How I’m (Not) Doing Feminism in 2017
I’m not a marcher. I grew up in New York City and I’m a reporter so I’ve covered or watched plenty of street demonstrations. And because showing up conveys a degree of interest, sources, friends or neighbors have asked me to join plenty of them too. Whatever the appeal that marching holds for chanters, rhymers and sign-carriers though, it’s never flicked my switch.
But that’s not why I’m wary of the upcoming Women’s March. It’s being billed as the biggest Trump inauguration protest. More than 100,000 people have already registered and organizers expect 200,000. I wish them success but I won’t be among them.
After November 2016, any national call for American women to gather or speak “as one” now filters through an impressive brick wall of more than half of white women voters who chose the pussy grabber-in-chief. That historic spreading-of-the-legs trumps the played out fairy tale about women’s solidarity. It exposes the lie. Then if you somehow scale that wall of women, behind it stands another: the female half of the 90 million eligible voters who stayed home. HRC’s “I’m With Her” representatives in popular media didn’t inspire them and neither did the prospect of electing The First Female President.
So what now? A Women’s March, even if organized by leaders I admire, doesn’t strike me as what’s needed next.
After so many appointed experts misjudged the electorate, what’s next for me in 2017 is clarity and setting boundaries. I’m seeking writers and thinkers who use clear language around which women and which causes deserve feminism’s halo and the ‘women’s rights’ brand so powerful, it mobilizes institutions. If female solidarity is a practice — not a lazy assumption or marketing gimmick — I’m looking to debate, learn from and collaborate with women who speak to my interest in class, labor organizing, unions and the economy. Basically, I want more Ruth Needlemans in my life. I already have the Tressie McMillan Cottoms and Rhon Manigaults (my brilliant line sister whom I haven’t seen since Duke days).
November 2016 nuked the last mite of patience I reserved for women, usually white, who assume that simply being born with a vagina makes you politically radical, much less, progressive. Later, too, for comfortably middle class and rich women of any race who use media to amplify and sell their career, single life, parenting, marriage or mental health breakthroughs as progress for all women. Nope. Done.
Which brings me to an early December conversation with a friend, a younger white woman, who lives in the Midwest. She’s passionate, caring, and both bold and vulnerable — a twofer that I deeply admire. She feared that following the election, I was ready to say eff you to the country and retreat into my little community in Brooklyn. She follows the political conversations I spark on Facebook and hoped I’d continue. She wants me and other progressives to fight.
My middle finger had flown. To borrow a hackneyed presidential phrase, watching or listening to post-election news only “strengthened my resolve.” But my friend helped me to focus instead on how I’ll engage and find the right question. How can I be a better citizen and practice self-care? Which brought me quite unintentionally to Audre Lorde, black feminist: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
The Internet-popular quote comes from Burst of Light, a book of essays I never read. It’s now on my to-read list. Makes sense, as far as a feminist political evolution goes: casting about for the right question and Audre Lorde coming back as the answer.
A luta continua.