This Sunday’s New York Times features an op ed about the women’s march movement. The title: Since When Is Being a Woman a Liberal Cause?
The first line of the piece is a fascinating question: who gets to define what it means to be pro-women?
I don’t know the official answer but right now a group of women is making a play for it: the women of the Women’s March aka liberal, progressive women aka intersectional feminist women. You can see why Women’s March works best.
Post Trump’s electoral college victory (see what I did there?), those women organized what became the largest protest in American history, with massive International support. They developed a platform with a mission statement with a clear goal: more, better, equal-er rights for women. I wrote about that a few weeks back when the issue of pro-life women being excluded from the march hit the news.
But according to this article, it wasn’t just pro-lifers that felt excluded. More conservative women take issue with the message of the marchers. Here’s one powerful quote from Lani Candelora:
“It might be a shock to The New York Times, but many American women are feeling hope and joy in the change of administration. We believe our families will have financial relief, that we’ll have a better chance of everyone finding gainful employment, that we’ll have affordable health insurance again for our families, that our religion will no longer be shunned and persecuted by the presidential administration, that the phony selfish feminism promoted by this women’s march is not continuously projected onto millions of other women who strongly disagree.”
In other words – not all women are women’s march women.
Right now those anti women’s march women are feeling frustrated because there is messaging circulating America slash the world that woman equals liberal.
To be clear – that’s not true. “Woman” does not equal liberal. I think it should, but that’s because I think “human” should equal liberal. Also, the Women’s March movement is not saying that “woman” equals liberal, explicitly.
But that doesn’t matter. We are a nation of what seems true and feels true, not what is true.
And the way I see it – that’s a good thing for the causes of the Women’s March.
Why? One second.
First, let’s remember this is not the first time women have been divided on what it means to be an American woman, politically speaking. The feminist movement of the ‘70s was wildly divisive. The feminist “movement” of the 2000’s has been wildly divisive. In another really great Times article from this weekend (How A Fractious Women’s Movement Ended Up Leading The Left, Times magazine) the author raises the point that feminism got cool again at the back half of Obama’s presidency. So much so that Taylor Swift had to change her tune on it for fear of losing fans. First, she didn’t use the word, then:
“Taylor Swift realized, she said, that she had “been taking a feminist stance without actually saying so.” Feminism was being defined down to its most benign interpretation. It was less a political platform than a brand identity.
But despite the fact that pop stars are more feminist than ever, 53% of white, American women (that voted) voted for Donald Trump. So clearly some women define their womanhood very differently. That has always and will always be a problem.
Now I’m not one of those women’s march women is no different than I’m not one of those bra burning women.
It’s just a lot trickier to be anti something that has your own gender in the title. Imagine saying I’m not one of those Gay Rights gays.
But what does a woman really mean when she says she’s not a women’s march woman?
It’s complicated, according to the voices represented in the Times op ed.
There are women distancing themselves for a single issue, such as abortion. As I mentioned, the women’s march platform is pro-choice because the organizers (and I) feel that a pro-choice political stance best represents the rights and accounts for the safety of all women.
There are women distancing themselves for a wider variety of reasons. Some are for banning refugees; they believe it will keep America safer. Some are for Mike Pence’s conservative ideas about homosexuality; they believe it is a sin and want the government to support that belief. Some are for Trump’s business ideas or the Republican promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (see what I did there?).
It’s all those women that are being made to feel like they’re anti-woman. And they don’t think that is fair.
First things first: life doesn’t always feel fair in a democracy. Majority rules. So if you’re a conservative woman stewing on your couch because of the nasty women marching in pink hats for rights you don’t agree with, good. Stew away. While you sit frustrated that your religion is being persecuted in a nation founded on the separation between church and state, some young girl in Missouri who was raped by her uncle is frustrated that she has to get mandatory counseling and then wait 72 hours to get an abortion. Also thousand of Syrian refugees. So frustration exists on both sides.
But the second issue is even more fascinating to me, and it’s the simplest part of this controversy. The optics are that liberal, progressive women are co-opting the word WOMAN. Before, they used feminists. It was The Feminist Movement. That’s much easier to step away from if you’re a conservative woman that disagrees with the feminist message. You’re a woman, you’re not a feminist.
Now what? I’m not a women’s march woman? I’m not a pussy hat woman? I’m not a pro-woman woman?
Any way you slice it the word woman is right there in the title – taunting.
It reminds me of another choice terminology that ended up having a deep and lasting impact: Obamacare.
Could Republicans have referred to universal health care as The Affordable Care Act, the name it was given by President Obama? Of course but Obamacare perfectly aligns the issue with the strong tide of anti-Obama sentiment. Obama is in the word! And that worked.
Could the liberal, progressive women’s movement have changed the name of the Women’s March to The Progressive March once it was abundantly clear that the movement became an umbrella representing liberal, progressive issues? Sure but Women’s March perfectly aligns with the strong tide of anti-Republican sentiment. “Woman” is in the phrase! And that’s working.
It’s not exactly the same, but it’s not all that different.
I imagine it’s very tricky to be a conservative woman in America right now. Some people are telling you that your political opinions pit you against your own gender because a group of women decided to lead the largest American opposition group against conservative politics, and millions decided to follow. I am one of those people. I believe that the best kind of woman is a liberal, progressive woman. I believe that liberal, progressive politics offer the best course for the safety, rights and continued equal representation of women. (Note: I also believe those politics are best for all humans, too. I believe the best kind of human is a liberal, progressive human).
Right now, in our democracy, my side is having a moment. We have pink hats and millions of marchers and a lot of celebrities and a nice logo. The other side is welcome to stage a moment of their own in opposition. They can make their own hats and logo and find their own celebrity endorsements.
And they can name it whatever they want.
Except for Women’s March, and I guess Women’s Movement too.
Sorry, they’re already taken.