The Importance of Intersectionality at the Women’s March
Tali Rose Rush • February 10, 2017 • Progression •
It was an incredible feeling: waking up in a house I was so graciously hosted in, surrounded with women I loved, all so full of passion and drive to make the world a better place. Our friend’s parents stuffed us full of bagels and coffee and drove us into the city. On the morning of January 21, some of my best friends and I went to the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. Upon entering the Metro station, we discovered that the lines to get on the train would take almost an hour and a half and decided to walk the four miles to the site of the march. We gathered other marchers along the way, informing them of the massive crowds on public transportation and discussing our feelings.
When we reached our destination, we were met by positivity, colorful signs, and people asking to take pictures with my friend’s cardboard cutout of Obama. Women jumped into photos with strangers, no questions asked – we felt a sense of trust and togetherness in this environment. Young boys attending with their parents shouted fervid chants about women’s rights, a young girl with a magic wand (probably no older than four) bounced and looked around at the massive crowd with wonder. Crowd scientists estimated an impressive turnout of nearly half a million people. Speakers at the march spread messages of empowerment and included information on what steps to take moving forward. Filmmaker Michael Moore made it a point to distribute the phone number for Congress so that attendees would be encouraged to call and make their voices heard (It’s 202-225-3121).
Despite the sense of unity many felt at marches all over the country, it is imperative to consider those who may have felt excluded. The overwhelming focus on genitals seemed to alienate women without vaginas. Vee Matelau, a trans woman of color who attended the women’s march in Boston Commons, explains, “I didn’t prepare to feel dysphoria at a march that I belong to. It was a wake-up call and has reminded me of all the work I have to do to further the WILD concept that trans women are women, no matter what their body may show.” Signs reading “Pussy Grabs Back,” while not explicitly exclusive in intent, may end up excluding trans women and others who do belong to this movement. There are also trans men that have vaginas. Not all pussies belong to women; not all women have pussies. As a victim of sexual assault, these signs made me very uncomfortable with the thought of “grabbing back” when I didn’t want to be grabbed in the first place; there are better ways to condemn the abhorrent language and actions of Trump that won’t cause others harm and instead include everyone in the fight against oppression.
In addition to the exclusion of trans people, there was also a sense of exclusion of women of color. While I saw people of many genders and ethnic backgrounds represented at the march, we must not forget that over half of white women did in fact vote Donald Trump into office. This is a statistic that reflects a dangerous attitude. White women are still benefitting from white supremacy and must acknowledge this. White women were granted the right to vote before women of color, and are not discriminated against nearly as much for their identities. In general, white women are more likely to be in a financial position to take time off from work and travel to marches. Things like this can alienate women of color from these movements, even though this was not the intent of the organizers or the attendees. Mariah Lopez, a Xicana woman, took part in the Women’s March in Oakland, CA and stated, “I’ve always felt like these events were almost exclusively for white women. I was hesitant to even go.” Mariah is involved in the #noturmami initiative, a self love and body positivity photo series starting soon in NYC (you can find information on the project on Instagram: @notyamami). The goal of this project is to empower young women of color and inspire them to be more confident.
Self expression through art – like the aforementioned photo series – is an integral aspect of political movements. Frida Kahlo’s art played a role in spreading awareness during the Mexican Revolution. Similarly, contemporary artists are paving the way for the present-day intersectional feminist movement. Artist and designer Cult Days, AKA Saba Moeel, emphasized the importance of individuality through creation, telling me “The women’s movement has a leader and I feel that leader is me. The aesthetic needs to evolve and be creative, we need women to bring those ideas out from deep down inside of them and see some good expression. Make cartoons that show how you feel, sketch symbols, write short poems, do collages, show the world literally what the ideal place looks like to you. All of our dreams intersect and that is reality, it’s all just an idea at first.” Her works are featured on her Instagram account, @cultdays, in addition to illustrations in the book Selfish Shellfish written by her husband Victor Vazquez (AKA rapper KOOL A.D.).
In order to make all women feel included, it is imperative to make the conscious effort to make our feminism more intersectional. Some of my favorite chants at the march had nothing to do with genitals; one of them was simply “I LOVE MY MOM!” (Momma, if you’re reading this, you’re super cool and thanks for raising me.) “Feminism is an all inclusive fight, and we need to all stand together in order to create something bigger and tackle our governmental issues as a whole!” exclaimed Delfina Roybal, a Jewish and Xicana woman who attended the Women’s March in NYC. “Being inclusive means fighting for BLM, LGBTQ+ rights … the list goes on. My goal is to bring all of these different organizations and people of all backgrounds and zip codes together.” It’s not difficult to spread positivity and empowerment without excluding women who want to join us. We must listen to and learn from new perspectives instead of talking over others. We must be creative and uniquely ourselves without stifling the voices of other beautiful women. We are strong and we move forward only when we all stand together in solidarity.