Race, News, Social Justice

Stop complaining about “dividing” the Women’s March and listen.

We have to talk about our problems if we can ever hope to fix them.

If you are a white person who has never protested before the Women’s March last Saturday, first of all, welcome to the resistance, second, I hope you are ready to listen. Not to me, of course, but to the chorus of people who have raised their voices and shared how the march made them feel inferior, forgotten and angry. It is crucial that we learn to pay attention and take action to do better going forward.

Veterans of feminist organizing know that our movement in its vastness has major rifts, but those do not have to divide us gong forward. Civil rights activist Bernice Reagan Johnson once said, “If you’re not uncomfortable, your coalition is too small.”

White people need to sit in our discomfort, we need to become used to it. Click To Tweet

White people need to sit in our discomfort,  we need become used to it. One of the great flaws of white feminism is an unwillingness to face the uncomfortable truth that even our feminism is destructive to minorities in the coalition.

People who did not have to take the time to explain how they felt and why have come out about their experiences in the wake of the march. So while the high of Saturday is fresh in our minds, we need to hear and then amplify these perspectives. In order for the movement to become stronger, white feminists must be willing to abandon our illusions of unity and understand that our silence has consequences for many of the people we marched with.

Here are the reflections that have most moved me so far. This first piece was published on Essence.com. I have seen so much commentary about the way police interacted with women at the march, but this managed to capture the frustration and disgust so many felt.

Women’s March On Washington: To White Women Who Were Allowed To Resist While We Survived Passive Racism

“It is white women who are not questioned when they take to the streets in cities all over the country, by the hundreds of thousands. It is white women who can scream, “Fuck Trump” and “it is our duty to FIGHT” while police officers look on in mild amusement.”

“I realize somewhere between being pushed into a trash can by an oblivious “Nasty Woman,” and being racially profiled by an elderly feminist, that white women marched yesterday for themselves alone.”

This next thread is the most informative and wholly discomforting thing I have read in a very long time. Keep going through the thread, it takes a while but is extremely worthwhile- the sheer mental and emotional labour that this represents is staggering.  For more, she also recommends spending some time in the #nativetruth tag.

And lastly, this piece on Mic, on the transphobic and cisnormative effect of having so many images and slogans centered around female genitalia.

How the Women’s March’s “genital-based” feminism isolated the transgender community

“I believe there’s a lot of inequality that has to do with genitals — that’s not something you can separate from the feminist movement,” Lejeck said. “But I feel like I’ve tried to get involved in feminism and there’s always been a blockade there for trans women.”

The debate around the women’s march, even from the very beginning, has highlighted the factions in contemporary feminism that have existed for decades. The entire event was formed through a negotiation with the arms of this movement which are in conflict.

They went so far as to discourage speakers from using the words “intersectional feminism,” and I understand why. Of course, the leaders of this movement hoped that somehow they could avoid the inevitable internal debate. Maybe they hoped no one would point out the hypocrisy of huge numbers of white people showing up when as far as anyone can tell, they have until now chosen to stay home when the time came to protect black, immigrant, trans or indigenous lives. They were wrong, though, and this movement is better for it.

As an ally, I was quietly uneasy. Click To Tweet

As an ally, I was quietly uneasy right up until it was time to march. I struggled to define it in terms that were appropriately inclusive. I eventually realized that with any movement this big, all we can do is show up where we are and be ready to grow. I made my sign and I covered it in my heroes. Sylvia Rivera laughed alongside Maya Angelou and Nawal el Sadaawi. I arrived with an expression of intersectional feminism that reflected where I am in my journey.

I marched in Germany, so my experience was firstly one of solidarity with other Americans. Because our march was a confluence of foreign nationals, expats and local activists, I felt that there was an understanding that we were there to learn from each other. Maybe I was wrong. After a couple of speakers took the stage after our march, the crowd thinned significantly. By the time Furat Abdulle took the stage to perform a heart-stopping spoken word poem, the crowd had diminished from over 2,000 people to a small group huddled around the stage.

After that, maybe 20 of us held hands and sang a spiritual guided by two African American women who I wished the whole crowd could have seen. White Germans have a pre-occupation with gospel music and it probably would have been useful for them to see a side of black music that isn’t presented for white enjoyment the way gospel is here.

I marched in Germany, so my experience was one of solidarity with other Americans. Click To Tweet

I was disappointed that so many people left in the middle of a thoughtful program full of voices that we never hear. Poetry isn’t as thrilling as marching maybe, but it seemed to me that this is what our sister march was about- connecting with local activists who we would otherwise never encounter, and that was pretty disheartening.

MORE FROM THE TEMPEST:

Read Next:  Sorry, Rose McGowan, but your gross and obvious transphobia will never be feminism
Katherine Kaestner-Frenchman

Katherine Kaestner-Frenchman

Katherine Kaestner-Frenchman is the Interviews Editor here at the Tempest. She is currently based in Germany and is passionate about wine, travel, feminism, and foreign policy. She is a nomad and TCK who's lived in 12 countries and cities around the world and doesn't really know where home is.

Our weekly email will change your life.