Women’s March treads toward exclusive feminism

By in Opinions

Feminism is now more popular than it has ever been before. But, is the movement one of equality or has it been co-opted by certain groups — leaving out more people than it stands for?

When I arrived at Saskatoon’s Women’s March on Jan. 20, I was incredibly excited. I had spent the entire day prior brainstorming with my friend about what we would write on our posters. When I looked at the posters and people around me, I felt energized but also a little empty.

Those in attendance — for the most part — were also white women, many of whom were wearing those pink pussy hats that have become a symbol of anti-Trumpism. A number of the posters around me referenced vaginas, breasts and the like. “Hands off my pussy!” one sign read. I thought of my great aunt in Newfoundland, whose eyes would have popped out of her head. I could almost hear her voice chastising their vulgar word choice. But, the vulgarity was not what I took issue with.

Sometimes, when we are passionate about something, we forget about the other people around us. This happens to me, too — I’ve found myself stuck in a situation where I needed to stop and think about how my experience differs from that of others.

Let’s deconstruct that pink pussy hat — sure, it’s a symbol for the movement that has become the Women’s March, but it really just says that we stand with women who have pussies.

What about other women? Gender identity exists on a spectrum — it’s not just about genitalia. Suddenly, by claiming that pink pussy hats are symbolic of the Women’s March, we’ve left out all of the women who don’t have certain genitalia.

Beyond this, the march itself was a white-dominated space. By the time I arrived, there were approximately 75 people in the crowd, only a handful of whom were people of colour. Though the march brought out over 400 people, the proportion of people of colour remained stable.

The event started with speeches from inspiring women in our community — including a role model of mine, Nicole White, who facilitates the Moon Time Sisters campaign to deliver menstrual products to communities in northern Saskatchewan. But, the speeches left me feeling conflicted.

After the march, my friend Cleo Nguyen told me that the speeches seemed to tokenize certain people. There was a black woman who spoke about international issues, an Indigenous woman who spoke about national issues and an elder who delivered a prayer. Although these were incredible additions to the event, it felt as if these women’s speeches were an afterthought. I wondered if they were just asked to speak because organizers realized the event needed more diversity.

You might be asking, “Why go, Kirsten, if you take such issue with these parts of the Women’s March?”

I went, and will continue to go, because I believe that we are in the process of making a better world. The parts of the Women’s March that left me feeling empty don’t necessarily reflect the individuals at the march, but rather, how our society has determined who is a woman worthy of feminism.

We need to engage in critical dialogue in order to move forward. What did we like about the march, and what left us feeling unhappy? How can we take these things and make an even better, more inclusive march in the future? These are the types of questions that we need to ask ourselves, continually.

Next time you head to a feminist event, I challenge you to ask yourself who your feminism benefits. Does it benefit women of colour? Does it benefit trans women? Does it benefit women who live below the poverty line? Does it benefit women with disabilities? Does it benefit women with children?

If we truly want to make the world a better place for future generations, our feminism must be inclusive.

Kirsten Samson

Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk