Marching Against Trump Is A Start, But It's Not Enough
The Debrief: It shouldn't have taken Donald Trump to remind us that intersectional feminist collective action is still needed
As soon as Donald Trump was elected, my heart sank. From the moment he announced he was running I feared it would happen. And yet, even as I became increasingly convinced he would win (both in spite and because of his archaic and abhorrent behaviour) I dared to hope it wouldn’t happen, that logic would prevail over his bombastic rhetoric.
I’m not American but if I was I don’t doubt that I would be devastated and not just disgusted and disappointed. I voted to remain in last year’s referendum on the European Union and the result was like a kick in the guts. I couldn’t vote on Trump, he’s not my president and so my loathing of him is sympathy pains, through which I telepathise with people in America who have to live under his government and elsewhere in the world who will be affected by his actions (see the global gag rule).
I think it’s right that people who disagree with Trump and his administration both personally and politically in America marched over the weekend in defence of the values they want to see upheld and as an act of resistance against his agenda. More than that, I think it’s crucial and necessary for democracy that people come together collectively. I also think it’s important and heartening that so many women across the globe also marched in solidarity with America and in protest against the normalisation of a man who has said things which, frankly, should have been consigned to the history books by now.
The Piers Morgans of this world would have you believe otherwise. Global marches, as he sees it, consisted of no more than ‘rabid feminists’ who were throwing their toys out of the pram because a vote didn’t go their way in a way that can’t and won’t affect change.
I am by no means a naysayer. I don’t think it’s relevant whether or not these marches alter the course of Trump’s nascent presidency, the fact that people are coming together in support of a collective ideology is powerful and poignant. I wish Morgan would get with the program or give it a rest. To paraphrase a well-known Martin Luther King quote ‘the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silver over that by the good people.’
However, something has been playing on my mind over the last week. Despite Trump’s obvious abhorrence, there are problems, faced by women every day, which predate his election or even candidacy for President on both sides of the Atlantic, and across the globe we haven’t been taking to the streets in similar numbers to make it clear where we stand on them. If feminism as a social and political movement is as ubiquitous as the turnout for the Trump march would suggest then there’s only one question to ask: why not?
It was, oddly, the copied and pasted Facebook status of a Republican acquaintance from Texas who crystallised my unease. She is a white woman who voted Trump and did not march on the first day of his presidency. While I disagree with her support of Trump, much of what she wrote about women, her stance on feminism and her dismissal of last weekend's marches her words stopped my scrolling finger in its tracks and provoked a rare pause.
I hovered over her status in my Facebook feed and re read the post, which is currently doing the rounds. It takes umbrage with ‘pink knitted pussy hats’ and says ‘if you want to impress me then speak on the real injustices and tragedies that affect women in foreign countries that do not have the opportunity or means to have their voices heard.’ She went on to list countries where women’s human rights are abused: Saudi Arabia, China, India, Afghanistan, rights.
Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Pakistan, Guatemala…’ I think this old friend had missed the point of the women’s march. I also think it's very easy and lazy to say 'things are much worse over there so don't complain here because you have it OK, however, she did hit on an important point.
It shouldn’t have taken Donald Trump for so many women, of all ages, across different countries to come together in a show of solidarity. There’s no doubt that we’ve come a long way since the feminist waves of the previous century, but we are hardly sailing smooth seas while clear feminist waters lap at the ankles of women around the world while they sip pina coladas. Far from it (see also fast fashion). There is still work to be done.
We would do well to remember that under Obama’s democrat administration abortion restrictions were imposed across America. We should not overlook the fact that women around the world still do not have basic human rights. Closer to home, why are women in England not regularly showing support for our neighbours in Ireland who are still yet to be granted the abortion rights that we’ve had since 1967? Where were we when protests took place outside the Irish embassy last year? What did we do when it was reported that the gender pay gap won’t close until 2069? How often do we join the likes of Sisters Uncut en masse when they stage feminist actions on domestic violence (a crime which rises while all others fall)?
We talk about feminism more than ever, we use it to hashtag our social media posts, it has become an advertising tool and a global megastar like Beyoncé samples feminist treatises. Feminism is being packaged up and sold back to us by celebrities and corporations alike, Khloe Kardashian is using it to sell women protein weight loss supplements. Is our lack of collective action in recent years a sign that it has become a consumer good and not a political movement?
The suffragettes said it is ‘deeds not words’ that count. In this country it’s nearly exactly one hundred years since women won the vote. Our lives have improved almost immeasurably in that time, but there are still battles to be won. We shouldn’t have needed Donald Trump to tell us that.
Indeed, alongside equal education, free contraception and abortion on demand, one of the demands of the first ever national conference on the Women’s Liberation Movement in Oxford, which took place in 1970, was free 24-hour childcare. We know, beyond a doubt, that the gender pay gap is explicitly linked to both the financial and temporal cost of childcare. We know that other countries offer women a better deal. We know that Britain has some of the most expensive childcare in Europe. Do we march? Do we write to our MPs? Do we tweet and Instagram and Facebook about this? These are the immediate issues we face, but as my Facebook friend points out: women elsewhere in the world still don’t have the freedoms and rights we have been taking for granted.
The women’s marches of last weekend were important but they aren’t enough. Action is essential. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum explains this better than I ever could. In her 2001 book Upheavals of Thought: Intelligence of Emotions, she explains that agency and victimhood are not incompatible binaries, but, rather, two sides of the same coin. It is, she says, through acknowledging our own vulnerability, our capacity to be victims, that we realise we are not different to those already suffering, being persecuted or experiencing misfortune. In the context of Donald Trump what this means is that we should all be marching simply because we can, not only those who are affected by him directly, but also those who might be and even those who almost certainly won’t be. In doing so we show empathy while simultaneously acknowledging our power and our weaknesses, our hopes and our despair.
Marching both in hope and out of anger makes sense. Hope, which Piers Morgan would undoubtedly dismiss as ‘snowflakey’ is important and powerful. As Rebecca Solnit writes in Hope in the Dark (initially published after George Bush invaded Iraq), hope ‘doesn’t mean denying’ reality’. ‘It means facing [it] and addressing [it]’. Crucially, Solnit also says, ‘it is important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine’, nor, she says, is it ‘a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative’ it is, instead, an invitation to action.
Should we march? Yes. But our action shouldn’t stop when we finish the route, listen to the speeches at the rally and return home after posting a feminist picture on Instagram. The energy of last weekend’s global marches shouldn’t fizzle out, as it does with so many other movements. Let it be a reminder to us all that we have agency, that we can affect change – big and small, globally and locally.
This is bigger than Donald Trump. It always was. Perhaps he will be the common enemy around which feminism, which is now a dispirate movement, unites. But we should not forget that he is a symptom not the cause. The question we should all be asking ourselves now is ‘what more can I do?’ If we don’t, if we merely march and move on, are we really any better than Taylor Swift?
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