Wearing a pale pink suit and only a hint of makeup, a then-45 year-old woman addressed an audience in Beijing in 1995 and said, “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.”
While her political identity had yet to take shape, she would later become the first female presidential nominee representing a major political party.
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s famous words have transcended time and found their home within the grassroots movement of the Women’s March on Washington. The Women’s March has mobilized a movement against a man who defeated that woman in the pale pink suit in the most unprecedented presidential campaign in modern history.
The day after Donald J. Trump was sworn into office as the 45th president of the United States, one of the largest protests in American history took place on the streets of Washington and beyond. According to political scientists from the Universities of Connecticut and Denver, somewhere between 3.3 million and 4.6 million took to the streets in cities across the country to rally against President Trump’s anti-woman agenda.
The rally boasted big celebrity speakers, including Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, as well as Scarlett Johansson, Angela Davis, Van Jones and Maryum Ali, to name just a few. The Women’s March official website directly references Hillary Clinton’s famous quote in its mission statement and calls on “all defenders of human rights to join us.”
Its website also boasts an enormous list of partner organizations and sponsors like the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Pussy Hat Project and CODEPINK. Absent from these lists are the New Wave Feminists, a self-subscribed group of pro-life, non-violent feminists. The organization was quietly ousted from its original partnership with the Women’s March directly due to its stance on abortion. No official announcement was made from the Women’s March on the matter, but backlash on social media likely played a part in its removal of the group.
“Badass. Prolife. Feminists.”
This is the slogan of the New Wave Feminists, which is, in my opinion, contradictory at best and even slightly dangerous at worst. Since attending the Women’s March on Washington myself, I’ve been rattling my brain over the notion that a woman can simultaneously be against a woman’s right to choose and can also call herself a feminist.
The New Wave Feminists certainly do not align with one major principle of the Women’s March, which was co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. Reproductive rights are, unsurprisingly, listed as one of its Unity Principles outlining the political objectives and beliefs of its founders and supporters. Access to safe, legal and affordable abortion and birth control is clearly stated as a fundamental value of the Women’s March, as well as an adopted principle of feminism more broadly.
Roxane Gay, a notable feminist author and professor, took to Twitter to oppose the partnership with the New Wave Feminists, tweeting, “Intersectional feminism does not include a pro-life agenda. That’s not how it works! The right to choose is a fundamental part of feminism.”
Gay is right. A woman can certainly be anti-choice on a personal level, but supporting the governmental regulation of women’s bodies defiles everything women are fighting for. Whether one’s beliefs are religiously based or not, the practice of that belief should extend no further than one’s own body. Another woman’s medical – yet deeply personal – decision is none of my concern.
The very sign I proudly, albeit poorly, hand painted and waved around for eight hours at the Women’s March was a direct reference toward the increasingly restrictive abortion legislation permeating through Congress. Despite the fact that I struggle to understand how a woman can simultaneously say she is pro-life and a feminist, I believe it was wrong of the Women’s March to un-invite the New Wave Feminists from marching alongside us.
I recognize the importance of staying on message and conveying a consistent narrative for a cause – the stakes are so desperately high. The founders of the Women’s March had every right not to officially welcome or recognize an organization that directly opposed its integral values.
However, the leaders of the Women’s March handled the situation poorly, opening the floodgates for conservatives to criticize the movement for hypocrisy. If we as liberals are so righteous about preaching acceptance of those who are different, and if we fight so hard for inclusion and diversity, then we might have missed the mark on this one.
To be an official partner of the March and to feel welcome to march alongside us are not mutually exclusive. Some of the pro-life feminists did make an appearance, despite their rescinded invitation. I saw several of these women standing with their signs, and while I wholeheartedly reject their values regarding abortion and a women’s right to choose, I was not uncomfortable with their presence nor did I wish them away.
If these women, who are likely politically conservative, want to stand alongside me and march against a man who has been charged with numerous sexual assault allegations, who has openly admitted to grabbing women by their genitals without consent, then I welcome these women with open arms.
I am writing this several weeks after the Women’s March on Washington took place because I believe it coalesces into a larger issue we are now facing today: whether Democrats will respond to President Trump’s policies by attempting to work with him on some level, or if they will wholly oppose him.
National Public Radio recently interviewed Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist and early Tea Party organizer, who offered liberals advice on how to make the biggest impact on public policy when it comes to opposing the Trump Administration. The biggest mistake those on the Left are making, according to Steinhauser, is that they continue putting people from Hollywood center stage to convey their message.
It is people like Lena Dunham, he said, who offend middle America and “don’t necessarily represent a broad swath of voters.”
I could write an additional 500 words on how I feel about Lena Dunham with ease, but the point is that middle Americans can’t possibly relate to Dunham because they never had anything in common in the first place. She is a privileged, white television actress from New York City who struggles to stay on her own message without Twitter virtually imploding.
If Democrats want to succeed in gaining power back in Congress – and the White House in four years – then they cannot afford to exclude middle Americans because they do not agree on every cultural or societal issue. If this is a movement aims to protect women’s rights, we will do well to embrace all women, including Republican women. The main focus of the campaign needs to be on issues like the economy that will bring unity and power back to the Democratic Party.
The March on Washington has concluded, but the fight against President Trump has just begun. We cannot afford to be picky of our allies.