Was the Women’s March your first brush with activism? Let’s take the next step.
Let’s do an exercise. Remember back to the march. Try to pull apart some details from your memory:
Did you observe the marches? The coverage? Who is sharing what? What made you uncomfortable? Who was there, who wasn’t?
Take all of those things, and hold them in the back of your mind. We’ll repackage those into the next level of fighting for women:
Intersectionality (or intersectional theory) is a term first coined in 1989 by American civil rights advocate and leading scholar of critical race theory, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. It is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. Intersectionality is the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities. These identities that can intersect include gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age, mental disability, physical disability, mental illness, and physical illness as well as other forms of identity. These aspects of identity are not “unitary, mutually exclusive entities, but rather…reciprocally constructing phenomena.” The theory proposes that we think of each element or trait of a person as inextricably linked with all of the other elements in order to fully understand one’s identity. (wikipedia)
If you feel confused or concerned, stick around.
(If you feel like you know exactly what’s coming, feel free to tune out. This is definitely a 101.)
Why are you marching? Probably because the election of Trump finally did something to put an ill feeling in your stomach. Even if the stats and figures and testimony show that you’re being discriminated, the fact that a man who embodies “rape culture” was elected President is a clear sign that the system has no intent on fighting the subtle and explicit crimes women face.
But then why, you may ask, do Black Lives Matter people walk? How about trans activists, or gay activists? Are they trying to divide us?
No. The opposite, really — because they face what you do, and more. As you may have heard, “equal rights are not special rights,” and these women are still fighting for equal rights in ways that you may not have encountered. They’ve felt the same ill feeling you’ve had — but for long before 2016.
The consideration of these unique factors — and your next step in fighting back — is called “intersectional feminism,”
as I’ve defined above. Again, as a recap, “intersectional feminism” is understanding how those facts, stats, and figures that you may be familiar with change when other factors like race, income, disability, national status, immigration, geography, etc etc etc. come into play.
The origins of this term already make for a great example of its use. It was first professionally utilized when writer Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw analyzed a court case, DeGraffenreid v. General Motors, in which Black women would not be hired by GM. The company would only hire white women for “feminine” (secretarial and similar) positions (remember: this was the 80's), but in the course of their court case, GM used the hiring of Black men to demonstrate a lack of racism. In other words, there were singular protections for either “being Black” or “being a woman,” but not the “intersection” of “Black women.”
A similar type of discrimination still exists today in labor. You may be familiar with the concept of the wage gap: for every dollar a white man makes, a woman with a similar position takes home an income with a smaller relative percentage. So, while Black women have the highest college enrollment percentage of any group, they take home 64% of the income relative to white men, compared to white women who take home 78%. For Hispanic and Native American women, they take home 54% and 59% respectively, and Asian women, while they take home 90% relative white men’s, take 79% compared to Asian men.
In a way that birth control, abortion, assault, etc. may affect you, a slew of different things may also affect other women of different types. The hope of the final vision of The Women’s March was to bring all of these issues together, at a crossroads, and rally around them.
And I hope it’s obvious to you that it’s not that your issues aren’t important. You’re more than welcome to advocate for these things. They’re important to all, and many of those issues do disproportionately affect non-white and non-cis women, especially income and health care.
The point is that others who have been affected need your help; they aren’t weak, but they and their issues require your attention and the power and passion that you brought for your own. After all, power in numbers.
And it’s worth noting that many of them are exhausted.
So many Black, Hispanic, trans, disabled, etc. women have been marching for these things well before “the hell year” of 2016 came around. Black Lives Matter was founded by a Black woman after Trayvon Martin was shot; Black mothers spoke and speak about how they need to train their sons about how to act, walk, dress, and speak to avoid unwanted police attention. Trans women have an extremely high rate of murdered, but trans women of color are disproportionately killed.
So many are upset that over half of white women voted for Trump, even if Trump won the national vote, and that some white women are finally concerned for the severity of anti-woman rhetoric — excuse me, sexism — that persists in our country, as if it was never there until Trump started his campaign.
