The day after the inauguration, the largest march in Washington, D.C.’s, history began. The D.C. Women’s March included about half a million participants, and had smaller sister marches in almost every major city in the country. Naturally, a protest this enormous was involved in some controversy, mostly over women’s “unity” and the various identity groups that different women inhabit.
Early critics of the Women’s March considered that the march would not be intersectional, meaning that it would not address the unique problems faced by women who come from certain marginalized identity groups, such as black women or disabled women.
For example, some black women who participated in the Black Lives Matter movement were bothered by the mainstream nature of the Women’s March. Many of these women expressed frustration that enormous crowds of white women were willing to participate in the Women’s March but did not show up to the many Black Lives Matter protests over the past few years. These women were also frustrated with a lack of enthusiasm for anti-racist action on the many Women’s March Facebook pages. They were bothered by the fact that protesters were showing off their pink “pussy hats” in defiance against Trump’s sexist remarks, but displayed no widespread meaningful recognition of Trump’s racist statements.
Trans women also expressed discontent with some of the Women’s Marches. They claimed that the marches equated womanhood with having a vagina in a way that excluded trans women from the conversation. For example, many trans women were bothered by the presence of “pussy hats” and posters that depicted cis women’s nude bodies as symbols of feminism. Some protesters saw these signs and hats as a way of defying Trump’s remarks that are geared specifically toward the cis female body. However, critics of the marches state that these forms of protest create an incomplete version of womanhood that reduces women to their body parts and prevents trans women from fully participating in the march.
Most of the disagreements over the Women’s March occurred over Facebook or other social media platforms. In general, the actual marches had a diverse body of attendees who held signs relevant to intersectional issues, such as those that affect undocumented women, disabled women and queer women. However, on the Internet, many of the interactions between marchers were less harmonious, and several marchers expressed problems with demands that the march have an intersectional platform.
Many women misinterpreted intersectional criticisms of the Women’s March as divisive. The typical counter-argument to demands for intersectionality was that focusing on a specific identity group, such as women of color or poor women, would undermine the unity of the march. Marchers who believe this thought that unless all marchers are unified in their support of women’s rights in general (that is, as they apply to white women), their protest will be unsuccessful.
This belief is clearly flawed. Since the world has billions of women, we are always going to be an extremely diverse group of people who inhabit many different identities. These identities will always affect different women in unique ways, and without intersectional women’s movements that recognize each woman’s unique identities, most women will remain excluded from mainstream women’s movements. Misguided attempts to pursue “unity” at the expense of intersectionality won’t result in a more cohesive movement, but rather will exclude the vast majority of women from participating.
It is a mistake to assume that diversity and unity cannot coexist. Diversity in large movements is not only inevitable, but also an important part of developing a successful and complete movement. The varying perspectives and needs of diverse women maximizes the inclusivity and scope of a certain action or initiative. It allows a movement to benefit more people, and ensures that the movement is not unintentionally harming or excluding certain people. The Women’s Marches that happened all over the world were so numerous, successful and beautiful because of their diversity.