A movement draws power from its numbers, but it should not pursue numbers at the cost of marginalizing its own intended participants.
On Saturday, millions joined the Women’s March — an impressive worldwide effort after Donald Trump was inaugurated — carrying the banner of “unity” under an administration that has ostracized millions of people. For some, the march was a photo opportunity, a moment to enhance an Instagram aesthetic. For many others who are in greater danger under the new administration, however, the march called attention to life-or-death matters.
There is no one “united front” for women’s issues. The experiences and needs of a cisgender white woman, for example, on many planes differ from those of a woman of color or a trans woman. And when a protest tries to march under a banner that encompasses all of them, the privileged voices often overshadow the marginalized — on social media, in newspapers and among the marchers.
What “unity” really meant was a homogenization of the movement. The narrative of the San Francisco march, though it saw glimpses of intersectionality — members of the Islamic Network Group, refugees and non-native speakers all spoke about their experiences — was mostly dominated by white female voices. In cities such as Portland, the march ignored questions of race until the NAACP of Portland retracted its endorsement of the event.
While the movement was a vital mass mobilization against Trump’s anti-women platforms, the marches fell into a historical pattern that propels white, cisgender individuals to the front of the crowd in an attempt to accumulate widespread appeal. We’ve seen this at the Women’s Suffrage Parade and Stonewall. And on Saturday, we saw this with slogans that referenced female genitalia — such as “Pussy Grabs Back” — that could be sensitive among noncisgender individuals.
While many considered the marches a success because of their nationwide turnout, the movement also brings into question where the majority of its attendants were in the heat of other important social movements, such as the Black Lives Matter and #NoDAPL protests.
The narrative of the Women’s March was, from its very inception, limited to conventionally palatable topics that allow privileged groups to at once occupy spaces for protest in the name of progressive unity and escape accountability for their marked absence during protests coordinated and populated by Black and Brown activists.
Movements such as the Women’s March are important in light of Trump’s inauguration and his rhetoric toward women and people of color. But that does not make such movements above constant criticism. Protesters should be mindful that they do not leave behind other groups as they progress their own agenda. They should be conscious of making these movements as accessible as possible to empower a wide variety of voices.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.