Repackaging Sisterhood for an Intersectional Age

“Don’t try to divide us,” said Gloria Steinem, the reigning queen of second-wave feminism, now 81, who first rose to fame for going undercover as a Playboy bunny. She’d come to help rally a crowd reportedly surpassing 500,000 women, male allies, and acquiescent children—all of whom find a common enemy in our new president.

Hours earlier, the anti-racist contingent of the Women’s March on Washington met in the far corner of the undercroft at St. Mark’s Church on Capitol Hill. Down the hall from a nearly-empty meeting room set aside for a niche gathering of another sort (“Catholics for Choice,” read the sign on the door), I found protesters for whom racial injustice is a more pertinent fighting cause than misogyny.

They were in the midst of ideological prep work for the mainstream feminist throng. Before joining the half-million march, these few dozen came together for a sign-making session and small group discussions of what it will mean to stand up for people of color in Trump’s America.

It’s this same ethic—this idea that women’s rights alone are not sufficient cause to rise up against a presidency cross-sectionally offensive to progressive mores—that required the Women’s March planning committee to add racially diverse co-chairs and expand its mission statement from a viral Facebook page to a progressive movement. The guiding principles, published online, introduce “intersectionality,” the contemporary brand of feminism that requires white women to check their privilege, and another on “inclusivity.”

Among other proofs of pervasive white supremacy, we learned that the chant from yesterday’s riotous “Disrupt J20” demonstrations—”Whose Streets? Our Streets!”—was also appropriated from Black Lives Matter activists. When a mainly white crew of anarchists takes to the streets of nation’s capital, tipping over trash cans, lighting fire to limos and declaring the land “ours,” they’re not just violent hooligans. They’re racist violent hooligans. The anti-racists assembled here today, under the banner of a group called Stand Up For Racial Justice, are a mainly white group focused on cross-racial advocacy—and, therefore, they’re not to use this chant. Black Lives Matter protesters barricaded a security checkpoint for entry in Friday’s ceremony, with added manpower from anti-racist activists: This is the work of white allies. Recounting the triumph, organizers inspired a rousing ovation.

Chanting is one thing. But the Women’s March itself has perpetuated institutionalized white-supremacist from the beginning, I learned. First of all, the founding co-chairs called it a “Million Woman March”—apparently appropriating the title of 1997’s Million Woman March in Philadelphia and by extension the Million Man March, organized by Louis Farrakhan in 1995 to address cultural afflictions specific to the black community. Katie, who lives in D.C., felt haunted by the March’s “rough beginning”—its name, its too-white planning committee, and petty squabbles on its Facebook page—and although she wanted to participate, she felt obliged to march as an anti-racist, and to start her day of marching with the anti-racists. Lauren, on the other hand, told me she’d never taken a stand on much of anything before this election, when she supported Bernie Sanders. And yet on Saturday she came all the way to St. Mark’s from Newtown, Connecticut. Women, because “from the beginning we’ve always been second-class citizens,” have a special perspective when it comes to calling out an offensive and oppressive regime. If women are society’s moral compass—also the Victorian view, oddly enough—then the goal of the women’s march should be to support the equal rights of all people, such as only women can.

More a focused purist than some of her sisters in the cause, Lauren’s possibly outmoded feminism showed when she complained to me about gender politics disrupting the flow of protesters who came to use the undercroft as a pit stop, for free coffee, snacks and a bathroom break. Because men and women were using both the men’s and women’s bathrooms—gender-neutralized for convenience on a day for mostly female patrons, naturally—ladies were letting men cut the line. Mere courtesy or residual submissiveness? “What is the point of this whole thing if it’s happening even here?” Lauren balked.

The predominance of Steinem-style “White Feminism™” can’t be oversold, 22-year-old Alima told me. She and her friend Amalia, also 22, preferred groovy socialist grandpa Senator Bernie Sanders, and even the Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, to fallen feminist hero Hillary Clinton. The fact that Clinton attended Friday’s Inauguration but skipped the Women’s March rally with its impressive celebrity roster—”it proves that she’s not actually for the people, as she claimed to be,” Amalia explained. Alima met Jill Stein at yesterday’s protests, got a selfie and a hug. “Jill will be at the march today too.” The feminist argument for Hillary was hypocritical. in Alima’s view, because Stein was also running.

The vast majority of the women who marched on Saturday were not explicitly aligned with the anti-racist movement. But it’s a safe bet not one of them self-identifies as a bigot either.

When I splintered off from the anti-racist contingent on a quest for what would turn out to be the last cup of fresh coffee in Capitol South, crowded with pink hatted protesters and their signs, I met two ladies—Fran, 68, and Bernadette, 51—neighbors who’d made the trip up from Atlanta together. The women’s march back home in the Peach State had evolved along the a similar trajectory to Washington’s: “It was also social justice march,” they told me, and that was just fine.

Their deep red state, after all, is overrun with Trump supporters. Right as we got to talking, a Trump-loving friend sent Bernadette teasing texts about her participation in the march. Bernadette’s mother, a woman of 81 years “who does not see herself as a strong woman,” was also thrilled by Trump’s victory. Bernadette, who happily voted for Hillary, says roughly the same of her mother’s worldview that Jill Stein fangirl Alima says about “White Feminism™.” We may never see eye to eye.

This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard

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