Saturday marked the fourth annual Women’s March in Walla Walla: this is not a cause for celebration.
Each year, this Women’s March and others around the U.S. have become increasingly civil and tolerant. The “protesters” are asked to stay on the sidewalk and stop at red lights, and they do. They are asked not to be too disruptive, and they are not. They are asked to protest at a specific time on a certain day to minimize disruption and maximize convenience, and so this is when they march. This is not protest. This is not what it looks like to demand change. The message of the march has become one of passivity and the willingness to obey. In diligently following the rules set down by others in power, which include the suppression of well-founded anger and impatience, we are reaffirming patriarchal dominance, not overcoming it.
As feminist scholar Sara Ahmed writes, this is “a situation that demands our collective impatience. We will not wait. Any delay is intolerable.” When we choose to make our march convenient, when we choose not to let it be a disruption, we are failing to rupture the normalcy of gendered oppression. “A feminist collective…” Ahmed writes, “is based on actions, on the refusal to put up with what women have been expected to endure. Feminism: when we refuse to get used to it.” We have gotten used to it. This march is an ode to patient endurance–to the willingness to continue to endure. We are marching for the fourth year in a row: this is not change. This is normalization.
In choosing convenience and civil obedience, the Women’s March has fatally undermined its fundamental goal: the end of gendered oppression. We have agreed to work within pre-established political systems, but as Audre Lorde so famously said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” We cannot re-purpose political systems founded upon patriarchal thought for a feminist cause. In other words, we cannot exemplify in our protest against gendered oppression an adherence to the rules of a male dominated culture that asks us to stay quiet, to act only with prior male approval and thus, under male terms. Upheaval, disruption and inconvenience are called for and necessary.
Rather than bring home our signs and post our pictures of the Women’s March as souvenirs of feminist participation, we need to interrogate what it means to be a feminist. To problematize the march further, its failure does not reside in our willingness to be patient alone. Being a feminist has been commodified, for one. Sporting pink pussy hats, marchers put on a grotesque performance of exclusive white feminism. Not all pussies are pink; yet, the color is the assumed to be “neutral.” Not to mention their “The Future Is Female” t-shirts, when perhaps the future should be non-binary rather than re-validating hierarchical gender structures. Feminism is being profited off of, and we’ve bought into it.
There seems to be a collective ignorance or disturbing indifference to the for-profit cooptation of the “women’s movement” that is responsible for the anemic movement we have today. The superficial focus has become the personal proof of participation rather than genuine protest against oppression. Decked out in uncritical “feminism,” we march in a state of amnesia about the imperative urgency that spurred the movement to begin with.
We need to interrogate our understanding of feminism. How are patriarchal structures tied to capitalism? How has feminism, historically and presently, systematically excluded women of color, poor women, disabled women, trans women, queer women, gender non-binary or non-conforming folk? How has it told them that these additional words in their “titles” make them “other” women, while white middle-class, cis-gendered, able-bodied, straight women remain “neutral”? How do we need to reform and expand our understanding of masculinity as a component of liberation?
These are the questions we need to be asking and to have regular, difficult conversations about, to use as the grounds for feminist political change. This is the only way to substantiate our protest and ensure that it will not be as self-defeating in the future as it was Saturday.