A year ago, I woke up at 5 AM to catch the bus to Washington D.C. for the first ever Women's March. I was wearing my pussy hat (yikes), and carrying a poster advocating for safe and legal abortions (no yikes there, it was awesome), and I was ready to be a part of history. I expected a sweeping support system of like minded intersectional feminists; I didn’t find it. There were a couple of beautiful moments scattered throughout, but more often, there was negative energy circulating. The crowd of women I found myself in would loudly cheer for “this is what democracy looks like”, “D*nald Tr*mp has got to go”, and “Pussy Grabs Back”, but when intersectional chants began -- against police brutality, against Dakota Access Pipeline, against transphobia -- they would fade into the air instantly, as my protesters-in-arms started looking at their phones or their feet. I left D.C. at 5pm on an altogether silent bus, slightly buoyed by the size of the march, but frustrated at the white men and women who seemed eager to only chant for their own rights. That frustration grew when I scrolled through Instagram -- most of the kids who had bullied me for advocating the week before were now posting selfies of them protesting. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Everyone has to start their activism somewhere, but as time passed and people grew, well, less active, I couldn’t help feel the insincerity. If you protest for a day, only chant for issues that affect you, and go home and stay silent, you probably aren’t going to a march for the cause. You’re going because it’s trendy.
Mainstream feminism isn’t always dangerous -- it can expose necessary issues to a massive base. But it’s dangerous if it commodifies and simplifies a movement into a one-step action.
Mainstream feminism is only dangerous if it commodifies and simplifies a movement into a one-step action.
This year, I wasn’t sure if I would go to the women’s march. I had spent the last year studying feminist issues and trying to improve my intersectionality. I volunteered, I listened, I put my money where my mouth was. After wearing the Pussy Hat, I realized I needed more education, and ended up expanding my ideas about womanhood as a whole (yay for self-improvement!) I was lucky enough to have spent enough time in positive activist spaces to know what sort of action mobilized me, and I was worried that the anniversary of the March would leave me with the same icky residue as the year before. My friends and I discussed the event in detail. Some felt like it was beyond redemption, some felt they could improve intersectionality with their presence. I thought both sides were totally valid and almost didn’t go myself, until I discovered that one of my feminist role models, Jacqueline Francis or @JacqtheStripper would be leading a contingent of sex workers and allies. Hope surged.
My friend (and Issue 6 contributor) Griffin Joerger came with me; his sign read “Kinky and Proud” on one side and “sure I suck, but I don’t bite” on the other. Mine read “I eat misogynists for breakfast and stick pleasers in their eyes” on one, and “every girl armed with a vibrator and constitution” on the other. As soon as we got to the meeting spot -- the Diana Ross playground in Central Park -- I found the welcoming community I had longed for last year. The group, which ended up being around 50 sex workers and supporters, wasn’t overwhelmingly binary, skinny, or white -- unlike last year. It was trans-inclusive, too. We swapped hugs, shared lipstick, offered tips for staying warm, and made sure, throughout the march, we were all comfortable and safe. When a guy leaning off to the side holding a “we hate us too -- white men” sign was winking and raising his eyebrows at me, they helped me laugh it off (by the way, i feel like that attempted pick-up says a lot about supposed allies, but that’s another conversation). It was an incredible group.
All in all, I’m not sure how I feel about the Women’s March. Today, I scroll through my feed and notice kids marching who make rape jokes, yell at me for calling Tr*mp a supremacist, and all in all tell me feminism is a joke. That doesn’t feel so good. But maybe my experience isn’t universal -- I know unwavering feminists who had a far better time than I did. This is a complex subject and it’s okay to have complex opinions. Overall, I fully agree with my new friend Red Schulte of SupportHo(s)e: “At the end of the day,” they shrugged, “this march feels more like a parade than other demonstrations and protests I’ve participated in, but it feels good to be able to amplify our demands in our Ho contingent: free incarcerated sex workers, decriminalize now, end police raids, survivor-blaming stigma, whorephobia/transphobia, and colorist/racist practies in strip clubs. It’s important to take up public space [...] to be hyper visible and unapologetic in our demands.” Hyper visibility should be a jumping off point and not the end of one’s participation.
This post is part of a series: Teen Eye Take To The Streets. Read about Chloë helping a family after their daughter got lost in a crowd, Lauren experiencing her first ever protest, and Furqan taking the international approach.
banner photo via Emma Whitford, all other photos by Em.