Women’s march: movement milestone or ‘White Feminism?’
On Saturday, Jan. 21, I woke up with a raging headache and a task list a kilometre long. I’m among those Capilano University students who both work and go to school full-time – a product of rising precariousness in the lives of Millennials: housing insecurity, food insecurity, rising cost of living, heavy student debt and no guarantee of bringing in a liveable income after graduation.
I’ll remember plenty of things about the Women’s March on Vancouver, including how many important things I had to postpone or cancel in order to attend.
As my husband and I made our way from the EVO parking lot to Jack Poole Plaza, it was clear to me that I’d made the right choice. I’ve never seen the streets of Vancouver packed with so many women: women in pink pussy hats, women that wouldn’t be caught dead in pink pussy hats, women carrying infants, pre-teens with cardboard signs, women who had been rocking white hair and wrinkles for decades, Black women, Chinese women, Indigenous women, Filipinas, European women, women walking with white canes, trans women, out-and-proud lesbians, women who had survived residential schools, you name it.
After years familiarizing myself with the politics of feminism, the who’s who in the zoo, the who-no-longer-speaks-to-who, the who’s-taking-each-other-to-court, etc., I can’t describe the power of seeing so many different people physically moving in the same direction, to the sound of drums beaten by Indigenous women elders.
A heartbeat later the media headlines started to come out: “Black and trans voices frustrated by lack of inclusion in Vancouver Women’s March” (Rabble), “The takeaway from Toronto’s Women’s March? Lessons on intersectional feminism” (Toronto Now).
Feminists were drawing attention to some important questions: Why the pink pussy hats when much of the world’s women don’t have pink-hued skin? Why were so few people discussing the fact that the original “March on Washington” was an event organized by Black leaders to call attention to civil rights? Are we moving in the wrong direction when we use genitals and other reproductive body parts to symbolize the concept of “woman?” Is it required, or even possible, to represent every oppressed group on the Vancouver March’s speaker’s list in order to be truly intersectional?
I’ll admit, these are questions that kept me up at night for a few days, as a feminist, and as a straight white woman, as a woman questioning how feminists should define “gender” and as a woman who, despite many privileges, sits at the intersections of “woman” and “disability.” It has been a while since I read Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, the critical race theorist who first articulated the concept of “Intersectionality.”
She highlights the fact that feminism, historically, has failed to acknowledge that women who are oppressed in multiple ways are uniquely disadvantaged in manners beyond the sum of their singular oppressions. Her solution? Make sure the needs of the most disadvantaged are considered, and many of the singular issues will simultaneously be addressed.
That considered, I think the organizers of Vancouver’s Women’s March got something right. We would be hard pressed to find a group more consistently oppressed by systems of patriarchy, colonialism, racism and capitalism within BC than Indigenous women, who led the way as we marched down the street. The women’s march wasn’t perfect, but it would be a mistake to call it a demonstration of “white feminism.” To do so would be, once again, dismissing Indigenous women, who did the important work drawing attention to the needs of women at the intersections of race, sex/gender, and colonialism on Jan. 21.
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