Women and men of all ages and ethnic backgrounds wearing pink hats with pointed, ear-like appendages on either side carried signs emblazoned with clever slogans: “There is no Planet B,” “Grab ‘em by the patriarchy,” “Let’s talk about the elephant in the womb,” and “I’ve seen smarter cabinets at Ikea.”
Celebrities gave speeches. Marchers took to the streets. As the day progressed, the established route dissolved; there were simply too many people to be contained. Protesters flooded all avenues of the city, prompting many unforeseen road closures. Chants echoed through the streets, the loudest and most vulgar in front of Trump International Hotel.
The Women’s March on Washington was a prominent, necessary outpouring of feminist ingenuity and unity within a historically fragmented movement. I wish that our current reality with Donald Trump as president wasn’t the case, but his election has given women and feminists the impetus to gather and protest, making our voices heard. I saw a sign that said something to the effect of “the feminist movement, back by popular demand.” The feminist movement hasn’t disappeared in recent years by any standard, but its necessity and influence in the 21st century has been questioned by many who assume women have already gained full equality. As was demonstrated clearly at the march, this is not the case. Trump’s election has lit the fire for a new wave of feminism.
Trump gives us a reason to fight for the changes that need to be made to our government and our culture. It’s my view that feminists had become a bit complacent and have now been challenged to fight and advocate more actively. We have no choice but to rise up and stand together. The longer Trump sits in office, the more horrifying the policy proposals he makes and the executive orders he signs. He embodies the culture of the white male inferiority complex, persistently threatened by any and all advances made by women. In response, he lashes out by demeaning and dehumanizing women, providing those who look to the president as an example with the permission to do the same.
If Hillary Clinton had been elected president, some positive changes would undoubtedly have been made, like fighting for paid family leave and attempting to close the wage gap. But a Clinton administration most likely wouldn’t have spurred feminists to advocate for necessary, radical change. Hillary has consistently been more moderate and a believer in gradual progress. That might be the more realistic or practical approach, but big change is not often made without radical voices of protest and large demonstrations of unity.
I’ve heard claims that the protesters were all whining babies who simply need to accept reality and get over it. But it’s hard to “accept reality” when the reality we live in is one in which many fear for their personal livelihoods and safety. Besides, the protesters have accepted reality. That’s exactly why they’re outraged. People may have marched for different reasons, but the implication that the march was unstructured and without concrete political goals is plainly false.
Let me be clear—people were disrespectful. People were crude and irreverent. I saw more than a few explicit signs. As a result, many politicians, political commentators, Trump supporters, and non-marchers alike continue to demand respect for the new president. The main lesson I got from the Women’s March was that respecting the office of the presidency shouldn’t necessarily imply any respect for the president himself. Trump has not yet done a single thing throughout his campaign and few short days in office that has compelled me to respect him. We must not let the values he espouses define us as a nation even more than they seem to do already.
Despite the potential for a violent outbreak, the day transpired peacefully. An enormous group of impatient, frustrated, and motivated people interacted closely with the police without clashing. I saw multiple people thank officers for doing their jobs properly and helping to keep order.
However, if the march had worn a different face, would things have been different? The speakers who addressed the crowds could not have been more diverse, but the crowd itself was mostly white. Not a single person was arrested at any of the marches nationwide. Women of color, particularly black women, have long been stereotyped as angry or aggressive. If pictures of the march showed large groups of black women raising their voices in protest, would conservative political commentators and newscasters have called it a riot? Or would they still have referred to the marchers as a bunch of “snowflakes,” as has become the common term?
We have to confront the fact that 53 percent of white female voters cast their ballots for Trump. The feminist movement has long had problems meeting at the intersection of gender and race. The speakers at the march successfully exemplified the power of diverse women, but the movement as a whole needs to embrace women from all backgrounds. Technically, the march was open to all, but in reality, the predominant face displayed was that of white feminist allyship towards minority groups.
Over time, attending the march became the “in” thing to do. As it was popularized, celebrities signed on to speak, and commercial opportunities arose as thousands of women purchased and wore pink “cat” hats. It became cool to display “interest” in the event on Facebook or to take the perfect photo for your Instagram, accompanied by the perfect caption.
Social media publicity in activism isn’t all bad. Social media organization was a huge contributor to the march’s success. The problem arises when people become more concerned with looking outraged than with actually being outraged, more focused on appearing to be an activist than on actually advocating.
This march was a huge step forward, but our main concern now is ensuring the initial wave of momentum will carry into the future. We must be active in our communities surrounding the issues we’re passionate about. We must work harder to draw minority voices into the conversation. We must run for public office. We must keep in contact with our government representatives. Call them; they need to hear our voices as concrete proof of our objection to Trump’s proposals. And finally, we must continue making our dissent heard.
Complacency is our worst enemy right now. We can’t stand by and lament within our liberal echo chambers without actually taking steps to advocate for real change. We must be persistent with our resistance, never allowing Trump and his administration to deny our clear outrage.
Sienna is a freshman in the College.