Who is Feminism For?

Earlier this January, a Women’s March group made the controversial move to cancel a rally upon seeing that its attendees would be “overwhelmingly white.”

Organizers of the 2019 Eureka Women’s March said the following in an official Facebook post: “Up to this point, the participants have been overwhelmingly white, lacking representation from several perspectives in our community. Instead of pushing forward with crucial voices absent, the organizing team will take time for more outreach.”

With the rally set to be held in white-majority Humboldt County, California, the decision made waves across Women’s Rights circles. Given the sheer division within its broad supporter base alone, tensions within the Women’s March movement- meant to unify millions around the world- only make for more segregation. While Eureka is not an official California chapter of the Women’s March, it still holds a prominent position. 

Hundreds of thousands march down Pennsylvania Avenue during the Women’s March in Washington, DC, U.S., January 21, 2017.

Despite the cancellation, however, supporters did not back down. A few hundred people came to march later on the 19th of January, huddled in packed lines and braving the rainy weather to protest.

As mentioned prior, reactions are mixed across several communities. Eureka’s original statement had outlined that their goal was to “continue planning” and “be successful in creating an event that will build power and community engagement through connection between women that seek to improve the lives of all in our community.” Some felt that these attempts at collaboration and intersectionality strayed away from the movement’s original intent. On the other hand, others agreed that the movement is inherently obligated to uplift the underrepresented: women of color and gender non-conforming individuals being amongst the top priorities.

Eureka has taken several steps towards reframing their organization’s priorities. They acknowledge that their own leadership team is majority-white, and that as a result their actions were taken to “ensure that the people most impacted by systems of oppression have an opportunity to participate in planning”. The organization makes it very evident that they fear they ‘center the event around their own experiences’, and as a result has made it their goal to ‘ensure the voices of women of color are heard and centered when we come together for the furtherance of the rights and protection of women’. 

Inclusivity within the Women’s March movement has been an issue ever since its conception. Several arguments around race and sexuality proved to undermine the excitement leading up to the inaugural march in 2017. Several regional chapters have even gone so far as to distance themselves from the national group, with several members of the Women’s March executive board stepping down due to anti-Semitism sentiments and ties with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

When all is said and done, the Women’s March movement can only begin to thrive once all minorities are accounted for. And this can only happen if supporters adopt a more intersectional mindset.

It is clear that feminism has since taken on a more intersectional role as the movement has progressed. Throughout history, women of color consistently appear as some of the most vulnerable populations in society. This is even more pressing if they fall under even more marginalized groups, such as the black trans women of Stonewall movement or the current dilemma of the missing and murdered indigenous women in the Americas. This is why intersectionality is so important- when voices go unheard, people are forced to tread the fine line between life and death. 

A muslim woman talking about women’s rights in Tour Blanche Theater. (“L’illustration”, Thessalonoki, c. 1909)

Still, feminism has become quite a matter of stigma in society. In fact, many have grown to oppose feminism for a variety of reasons, some of the most prominent being as simple as an issue with what the label implies. The most notable critics include the men and women of the incel community, the rising meninist community, amongst others. This is reasonable- the word feminism itself may appear inherently exclusive to women’s rights. However, a distinction must be made between these two terms. In fact, a 2017 poll by the Huffington Post shows that while only ⅕ of Americans self-identify as feminists, a majority believe in gender equality. The two are not one in the same.

That being said, women’s rights are only one component of the feminist movement. Feminism has simply grown into a much larger role. Now, the movement stands to be inclusive of all groups in the push for greater equality in society. Feminists only focusing on gaining equality for women fail to get the point of what they’re fighting for. Feminism began with the desire to provide men and women with the same opportunities to thrive; however, it is veiled by the overarching will for everyone to be treated equally. 

Intersectionality takes into account that identity segregation is still an issue of the present, and that society as a whole is still far from inclusive. Not all women are the same, and not all marginalized people are women. Feminists, or even women’s rights activists, must accept the responsibility for everyone oppressed by the current institution, or risk losing their battle as a whole.

Signs from the 2011 Slutwalk protest in New York.

When people fighting for women’s rights say that people should be allowed to wear what they want to, this needs to include Muslims wearing hijabs. This needs to include plus-sized women wearing ‘revealing clothing’. This needs to include Hindus wearing bindis, men wearing makeup, and people of color wearing their traditional dress. The neurodiverse. The abuse survivors. The disabled. The elderly. The youth. All groups, regardless of whether or not a feminist or women’s rights activist belongs to it, must be protected. 

In a time when so much is already being done to further social progress, exclusivity is the only thing holding society back. In the end, feminist or not, people need to put humanity over identity.

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