally was not for everyone, but rather for a specific set of women. The Women’s March, an event founded to promote diversity and inclusivity, unwittingly detracted from its own mission when it ended up excluding women of color, non-cis women, and pro-life supporters.

While the mission statement of the march preached intersectionality and acceptance, it was clear from multiple observers in large cities such as Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Chicago, that the majority of marchers were middle-aged, white women. As the New York Times stated, “most of the slide shows from the marches show only the occasional black attendee” in a sea of white women. Instead of noting the racial aspect of Trump’s election, especially the fact that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump, these ralliers chose to ignore such issues, focusing instead on women’s rights issues affecting white women. They attended marches with the notion that women’s rights issues are the most important issues in our country today. Many women of color questioned where all these women were during Black Lives Matter protests or the “No Dakota Access Line” protests. These issues are also women’s issues, but were not the most prevalent on signs or in chants at the Inauguration weekend marches.

The demographics of the march itself seemed to be a reflection of who founded the event: Teresa Shook, Bob Bland, Evvie Harmon, and other white women. After receiving backlash for their lack of diversity for an “inclusive march,” they reached out to non-white activists to join them in their mission. Even with their good intentions, the timing led to harsh criticism of the founders tokenizing powerful women of color. In an attempt to rectify the situation and create a platform for intersectional feminism at the march, Bob Bland, co-founder of the Women’s March, asked white women to “understand their privilege, and acknowledge the struggle that women of color face.” This message had mixed responses, however, with some arguing that all women are “second class” no matter their race, while many women of color applauded Bland’s statement. White women were seen to only be marching for themselves rather than for all women. This racial tension was evident in Washington DC, as a black woman asked a group of white women, “When will you begin to stick up for us? We have been doing this for you for a long time.”

"However, after the march, it was evident that this rally was not for everyone, but rather for a specific set of women. The Women’s March, an event founded to promote diversity and inclusivity, unwittingly detracted from its own mission when it ended up excluding women of color, non-cis women, and pro-life supporters."

In addition to tensions rising over race, women in the transgender community also felt excluded from the march. Many signs at the march used uteruses to symbolize womanhood and power. This association is rooted in the idea that only women who have uteruses are real women, leaving out a significant number of transgender women. Furthermore, the pink ‘pussyhats’ worn by many marchers solidified this sense of isolation for women in the transgender community. Marie Solis, an activist, stated that these hats and signs sent an “oppressive message to trans women” and that many felt that the march would be a dangerous space and therefore, many transgender women stayed home.

Although the march was intended to be a safe and open place for people of similar beliefs, there is a difference between surrounding yourself with people of similar viewpoints and excluding those who are not in agreement. A safe space is a place where everyone is respected and heard, not an echo chamber where only one idea is expressed, and all others are immediately rejected. Many of the march’s issues stemmed from its vague mission. The rally was supposed to be about standing in unity and solidarity with one another, but many of the chants and much of the rhetoric of the rally was specifically anti-Trump. Chants such as “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter,” directly targeted Trump for his disregard for unity. The march also morphed into a pro-choice rally, most likely because it was largely endorsed by Planned Parenthood. Instead of focusing more broadly on women’s health, the march missed an opportunity by focusing on the alienating issue of abortion. Pro-life groups were told that they were not allowed to be a part of the Women’s March, excluding a large group of women who believe in equal pay, equal rights, and passage of the ERA, but do not believe in abortion. If this march was truly for unity among women, any woman, holding any specific belief, should have been welcome. Instead, chants such as “my body, my choice” and “keep your rosaries off my ovaries” drowned out any opposing women, who still consider themselves feminists.

The Women’s March on Washington was a historic event; it was the largest rally in response to an inauguration in history. Even though it was considered a success overall, many groups did not feel included in its mission. Further, much of the 53 percent of white women who voted for Trump were not even aware of the march altogether, such as in Niles, Michigan, a swing city in Berrien County that went red in the past election. Berrien County conducted a recount in this past election determining 38,703 votes for President Trump and 29,494 for Secretary Clinton. This situation in Michigan is reflective of what occurred in the Midwest during the presidential election. Clinton’s performance among voters without college degrees, including women, collapsed in the Midwest. Clinton won white, college-educated voters in Michigan by 10 points, but that demographic only makes up two-tenths of Michigan voters. On the other hand, only 34 percent of uneducated white women voted for Clinton.

This case was not specific to Michigan but occurred in most rural towns and is shown in the turn-out of the marches in the rural Midwest and the South. In comparison to the 13 marches in Colorado, for example, there were only six in Minnesota, a state with a very similar population. This number displays how liberal each state is, but it is also reflective of how well-publicized the marches were in these states. The advertising for the march only targeted liberal areas of the world rather than reaching out to conservative regions. The rally could have achieved greater success if it had advertised to all political groups and counties, didn’t exclude members of the pro-life community, been organized by a diverse group of women with different backgrounds and experiences, and been explained as an event for anyone feeling victimized by the election, not just for women. With these changes, the Women’s March around the world would have been larger, less controversial, and even harder to ignore by Trump’s administration.

The exclusion of minority groups that occurred on January 21 is a much larger issue than just the Women’s March alone. It was a reflection of groups that have been excluded for years and have not been recognized by the media as prevalently as the category of ‘women’ alone. These exclusions have already continued or have been amplified this year. The many divisions between the communities of women’s rights advocates, anti-Trump activists, and progressives, ultimately create divisions within the same liberal group. On the other side of the political spectrum, Trump has implemented a Muslim ban on all travel into the United States, Jeff Sessions — who has had many civil rights issues in the past — has been confirmed as the next attorney general, and Trump is moving to appoint a new Supreme Court Justice who is conservative on many women’s rights issues. These divisions and exclusions do not seem to be ending on either side of the political spectrum. Trump didn’t cause the exclusion of pro-life groups, the transgender community, and people of color, but his hateful rhetoric has brought it to the forefront of our attention.