Post-Women’s March, I’m disappointed in white women. Again.
At the marches this past weekend, millions of people turned out in Washington, D.C. and sister marches around the country (and the world!) to protest D.J.T.’s ascendance to the presidency, sexism, racism, economic injustice, xenophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, and homophobia. Sounds incredible, right? In many ways, it was. It was likely the biggest protest in U.S. history, and while the march got off to a shaky start, the official platform of the Women’s March ended up being intersectional, radical, and inclusive.*
This intersectional and inclusive approach was reflected in some of the signs at the marches. Unfortunately, some of these signs were perceived as being too harsh and divisive in a time when unity is paramount. Signs with slogans like “White Women Voted for Trump” really rattled white women who thought the march, and feminism in general, was supposed to be about unity. Critique is uncomfortable, and I know it’s easy to be defensive. However, the white women who worry about the feminist movement becoming divided don’t understand that feminism has always been divided because feminist movements were started by wealthy white women, many of whom actively perpetuated systems of racism and classism.**
Feminism has never been a movement that worked equally for all women. For many women, “unity” in mainstream feminist movements has often meant being silenced. Women of color, LGBTQ+ women, poor women, immigrant women, and women from the global south have had to fight for a voice within feminist movements, and even then, their critiques and concerns have frequently been met with annoyance and a brush-off. Women who dissent from white feminist agendas are still met with resistance and even violence. They are still characterized as unnecessarily divisive.
If these women of color are divisive, it is the fault of the white feminists who refuse to listen. Women of color feminists are practicing feminist politics by fighting for justice and fighting for their people. Calling them “divisive” completely trivializes their lives and their politics. But the blame for these divisions never falls on feminists who are white.
How can white feminists believe that they have the right to be heard by the powers that be, while denying a voice to women of color within a movement that purports itself to be for all women? If a white woman think it is morally and ethically allowable and right to protest a president who has said violently misogynistic things, then why is a protest of white women’s racism wrong? I don’t know how to say it more strongly: feminists who are afraid of disagreements and differences within feminist movements will always end up perpetuating oppression. Feminists do not have to be monolithic to be politically unified. In fact, trying to force feminists or women to somehow be the same as each other usually ends with the silencing of poor, immigrant, and LGBTQ+ women of color. It is the height of white arrogance for white feminists to believe that their opinions should be the default, and that feminists of color need to work around that, instead of the other way around.
I understand that critique is hard; having a real dialogue, instead of a debate or instead of ignoring a problem, is extremely difficult. It takes a lot of work and dedication on the part of all parties involved to being empathetic, respectful, compassionate, and honest. But holy shit, what is the point of a feminist movement if we can’t even have real conversations with each other??
I have cited it before, and I will cite it ’til I die because it’s so good, but in her essay “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Womem,” bell hooks argues that we shouldn’t be striving for a sisterhood based on shared oppression or having the same opinions on everything. A true sisterhood involves being accountable for our actions when we are the oppressors; caring for each other and ourselves; being honest about our perspectives and intentions; and genuinely engaging with critiques and disagreements. IT’S OKAY TO DISAGREE. We are different, and that is wonderful. Erasing or attempting to erase those differences is violent.
We must take responsibility for the oppression we perpetuate, and we HAVE to love the fact that women are different. That is fucking dope! Difference doesn’t mean we can’t understand each other, or act in solidarity with each other. It just means we have to actively do that. So please, white women who hated the “White Women Voted For Trump” signs, stop blaming women who are pushed to the side even within feminist movements for creating divisions within those movements. Divisions already exist, and those women are trying to bridge them. Listen! Engage with difference! Whoo!
* Not perfect. One big issue was the replacement of pro-sex workers’ rights language with language that reinforced the “all sex workers are exploited” narrative. It is not mutually exclusive! We can lift up our people who are sex workers AND commit to ending sexual violence and exploitation. Both/and, not either/or.
** I don’t mean that white women were the first to think of feminist theories/principles/values. Women of color have been part of the feminist movement from the beginning, and there are many strands of philosophical and activist thought that could be considered feminist even though they are not called feminist by their founders and authors. I just mean that feminism, which is a culturally and historically specific movement and school of thought, has always been dominated by white women and white supremacy.