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Phillips: After Women’s March, white feminists must recommit to intersectionality

Ruby Phillips, Columnist

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Millions of people united and marched all over the world to stand in solidarity against the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Saturday. I, too, proudly participated in the women’s march in Chicago with an estimated 250,000 other people. Several participants in the women’s march have held that this is “not a moment but a movement.” These marches are a sign to the federal government that women plan to stay engaged throughout the Trump presidency. But it is still important to look at who will be holding Trump accountable, and to do that we must examine white women’s role in the issue.

We should not forget that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump, while only 43 percent voted for Clinton. I do not mean to undermine the female empowerment of the women’s marches or suggest they weren’t successful or meaningful. But we can’t rewrite history or forget that one of the reasons we have Trump as our president in the first place is because women didn’t stand up for women. Fifty-three percent of white women chose to vote for a man who repeatedly degraded women. For some women of color, this show of solidarity feels too little too late. White women must be held accountable and continue to be allies for the less privileged women in society or else this “movement” means nothing. It’s time for everyone to examine how intersectional their feminism is and realize that if it does not include anti-racism too, it is incomplete.

White feminism does not help liberate those who are not straight, white women. This divergence in experience is most evident in the argument surrounding Donald Trump’s vile comment about grabbing a woman’s genitals. This event acted as the catalyst for many white women’s anger, but these same people did not react earlier that day when he denied the innocence of the Central Park Five, a group of five young black men wrongfully arrested and convicted for the rape of a female jogger in 1989. Likewise, Trump’s actions did not provoke the same anger and outrage in many women when he provided countless other examples of his racism and homophobia.

White feminism is on display when a white celebrity who claims to be a feminist doesn’t act as an ally for women of color or LGBTQ communities when they need it most. It’s on display when issues of police brutality and education inequality are perceived only as race issues and not feminist issues as well. And it’s also on display when the mainstream feminist movement is so whitewashed that people who don’t identify as straight, cis or white are excluded. This exclusion has even resulted in some women of color coining the term of “womanism,” which represents a new feminism that has an intersectional point of view.

This brand of white feminism is commodified and commercialized in the mainstream media; corporations make money off of advertising a version of feminism that is a replica of the dominant white culture in TV and movies. Anyone with a label maker can produce and sell slogans like #pussygrabsback and “nasty woman.” These slogans are empowering, but they ultimately devolve feminism into a trend or fashion statement rather than constant action and activism. Feminism according to the media is something only for “quirky” girls, often used to attract men, and portrayals of feminists in media are usually played by funny white women. But feminism shouldn’t be trendy or cute. Corresponding issues like racism and sexism aren’t cute; they’re lived experiences.

Of course, all women will be affected by Trump’s presidency, but white feminism needs to be put to rest now more than ever because women of color and LGBTQ women would be the ones to bear the brunt of Trump’s highly-racialized policies. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act and defunding of Planned Parenthood, as well as Trump’s anti-immigration policies, will all fall largely on the backs of women of color and single mothers. For example, after the Affordable Care Act became effective, between 2010 and 2014, the percentage of women of color who initially reported having no usual source of health care dropped nearly 30 percent for black women and almost 25 percent for Latina women.

Trump’s “law and order” stance involves heavily policing people of color, which will likely inflate the police brutality and mass incarceration that already target non-white women more than white women. In 2014, the imprisonment rate for black women was more than two times higher than for white women. Women of color need white allies now more than ever.

This Trump presidency will be a test of will and remaining an informed citizen is crucial. But to the fellow marchers in Chicago or around the world who put on a quirky T-shirt for Saturday’s activities, don’t fight for just yourself. Fight for for the millions of underprivileged women who will receive the brutal and disgusting backlash of Trump’s policies. This is true feminism.

Ruby Phillips is a Weinberg freshman. She can be contacted at rubyphillips2020@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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