As Jamilah Lemieux put it in her piece, “Why I’m Skipping The Women’s March on Washington:”
On the other hand, I’m really tired of Black and Brown women routinely being tasked with fixing White folks’ messes. I’m tired of being the moral compass of the United States. Many of the White women who will attend the march are committed activists, sure. But for those new-to-it White women who just decided that they care about social issues? I’m not invested in sharing space with them at this point in history.
In other words, activists like her have done so much work of their own without support, while others have expected the unconditional support of people like her. Meanwhile, they are erased, demeaned, and called out by other “activists,” which is incredibly emotionally difficult to deal with on top of the issues they’re fighting against.
And the same applies for many white women [I’m half-white/half-Asian so I’m awkwardly, slightly in this bracket ]— while we have been advocating for our rights and those of others, we’ve faced much backlash from our peers. While we’re ENTHUSED that you’re here, for real, the growth of the movement is more than signs and slogans and cute pink hats. It’s work. We did our work and are still doing it, and we hope you learn to navigate the paths we’ve made.
After all, activism is hard work, especially when these are issues that affect you. And activists don’t work to be progressive activists to be told by other “progressive” “activists” that their issues aren’t relevant enough to everyone. That’s the point of activism — to make others aware and make them issues relevant.
In “I Didn’t March Because I’m an Overwhelmingly Displaced Black Woman,” Ezinne Ukoha discusses the issue of a lack of intersectional consideration more personally; I highly recommend this read.
The point is, it’s time for us to learn about how to lift others unlike ourselves up, as they have for us.
It’s exhausting and tiring. But as history demonstrates time and time again, if women have to climb a steeper hill than men, this means Black women and other women of color face cliffs. At the very least, we can toss the rope.
Educate yourself; be aware of who you are with, and who you support, and how you speak. Learn the stats; if you read regularly, culture yourself with Black, Hispanic, Asian, and other writers and activists. When you see someone of a different race, what’s the first thing you think — and is that what you should think? After all, the first thought is what you’re taught to think, and it’s your own mind’s eye’s response to that thought that counts.
I promise you.
You will feel better.
You will feel empowered.
You will feel fulfilled in ways that a million marches cannot provide.
You will find the world more troubling, yes, but you will also see humanity where you perhaps never cared to look before.
I’ll call your attention back to your own marches.
What was the atmosphere like when Black women, trans women, and trans women of color spoke? Was anyone uncomfortable from these speeches; did anyone try to counter with “ALL lives matter,” or did you? And remember the details of what I asked earlier — who was represented and representing off-stage?
I can tell you what I took away: In the march in Asbury Park, NJ, on the deeply gentrified, white, “Bohemian,” and gay side of the (literal) tracks, I saw a sea of white marchers, clearly excited, though many were a bit lost and largely uninitiated. One of the only few chant-starters I encountered was a white man, decked out in “Black Lives Matter” gear, who seemed to know what he was doing and whose young kids were equally enthusiastic; another was a Black man with a megaphone who came pretty clearly prepared. Very few slogans explicitly talking about racism popped up in the waves of signs, though some Black Lives Matter signs floated through. I heard and saw “All Lives Matter,” and felt the relative silence for the Black, Hispanic, and trans mentions in the (notably diverse) speakers’ speeches. And when they came into sight, I felt proud of and enthused for the Black women I saw, and the Hispanic family with their sign in Spanish — “If you don’t respect existence, expect resistance.”
One side of my sign was a statement of intersectionality: “We’re all on different roads; let’s navigate the intersections.” And as I looked at this at one point, all of what I’ve mentioned processing in mind, I suddenly remembered that I lived in a Trump county, as NJ’s Monmouth and Ocean counties had Trump majorities. And in that same moment, I made a commitment to try to pay attention to the underrepresented identities.
If we want this to be anything like the 60’s Civil Rights marches — nay, better, or at least bigger, as it can potentially be — we need to not “put aside” our differences, but acknowledge them and empower those that suffer society’s unjust punishments. If womanhood creates a target for our new dictator, those that deviate from white, cis womanhood have another placed for every new identity they encompass. With one hand ripping off our own, we can help another finally tear hers off.