This past weekend, thousands of women around the world took to the streets to show their protest against the new President of the USA, their commitment to each other, and their solidarity towards the other groups also targeted by him during his campaign.
It gave me pause to think about protest; what it means, who is there, and who is not.
What does it mean to March?
It’s heartening to see the amount of power, love, strength and unity pouring forth from women around the world. Women’s rights and equal rights are not new causes; but mobilization often happens when there is a common person or event to rally against. It reminds us that there is still injustice in the world, even if it’s not happening to us. It makes us louder. The front page of the Toronto Star on Sunday January 22 read She the People. Lovely. I hope that lasts. And I hope women – from all walks of life, from all continents, from all identities, all women – feel (and continue to feel) the ripple effects in tangible ways.
And yet, I have to wonder at what it has taken to galvanize this outrage and desire for change. Did we not know that things were “so bad”? Is it the position of the person who said these things which sparked outrage that has made it more terrible? Does it really matter if it’s a leader of a country, a company, your community, an institution, or a boy in a classroom? Really? When you really think about it? Or does it just make it worse because we expect more – or it shows us how far we really haven’t come? I’m not sure.
And then I’m curious – for whom are things now looking worse? Who is fearing the loss of their rights…and for whom have these aggregious words and events just reinforced their lived experience? Let’s say Planned Parenthood (for example) is defunded – who will feel this burden the most? Think about it.
Pink pussy hats are cute (and symbols are key for pulling people together – during and after), and protesting can be important and useful, but both are signs of privilege in some ways.
Who was marching?
By and large, it seemed that in many locations, the majority of the women marching and protesting were White. That’s not a bad thing, but we can’t leave race out of the conversation. Because while being female is a marginalized identity, being a White female still carries more social power than being a Brown or Black female. The women who were there all marched with a force and a commitment to make sure things don’t go backwards. All good. But for some women, the reality is that their realities haven’t yet caught up to what some of us are afraid we will lose.
Many women live in fear, every day, for their lives, their livelihood, and the upholding of their fragile rights.
The people who often don’t march are those who really need the changes people march for, and can’t march, because:
- they are working their second or third job
- they have to sleep because they worked the night shift
- they don’t have citizenship and are afraid of the repercussions of a run-in with the law
- they work in the social services sector and a police record means the end of their career
- the possibility of police presence = fear
- or because their identities mark them as easy targets for shame, humiliation, violence, disrespect.
These are just a few examples – you get the idea.
For some women, the March happens every single day starting when they get up and continuing until they lay their heads down to rest. You won’t see them at a March. Maybe because they can’t, maybe because they won’t. But that doesn’t mean the March shouldn’t happen and can’t impact them – it just calls us to be aware of the ways our fight for justice can exclude if we are not careful, and which voices are heard and included and which are not.
Which brings me to allies.
Every movement for social justice needs allies – people from dominant groups who use their voices and power to stand up for those groups who are experiencing injustice.
In this case, women need male allies.
Women of colour need allies who are white women.
Transwomen need allies who are ciswomen.
Working class women need middle and upper class+ female allies.
There are more…
Our gender doesn’t make us a homogenous group – but our privileges can make it seem so, and that we speak for and stand up for everyone. I hope we do, but I wonder if we really do – because the various other identities we hold can often be forgotten in the swell of voices and marching. Women can be forgotten in the swell of voices and marching. Still.
Being an Ally
Allyship can include a March, but it isn’t just a March; it is daily work – long after the protest signs are in the recycling, or being used as toboggans. And it starts with awareness of who we are, who is there, and who is missing – and why. And making room to listen, be with, recognize and commit to seeing more and doing more.
A March is good – it shows numbers, power, strength, will, and it helps to build hope for change. But let us not forget the women who weren’t there on Saturday, lending their voices. Let’s not forget why they weren’t there. And let’s use the spirit of Saturday to recognize that for some, life is a collection of small grievances against their spirit, that even the power of Marching may not shed light on.
How do we raise our voices loud enough to touch them too?