21st century feminism and the problem of exclusivity

In the wake of the Women's Marches on Washington, Henrietta Dow examines the issues of exclusivity, privilege, and intersectionality in modern feminism.

The Women’s March on Washington will surely make history, if not simply for its unprecedented size and what it means for the incoming administration, then for the controversy it has generated. While most pushback has come from political opposition who might fail to see the importance of such a statement or those who identify as strongly against the feminist movement, criticism has also come from within the ranks of the marchers themselves.
A topic gaining more and more mainstream attention in the past year is white feminism, or, more specifically, how race plays into the movement. We have seen celebrities come under fire on social media for simplifying issues faced by women of colour, and compressing them into boxes that solely encompass the white female experience. For clarification: white feminism is a term used to describe women who, while subscribing to basic feminist belief, do not acknowledge the contributions or struggles of women of colour in the movement within the context of their political/social oppression. It takes many forms and is a silent divider of the many who would doubtlessly be stronger united than divided. It can be seen in the outcry against the newly inaugurated president as contrasted to the silence of these same protesters when the Black Lives Matter movement started taking heavy fire from the conservative media. It can also be seen in the percentage of white women who voted Trump (53 percent) as opposed to the 7 percent of black women who did so, signifying the choice to prioritize racial privilege over the safety of fellow women.
The Women’s March was originally organized by a group of largely white women, a fact observed by one of the founders, Ms Bob Bland. This created the issue of how to ensure that the march stood for all women, no matter what race. The committee in charge of the march decided to expand greatly, and now includes a wide range of experiences and identities. The march itself still focused largely on very general issues, and the troubling fact of the matter seems to be that despite all of Trump’s divisive and racist rhetoric, none of his statements created a movement like the march, giving many a feeling that there was anything but solidarity when it came to cross-racial sisterhood. For example, the image of the Women’s March has widely been perceived as positive in popular media and liberal circles, while protests for racial justice are still labeled divisive. To quote the (pleasantly and surprisingly insightful) magazine Teen Vogue in their article ‘Signs at the Women’s March on Washington Called out White Feminism’ by Vanessa Willoughby, “White supremacy and white feminism are linked in the sense that both need the institution of whiteness to survive.”
Separate from the racial aspect of the divide, many have voiced concern over the exclusion of transgender females from the narrative of the march. Undoubtedly, reproductive rights is a huge issue being confronted by the feminist movement. However, this at times eclipsed the voices of the transgender people present at the march, some of whom expressed the sentiment that they felt the pussy hat regalia contributed to the idea of equating the genitalia of a person to their gender. Many are concerned that the trans-erasure seen here is a step backward in the fight for transgender rights and acceptance. It is yet another example of the exclusive form of feminism which seems to be gaining prominence. The march itself officially identifies itself as a march not just for reproductive rights, but LGBTQ rights, disabled rights, and civil rights, among others, and while many of the marchers were there to represent these individual causes, the focus was definitely elsewhere.
Conclusively, I refuse to condemn the Women’s March. It had its flaws, but as with all great movements, feminism is a work in progress. Just a few years ago something of this magnitude might have been considered impossible, or radical. It has been empowering in the best of ways, and a praise-worthy demonstration of the best sort of unity within a country divided by politics that target the less powerful.
However, I also refuse to ignore the deep fault lines that still plague the feminist movement. It is my personal belief that feminism which is not intersectional is not truly feminism, and I strive everyday to understand and combat the forces which keep my sisters of color, my sisters in countries where they are not allowed the freedoms I myself enjoy, and my transgendered and nonbinary siblings, down.
And as a side note to the men who marched: I offer up my gratitude, and an offer to build the world of tomorrow with us, a world in which we all are afforded our full rights and equality.


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