Divided We Stand: The Women's March

Angela Peoples (left) at the 2017 Women’s March. Photo: Kevin Banatte

Angela Peoples (left) at the 2017 Women’s March. Photo: Kevin Banatte

In 2017, the first Women’s March on Washington was the largest single-day protest in American history. At the outset, such large numbers seemed promising, leading onlookers and participants alike to assume that the front was united—that everyone agreed feminism could only be successful if it was intersectional. We assumed this because we wanted to believe that we have finally been able to transcend lines of race, class, religion, and sexuality in order to further the protection of all women’s rights.

The Women’s March was founded upon several “unity principles” that include ending violence and fighting for reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, workers’ rights, environmental justice, civil rights, disability rights, and immigrant rights. Despite their intended broad appeal, these principles read very superficially in practice, neglecting how certain issues can differently affect different communities of women.

For example, when addressing ending violence, the Women’s March website reads, “We believe in accountability and justice in cases of police brutality and ending racial profiling and targeting of communities of color.” While this aims to check off the “woman of color” box, it fails to recognize the violence endured by LGBTQ+ women. Furthermore, when addressing reproductive rights, it fails to recognize that, despite wanting access to “quality reproductive healthcare services,” for all women, black women have higher rates of maternal mortality than any other women in the nation. The movement lacks the fundamental understanding that we aren’t just boxes to be ticked on their intersectionality rubric, and this failure to recognize exactly what intersectionality looks like has been a problem of the movement since its genesis.

Dividing into factions at this year’s New York City Women’s March with the intent on holistically furthering women’s rights under these unity principles should clearly refute the movement’s claims to intersectionality. The movement cannot expect to be successful without acknowledging the ways that other facets of identity intersect with issues for women of all kinds.

The pink “pussyhat,” which was preemptively established as what would be the symbol of the movement—something to unite “every resister”—is a prime example of the movement’s non-intersectionality. The hat’s biological allusion, first of all, only applies to cisgender women. Then, its pink color caters only to a single population: pink vaginas primarily belong to white women, and such a connection is no coincidence.

One picture reveals it all: the cracks in a movement that had begun to fray since its first meeting. Angela Peoples, a black activist, holds a sign that reads, “Don’t forget: White Women Voted for Trump,” not sporting a pink hat as the three white women behind her all do. Not acknowledging that 53% of white women voted for someone who vowed to overturn Roe v. Wade in the 2016 election was one of the first cracks within the March itself. Not surprisingly, the responsibility to address the issue fell to a black woman.

The Women’s March was supposed to be intersectional from day one, making registered efforts to include and amplify the voices of marginalized women. Their meetings were filled with diverse women who “made a commitment from the beginning to work across racial and religious lines, and to be led by what they considered the most “marginalized” women.” Its organizers, Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Bob Bland, and Carman Perez, even present as the poster children of diversity.

Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Bob Bland, and Carman Perez. Photo: Todd Heisler—The New York Times

Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Bob Bland, and Carman Perez. Photo: Todd Heisler—The New York Times

This commitment to engaging “the most marginalized women,” on its face, seems promising. But the result did not align with these intentions. For example, their controversial relationship with Jewish women, which only recently came to light, has been problematic from the start. Some of the organizers have endorsed Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, and asserted that Jewish women have upheld white supremacy and have not been equal victims of it.

This came to a contentious conclusion when the 2019 NYC Women’s March split into two separate factions: one led by the Women’s March group advertised as being led by women of color and another affiliated by March On, which stresses the denunciation of anti-Semitism and was founded by leaders of the 2017’s Women’s March sister marches, some of whom are Jewish women themselves.

The Women’s March failed to establish itself as completely intersectional, and because of this issue, has struggled to enact their policies while combating divisions. So, while we all show up one day out of the year to march divided in our own little groups, there remain attacks against all of our shared rights as women. Most recently, Louisiana attempted to restrict access to abortion, and it was only narrowly put on hold by the Supreme Court; however, the majority of white women voted for Trump, whose Supreme Court appointees will rule against Roe v. Wade, which would have a disproportionate effect on women of color. We cannot expect to fight the misogyny that has been placed at the center of our nation effectively if we are too busy engrossed in a battle against one another.

The answer is not in dividing up the women’s movement based on our separate identities, working on our own and only for our own. Instead of trying to transcend those differences and identify a singular experience as womanhood, we should be working to understand how each of our identities intersect with our gender, and how the ways that we each experience the world can be included in fighting to protect rights for every single one of us.