Feminism and Intersectionality
On January 19th, a group of JMU students headed to Washington, D.C. to march in solidarity for women around the globe. Many attendees at the march held signs that emphasized the importance of intersectionality. Intersectional feminism can be defined as: “An analytic framework that attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society.” (Source)
Since it’s inception, feminism has mainly served straight, cis-gender, upper-class white women. It is crucial that those who engage in feminist conversation are mindful of the implication behind their statements. In short, your feminism must be intersectional, or it will be bullshit. (As this lovely sign says below.) The lack of intersectionality has been a criticism of the Women’s March since it started in 2016. I do acknowledge that the organization has made strides towards making the event more inclusive for all, but I will also recognize that there is a lot of work to be done.
I believe that there is great power in praising the goodness in something, while still acknowledging that there is room for improvement. While the Women’s March does a lot of good for women and the community as a whole, it tends to leave a lot of people behind. Despite the overwhelming support of intersectional feminism that was shown at this years march, I still noticed that as a whole, the event just wasn’t intersectional enough. I will break this down below.
Pussy hats aren’t inclusive of those who identify as a woman but do not have a vagina.
The infamous “pussy hats” that are shown every year at the Women’s March are noninclusive of the trans community. Not everyone who identifies as a woman has a vagina, and this can be extremely discouraging for trans women that are coming out and showing up for gender equality. Was it enough to feature trans women as speakers during the rally, or were these efforts tokenizing? I found it counter productive to have trans speakers at the event while making vagina-shaped hats the face of the march. As the poster below states, support your sisters, not just your cis-ters!
Pay inequality is significantly worse for women of color than it is for white women. Your signs should reflect this.
Many signs at the march featured sayings such as, “Give me my 23 cents back!” As a woman studying business, I have seen first hand the very real reality of men being paid astronomically higher wages than women for the same exact work. Trust me, I’m pissed. But I must also acknowledge that the wage gap between white women and white men is not nearly as large as it is between white men and women of color. According to the National Women’s Law Center, “White women on average make 79 cents for every dollar made by a man, while black women make 63 cents, Native American women make 57 cents, and Latina women make 54 cents.” As stated earlier, feminism has long been a movement geared towards white women, and it is important that we put in the work to counteract this history. White women, especially, need to stand behind women of color and amplify their voices, not talk over them. At the next Women’s March, I hope white women put as much energy into vocalizing the injustices against women of color as they do for themselves.
Eco-Feminism is important. Clean up after yourself.
At the end of the march, I traveled the empty streets, observing the concerning amount of trash that littered the ground. In general, I would consider Washington D.C. to be a relatively clean city, and it was evident that most of this trash had been left by the march attendees who claimed to care about the environment. Posters, flyers, stickers, food containers, and even women’s march apparel were all left on the street following the march. This is problematic for many reasons. I noticed many signs during the march emphasized the importance of caring for mother earth, for fighting climate change, for believing in science. What good are we doing, as feminists, if we can’t even clean up after ourselves? This sight at the end of the day was a discouraging one. It is also important to add that federal lands are unstaffed at the moment due to the government shutdown, meaning much of the trash generated by the march will stay where it was left. We need to hold each other accountable for how we treat the planet that we live on.
White Feminism and its’ connection to MLK Day
In honor of MLK Day, I would like to briefly share how Dr. King’s beliefs have impacted my decision to lobby this critical perspective on this day. As he shares in his Letter From Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. always preached that luke-warm activism is dangerous. As he writes in his letter:
“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens’ Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
It is crucial that we are relentless in our fight for equality for all, not just for white women. During the march, a group of women from the Women of Color began chanting “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and were met with practically silence. What does this say about the current state of feminism today? Further, what does this say about who feminism is for in 2019? And most importantly, what would Dr. King have to say about the lack of intersectionality present at the Women’s March this year?