Four Valid Criticisms of the Women’s March

ON JANUARY 21, millions of women turned out to take part in the Women’s March on Washington: a set of worldwide demonstrations against politicians and corporations who want to revoke the rights of women, people of color, LGBTQIA individuals, and people with disabilities. The marches took place on the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, and drew crowds many times larger than the presidential event, prompting Trump and his supporters to strike out at the Women’s March with vitriol.

The day after the march, Trump tweeted to suggest that the demonstrators must not have voted on November 8. Conservative news outlets reported that marchers littered the streets with their protest signs, and many condemned the demonstration as a violent affair, in spite of the fact that no people were arrested during the Women’s March on Washington.

In addition, many women began sharing a near-viral message about why the Women’s March was not for them, citing the fact that they had never felt discriminated against in the U.S., or claiming they were left out for being white or for being pro-life. All three of these are invalid reasons to criticize the Women’s March. Discrimination doesn’t cease to exist because you don’t feel it. It is not disrespectful for someone to ask you to respect others. And pro-life women were not barred from marching with the rest of the demonstrators.

Valid criticisms of the Women’s March deserve our attention. The January 21 protests were not a moment, but part of a movement, and we cannot close ourselves off to positive change if we hope to keep the momentum going. Here are four to consider.

1. It Was Originally Named “The Million Women March”

When it was first announced, the Women’s March was called the Million Women March. Organizers changed the name after it was pointed out that they had co-opted African-American demonstrations in the 1990s. That didn’t stop some women from feeling that their protest had been changed because “#MasculinitySoFragile.”

Yes, there was a Million Man March in 1995, and yes, it’s somewhat reasonable to assume that the organizers named their demonstration after it. However, it’s important to note that there was a Million Woman March, organized by and for black women, which drew 750,000 women to the streets of Philadelphia in 1997. Regardless of whether the Women’s March organizers were aware of it or not, it is the name of this demonstration that they were appropriating.

See more about cultural appropriation here.

2. White Women Mistreated Native Marchers

The day after the Women’s March, Native American activists who had been present at the demonstrations reported widespread mistreatment by white protesters. Aggressions included touching and photographing indigenous women without their permission, mocking their tribal chants and music, questioning their authenticity, and blatantly ignoring them. Many white women also refused to take literature on Native American rights and causes.

It’s important to note that Women’s March organizers specifically asked white women to stay in their lane when interacting with women of color. The actions of demonstrators who refused to do so do not reflect on the Women’s March itself, but they do expose a need for deeper discussion of intersectionality in feminism.

3. White Women Have Failed to March for Other Causes

In a public Facebook post on January 21, writer Ijeoma Oluo wrote:

I cannot put into words how heartbreaking it is to see grown adults that I know and love decide only now to take to the streets. I’m glad you’re there. I’m glad you’re doing something. But weren’t we enough? Weren’t we worth it before? Why weren’t we reason enough?

She’s right. Although people across the country have turned out en masse to protest police brutality against black communities, white presence has been sorely lacking at Black Lives Matter rallies. White women’s calls for solidarity — which, incidentally, are generally used to avoid discussion of racism and other forms of bigotry — were hypocritical, given our continued inaction on issues that do not affect us directly.

If we are to carry the Women’s March spirit through the next four years, we have to demonstrate in protest of unfair laws and practices that affect all women: black women, indigenous women, Muslim women, LGBTQIA women, and women with disabilities.

4. Most White Women Voted for Donald Trump

Only 42 percent of women voters cast their ballots for Trump, but more than half of all white women who went to the polls voted for him. It’s too easy — not to mention naive — to say that the women who marched on January 21 were all Hillary supporters. Trump voters must acknowledge their role in this, but white women are responsible for what happens in our own communities, regardless of how they voted. Criticizing white women for marching against Trump is entirely reasonable, and, rather than defending ourselves with #NotThisWhiteWoman, we must call out the racists and bigots who look like us, and march with people who do not.