#BeBoldForChange: An Open Letter to Fellow White Women Participating in the “Day Without Women” Strike

by  Leanne McCallum – Human Trafficking Index Project Manager at the Human Trafficking Center

 

On this International Women’s Day, I will celebrate by answering the call of the 2017 IWD theme to #BeBoldForChange. Here’s my bold statement: The Women’s March on Washington and the upcoming “A Day Without Women” strike (which will take place on International Women’s Day this March 8th) can, and MUST, be better. We must address the white feminist assumptions of these events, and move to make our movement more intersectional and inclusive.

The Woman’s March on Washington and its sister marches were stunning examples of the rising tide of activism to counter the divisiveness of the Trump administration. Participants in the “A Day Without Women” Strike are focusing on the female experience of oppression, and celebrating trailblazers of women’s empowerment. These events intend to represent that values and identities of all women. However, they fail to do so because of their foundations in white liberal feminism. To rebuild a new, inclusive feminist coalition we must dismantle these events’ central ideas. Dominant feminist narratives have been unmoved, or at least unaware, of the racism implied by the march’s rhetoric and the strike’s exclusionary nature.

The assumption that all women are ‘sisters’ and ‘are equal’ is a problematic white feminist assumption. The American suffragette and reproductive rights movements are rooted in a history of eugenics and racism. Some of the most prolific historical feminists, such as Susan B. Anthony and Margaret Sanger, were unapologetically racist. The birth control movement was simultaneously a movement to liberate white women from the ordeals of involuntary motherhood and a tool to limit minority populations in America. Unfortunately, many feminists either don’t know this divisive history or claim this is unimportant because it is historical.

The 2016 election cycle also illuminated the implicit racism of mainstream liberal feminism. Following the election, many white feminists decried communities who did not vote for Hillary Clinton. This indignation ignored the legacy of systematic racism enacted during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and the 2016 Clinton campaign’s lack of engagement with minority communities. In addition, it ignored that 53% of white women voted for Trump. This demonstrates that many white women continue to identify with their racial privilege over their gender.

The dominant narrative about the women’s wage gap also misses how race affects privilege. Most white feminists claim that women receive 79 cents per dollar males make. But this statistic is misleading: 79 cents represents how much the average white female makes relative to her white male counterparts. In comparison to other identities, white women make more than black and Hispanic men, and make significantly more than other women. Women of color make less than all other identity groups, and thus are more affected by the wage gap. This is a stark example of the way that white women have been unable, or unwilling, to recognize their privilege. Thus the idea that all women are “equal” is a false assumption.

The Women’s March itself faced criticism because of its lack of inclusivity. The march was ideated by white women and caused uproar after it appropriated its first name, the Million Women’s March, from a black women’s social justice march. The march also excluded sex worker rights, and did not successfully integrate the transgender community because of its female genitalia rhetoric. The march changed its name and overhauled its organizers to include women of color, but the damage was already done. In response to the march’s rhetoric and exclusionary nature, many activists chose not to participate. Then on the day of the march, women of color and indigenous women experienced aggression and were judged for expressing support for social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and No DAPL. Many women of color or allies felt that the experiences of voices of white women overshadowed the voices of the most marginalized women.

Let me add a caveat to everything I’ve just said: The point of this is not to guilt you, or criticize you. I am not suggesting that any person- regardless of positionality or race- does not have a claim to feel injustice. What I do suggest is that we actively acknowledge and combat the destructive legacy of white feminism on minorities, and take time to reflect on our own personal privilege. I recognize my privilege because of my whiteness, and am aware of my other identities that are sources of vulnerability. The injustice of all marginalized identities is shared, and thus we share the responsibility of actively supporting movements happening parallel to our own. White feminists need to address the inherent racism in the assumptions of American feminist roots before these events can reach their full potential. Intersectionality is the only path forward, for in the words of Emma Lazarus, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

These events can be inclusive: solidarity events like the “Protect Our Muslim Neighbors” Rally in Denver is an excellent example how intersectional identities can be represented while fighting oppression. Different religious groups, gender identities, immigration statuses, etc. were integrated into this rally without gimmick or microaggression. The women’s strike can take the lessons learned from the Women’s March and utilize this rally’s framework to achieve inclusivity and intersectionality. The strike’s call for mobilization of trans women and sex workers, and to be a “feminism for the 99%” suggests it will be more inclusive. The women’s strike needs to actively acknowledge that many women won’t be able to participate because of socioeconomic status, and must find a way to integrate the voices of people who can’t participate on March 8th. As participants, we must listen and hear their stories and experiences, and acknowledge the forms of oppression they may face outside of the ‘womanhood’ identity.

Now the question remains: will you #BeBoldForChange by addressing the lack of intersectionality in these events? I will. Not because the march was wrong, and not because the women’s strike is inherently wrong. I will because we can, and we must, do better to achieve liberation for all women and gender identities.

Want to learn more about intersectional feminism and perspectives outside of the dominant, white feminist narrative? Here are some resources:

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