Subsequent to the many Women’s Marches that occurred around the country and world this past weekend, I have been saddened by the negative backlash and opposition to these demonstrations. While these marches took place in part to establish a community to stand together against the sexism and objectification of women by our president, the movement signified by these demonstrations runs far, far deeper than a response to the actions and words of a single person. The movement demonstrated at the marches this past Saturday was one to represent all marginalized groups, not just in the United States but throughout the entire world.
While the modern feminist movement does indeed fight to achieve various political and economic rights, it just as vehemently fights for a social and cultural shift in perspective, if not even more so. I believe the heavy focus on the political implications of this movement turns away many people who might otherwise identify as a feminist. One such difficult clash to consider is the exclusion of pro-life groups from participating in the Women’s Marches. To march together for seemingly opposing causes would seem very strange and for some, even infuriating, but agreement lies at the heart of the matter: that all lives are of value and deserve to be recognized as such. Yes, a key discrepancy of whose life to prioritize exists within this one particular issue, but the larger picture is that people everywhere deserve to be valued and treated with respect, a belief I know both groups stand for. However, we are caught up in politics and our emotional attachment to our individual beliefs, and we are unable to join forces for the greater cause. I offer this example not to undermine morals or offend any belief systems, but rather to present a recurring dilemma of the nature of the feminist movement and large spectrum social movements in general. This dilemma could be applied to any number of political or economic issues, and the same result prevails; beliefs of political or religious nature regularly define inclusion or exclusion from this movement which fights to achieve an objectively positive goal.
At the root of every social-turned-political issue is a goal that can/could hypothetically have been achieved without any government intervention at all. Legality of abortion would never have been discussed if nobody wanted one, i.e., every pregnant women felt they had the support and resources to raise a child and if every couple had access to safe and reliable birth control (I understand this discludes certain outliers, bear with me). Gay marriage wouldn’t have to have been specifically made legal nationally if homosexuality wasn’t considered to be wrong and unnatural in the first place. Discussion of both stop-and-frisk and Affirmative Action would be non-existent if racism were not so deeply rooted in our society historically. Government policy responds to beliefs of citizens, not the other way around. Many might contest this statement without studying government ruling on social issues in a longitudinal manner, but the facts are right in the history book. Taking racism in America for example, from the abolishment of slavery to the ending of segregation to where we are now, acceptance of racial diversity both socially and politically has come a long way thanks to activists and widespread protest against these injustices. While this important work is nowhere near finished, it is clear to see the power of people united together to work to achieve the common good.
The question then arises, why is it that we can’t do just that? We understand the power of an organized movement, yet we pass on joining the forces because we disagree on smaller issues within the larger goal. This outlook is, frankly, one allowed by great privilege. Women around the world are robbed of an opportunity to receive any education at all, the freedom to choose their own life partner, and the right to live without constant fear of sexual assault. Rape within marriage is legal in China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and India. Hundreds of millions of girls and women alive today in Africa and the Middle East have been subject to genital mutilation to “increase their femininity”. Women and girls account for over 70% of human trafficking victims.
These horrifying statistics simply cannot be ignored because we are not personally affected by these issues or because our beliefs don’t exactly line up with everything we believe a “feminist” is. I strongly believe it is our moral responsibility to take a stand against the injustices committed against our sisters around the world. We cannot continue to allow our blessings to blind us.
Women are indeed discriminated against. No, this is not about who holds the door open for who, and it is not about who buys the meal. This is not about who is physically stronger or about blaming another gender for one’s problems. Feminism fights for the resolution real, serious, life-threatening issues, and those enduring them deserve our stance against them, even from across the globe. It is true, some people chose to make the Women’s Marches about man-hating, and some chose to make them about their despise of those who believe differently than them. A movement of any kind without a radical faction is almost unheard of. To blame every person who attended a Women’s March for one person who spat on a bystander is ridiculous. How can we so easily take isolated incidents involving political issues completely out of context and let them convince us of the value of a worldwide cause?
Some also chose to make the marches purely political, and some chose to make them about specific issues that have affected them or people they know. The fact is, within any large-scale movement there are bound to be variances in opinion. We cannot afford to let these variances keep us from standing together as a community. Feminism spans a wide variety of issues of, in my opinion, varying severities. However, it is the hallmark umbrella issue of just treatment and equal opportunities for all genders that we need to focus on. We cannot complain about all the issues of “modern feminism” while just standing by, thinking of what might have been if our beliefs had lined up with the movement a bit more. We need to stand up and join the fight, making our voices and our thoughts heard, even if they differ a bit from those marching beside us. We will only be able to achieve this reality if we can emphasize what we all agree on versus what isolates us.
I ask you to consider how much we might accomplish if feminism really did have the support of every person who believes in the fair treatment of women. We must recognize our potential strength and harness it to achieve the great things we know are in our future.