By Sunita Singh Hans, Storyteller for RU Student Life
On January 21st 2017 Donald Trump appeared on the TV screen of the restaurant I was sitting in, and for the very first time I saw his title as “President of the United States of America” appear in block capital letters as I felt my heart sink. I couldn’t hear a thing he was saying, however, as the noise of the TV was drowned out with the excited chatter of women in the restaurant, their faces lit up with exhilaration and defiance as though they had just achieved something incredible. It was in this restaurant where I met up with my cousin after the Women’s March who had the same look in her eyes that many other women did that day, including myself, as we felt a sense of unity. I watched as women crowded in with their signs and introduce themselves to each other with pride, and what I took away from that day was a sense of solidarity. Unfortunately, however, there are many women that took something different away from that day — something that shows just how much work we still have to do and how conscious we need to be of what it is that we’re fighting for.
The Women’s March was a worldwide event and was organized in response to the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States and so much more. The March was a defiant act against injustice that drew an estimated 3.3 million people in the US, more than 50,000 in Toronto and 5 million people collectively worldwide. But some will be surprised to learn that not everyone took away a sense of assurance from the March. In fact, some women didn’t feel as though they were supported at all. When I first heard about the Women’s March, I anticipated it would be an astounding declaration of empowerment. It wasn’t until I looked on social media and through discussions with friends that I heard of many women of colour and indigenous women who found the march to be exclusive and problematic. After researching more on social media and talking to women who marched, I realized that nobody took the same exact feelings away from the event.
“It’s essentially a model of intersectionality”
When listening to many friend’s reactions to the Women’s March, I noticed the word “intersectionality” was used a lot. But what exactly is intersectional feminism? It’s a term that was coined by American professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, who described it as such:
“The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.”
To put it simply, an intersectional feminist approach recognizes that categories of identity and difference cannot be separated, and is used to emphasize that feminism that centres white, middle class, cis-gendered and able-bodied women does not represent every woman’s experience, thus excluding entire voices from the discussion and movements. When news of the march
“It was a White Women’s March”
Many women would disagree that the March successfully lived up to this ideal of representing women of all races and backgrounds. This is the predominant problem that has been associated with the March since it was first announced — because all the original organizers were white women. Historically, women of colour have been excluded from such movements which is why it was crucial that three women of colour signed on as national co-chairs. However, as soon as conversations of race began, many white women wrote on the March’s Facebook page that they would be boycotting the event. This discrimination sadly didn’t stop there as for some women, white privilege was also deeply felt and exhibited at the March itself. In a Twitter thread that has since gone viral, social activist Roopa Chema described her experience of going to the Toronto march with a sign that read “Hold White Women Accountable”, alluding to the fact that 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. Whilst standing in Nathan Phillip’s Square with the sign, she was questioned, scolded and even grabbed at by an older woman who deemed her sign as “inappropriate. Chema states that she longs to “feel included in feminism”, and that “if white women refuse to acknowledge their racism within feminism, none of us will truly be free.”
A young white woman whose Twitter handle is @mstharrington, described her experience of bringing a similar sign which read “White Women Elected Trump. She felt obliged to make the sign in order to hold her white female family members accountable for putting Trump in office, as well as wanting “to remind myself how little I had done to keep him from getting elected. So the sign wasn’t just for others, but for me.” She summed up the three main reactions she received at the event, which was gratitude from women of colour, ashamed recognition from young white women, and a refusal to acknowledge responsibility from older white women.
Blogger and author Luvvie Ajayi wrote in a Facebook post, ‘‘In a world that doesn’t protect women much, when it chooses to, it is white women it protects,’’ Ajayi wrote. The post has been shared over 6,000 times.
An Indigenous Experience
Sydne Rain, an indigenous woman, attended the March in Washington and described how white women described her regalia as “beautiful” and took photos of her without her permission, but completely dismissed her when Rain tried to explain her experience to them. After informing the white women they were on stolen land, Rain and her friend were scolded and ridiculed, with one woman even accusing them of “faking it.” The March had not even started yet. When the March did begin, Rain describes how several white women tried to join their group and even told her “[I] guess we’re Indians today!” which left Rain and her friends “feeling like a guest on our own ancestral lands.” Summing up her experience, Rain tweeted “White Women do not understand the complexities of our reality as children of this grandmother earth, indigenous to her lands. And they don’t want to.”
“Marches last a day, where will you be in 2018?”
Going back to Luvvie Ajayi’s Facebook post, she brings up an important point, “White women and white bodies can hold space on streets and shut down cities “peacefully” because they are allowed to. Black and brown people who march are assaulted by cops. Remember that you as a white person are walking in a body of privilege.” Ajayi holds white men and women accountable for not showing up to march for the likes of Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, yet she begs them to recognize that they are needed to show up, now more so than ever before. As social activist Mikki Kendall writes, “Marches last a day, where will you be in 2018?” This is only the beginning, which will require harder work and paying even more attention to not only what we’re marching for, but who we are marching for. No experience is the same.