On the eve of the finale of what had been a long, brutal, and demoralizing election cycle, I, like most people, was anticipating a comfortable victory for Hillary Clinton. Even as someone who supported Senator Bernie Sanders in the primary and was skeptical of some of the baggage that came along with electing someone like Clinton, I couldn’t help but be excited at the prospect of the first female president.
Because the election did not turn out like most of the pundits planned, the media had to grapple with what they missed, leaders of other nations were forced to think seriously about what this would mean for an increasingly global society, and activists, progressives, and Never Trump-ers wondered alike, “What comes next?”
This was an unprecedented outcome. Therefore, it would call for a reaction that was unprecedented. About a week following the election, a sociology instructor at my university reached out to students, myself included, with information about the Women’s March on Washington, an event that was set to follow Trump’s inauguration. At the time, the details were unknown, but I eagerly signed up, wanting desperately to throw myself at any opportunity for activism that came my way.
Fast forward to what is now just a few days ago, and it’s still difficult for me to digest everything that I experienced. I didn’t fully realize the potential the march had until I was in D.C., and before even getting into the city I saw hundreds of people on the sidewalks walking with their pink hats on, clutching their signs. Once inside the rally, I glanced around, and saw no end or beginning to the crowd. More than ever before, I understood for the first time what it means to be a part of something bigger than myself. Listening to the likes of Alicia Keys, Ashley Judd, and America Ferrara, I was moved to the point of tears. The feeling of being there was something that I will never forget, though it’s probably not something that could ever be replicated.
When asked to write this piece, it was tempting to simply gush about how incredible it was to be at the Women’s March, and how inspiring the speakers all were. However, we are five days into the new administration, and it’s clear that President Trump isn’t hesitating to take actions that are controversial and deeply problematic at best. For our purposes, Trump is the pacemaker, and our responses must be timely. Moving forward post-Women’s March, and into what I believe is the fourth feminist wave, there are a few things that I want to caution the reader about.
The first is that while the march itself was absolutely something worth a page in a history book, the work does not stop there. It’s really easy to want to succumb to the bystander effect, take a step back, and defer the responsibilities of push-back onto others. I attribute this not to laziness, per se, but more so to individuals not understanding the importance of their own voices in the resistance. That, and the fact that social justice is a really daunting and demanding commitment, or at least it seems that way. I’m not going to pretend to understand the challenges that cause people to push away from involvement in the political sphere, and I cannot tailor my short blog post to try and address every situation a person may find themselves in. I will say, though, that no matter how much or how little, every action counts. Please do what you can, when you can, and when you feel compelled to.
This next point I’ll preface by saying that the magnitude and significance of the Women’s March will undoubtedly attract new figures to the movement. With that being said, it’s important that veterans of any social justice movement are cognizant of the steep learning curve that people are faced with when they begin to get involved and politically engaged. It’s tempting to want to shut down a self-proclaimed feminist that is less than supportive of movements such as Black Lives Matter and the protests aiming to disrupt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. As someone who really used to suck as a feminist, be patient with these people. Educate them, and try your best to engage with them in a way that’s constructive. When I say this, I also aim to put the brunt of the responsibility for this on my fellow white, cis gendered women. Women of color, LGBT+ women, disabled women, Muslim women, etc. are tired of having to explain to us the ways in which their other identities intersect with gender. In having these conversations, we’re also presented with the opportunity to elevate the voices of those women to which white feminists are usually blind.
On a related note, women who do have extensive knowledge on the intricacies of intersectionality, and have been able to dedicate themselves to the feminist movement wholeheartedly, should not forget the barriers that poor women in this country are faced with in regards to attaining this knowledge. Having and being able to utilize the knowledge one has to develop their conception of feminism is a huge privilege. Someone who’s working two jobs at minimum wage, trying to make a car/house payment, and feed themselves and quite possibly a family might be supportive of the movement, but lacks the resources necessary for developing their brand of feminism. A feminism that’s classist is bullshit. It’s not enough to say that “we’ll be their voice.” We have to do a better job of including this population of women.
It’s clear that there were a plethora of flaws in the way that feminism was and has been presented in the past. It’s been racist, transphobic, homophobic, classist, etc., and it’s doubtful that feminism is ever going to be perfect. As we head into the Trump administration, and into the fourth wave, it’s important for every one of us to remember that feminism is not something that is or should be static. We have to make ourselves comfortable with growth and criticism, and we have to do a better job of listening to one another. During a time where the narratives and insights of women are falling on deaf ears, we cannot forget that our capacity to listen to one another is crucial to our movement’s advancement and survival.
Photograph courtesy of the author.