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The Women’s March on Washington: A Lesson in Intersectional Failures

The night after the US election, retired lawyer Teresa Shook created a Facebook Event for a protest in Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration. The next morning, she woke up to find that 10,000 people had confirmed they would attend.

Women’s March on Washington and race

As a growing group of women got together to organise the event, calls quickly came in to point out that the organisers were all white women. A diversity statement followed, explaining that women of colour had been enrolled to make sure that all kinds of women were included. The name was also changed from the Million Women March to the Women’s March on Washington, in a bid to fix the rather co-opted initial name. However, the rename – the Women’s March on Washington – has been criticised for exactly the same appropriation problem, thanks to its blatant similarity to the civil rights movement’s famous March on Washington in 1963.

Women who complained about these problems reported having their comments deleted and being accused of being ‘divisive’, a common accusation levelled at members of oppressed groups who assert their rights and demand to be seen and heard.

Women’s March on Washington and disability

Disabled women, for instance, have complained about the negative attitude towards disability that has been demonstrated by organisers. Emily Ladau found that the first mention of disabilities on the Unity Principles page of the Women’s March website was a reference to disabled people as burdens, the care of whom must be regarded as work.

Ladau explains, “It says that my existence as a disabled woman is a “burden.” My existence as a disabled woman is “work” for someone else. My existence as a disabled woman does not matter”.

Disability only gets one more mention in the document, at the end of a list of oppressions being fought.

Women’s March on Washington and sex work

Sex workers, too, have objected to their portrayal and inclusion in the Women’s March policies. The relevant documents initially said that the March stands “in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements” and then, without explanation, this was changed to “we stand in solidarity with all those exploited for sex and labor”.

Sexual exploitation is a very real issue, and one that must be resisted and opposed at every juncture. However, to lead sex workers to believe that they and their representative organisations would be supported, and then to change this policy without any announcement or fanfare, is unreasonable and potentially very damaging for these groups.

Pro-lifers and the Women’s March on Washington

There was a point in the proceedings when a bit of divisiveness could have actually been welcome, although this has now been resolved. The Women’s March on Washington misguidedly endorsed the New Wave Feminists as a partner organisation; they either did not know or did not mind that the New Wave Feminists are a group who are anti-abortion, wishing for anybody who is pregnant and does not want to be to be forced to carry the foetus full term and give birth against their will.

Following an article in the Atlantic about this apparent contradiction, the Women’s March announced that “The anti-choice organization in question is not a partner of the Women’s March on Washington. We apologize for this error”.

Acknowledging the rift with a jokey Facebook post, the New Wave Feminists promised to continue to march, even without being an official partner of the event.

Is the Women’s March even anti-Trump?

Even those insisting on this being an anti-Trump gathering found themselves dismissed in favour of ‘unity’. Candice Huber, a Louisiana regional organiser for the event, reports a conference call taking place amongst organisers and those at the top.

“Perhaps the most concerning explanation was that this was never supposed to be an “anti-Trump” march, but an all-inclusive women’s march, there are many white women in this country who voted for Donald Trump, and we do not want to alienate those women from marching. This was said on a conference call with women of color voicing their concerns, only to be shut down so as not to alienate white women.”

Women’s marches around the world

Sister marches are occurring around the world, some facing similar criticism to the Washington march. Others, however, appear to have made more effort to be truly inclusive and intersectional. There is also an online disability march taking place. Other online events such as a Love-A-Thon and the hashtag #MarchingWithMe intend to include people who are unable to attend real-life events, too.

Will the March be effective?

The power of a throng of women demanding that the new President be held to account is something to behold. When thousands of people get together to protest and demonstrate, a sense of solidarity can emerge that strengthens wills and creates a determination to effect change.

However, when the majority of those with that feeling are non-disabled, white women who are not affected by the arguments over racism, disablism and a lack of intersectional politics, that strength and power is somewhat tainted.

Photo: m01229/Creative Commons


Philippa Willitts

Philippa Willitts is a British freelance writer who specialises in writing about disability, women's issues, social media and tech. She also enjoys covering politics and LGBT-related topics. She has written for the Guardian, the Independent, New Statesman, Channel 4 News, Access Magazine, xoJane and many more publications. She can be found on Twitter @PhilippaWrites.

2 thoughts on “The Women’s March on Washington: A Lesson in Intersectional Failures

  1. Well done piece by Ms. Willitts. I believe the March was never meant to be inclusive and therein lies the problems organisers’ encountered.

  2. I am not certain about the concept that the march was “never meant to be inclusive.” My personal takeaway was that there was insufficient time to plan such an important event, resulting in back-pedaling, re-naming, and re-wording of previous missives. Ten weeks to properly organize a march of this magnitude, was a lofty goal and I admire the organizers and their tenacity. The logistical challenges alone were overwhelming.

    Still, the event was a significant barometer of the times and the attitudes of those who support equal rights and civility, spawning thousands of local marches throughout the country and Europe. That kind of ripple effect, in itself, makes it yet another milestone toward an already-great America.

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