On January 21, 2017, a pink-tinted mob circled a stage towering over Washington D.C., and a clamor of anticipation flooded the crowd. Teased by the empty platform, the horde buzzed with gossip. Two older women with pink beanies said they heard Scarlett Johansson was going to make a speech. “I read somewhere that Alicia Keys was going to perform,” a young woman added, making conversation with the strangers. Just 22 hours after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the dire circumstances dissolved any barriers preventing women from relating to one another. Swimming in the sea of positive energy surrounding the U.S. Capitol was entrancing. Determined to combat fear and resist compliance, half a million people stirred in a frenzy, waiting for the first speaker to reach the podium.
Author and activist Angela Davis was among the 44 speakers at the Women’s March on Washington, and opened her speech stating, “At a challenging moment in our history, let us remind ourselves that we the hundreds of thousands, the millions of women, trans people, men and youth who are here at the Women’s March, we represent the powerful forces of change that are determined to prevent the dying cultures of racism [and] hetero-patriarchy from rising again.” Following her oration, everyone applauded, and some were in tears—including the white women in their knitted “pussyhats.” The Pussyhat Project is a social movement working in cooperation with the Women’s March, and exists solely atop the heads of cisgender women. The square-knit hats, which drape to resemble cat ears when worn, symbolize female anatomy by using its slang term, “pussy.” Pair one of those caps with a “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt and a sign with “pussy power” scribbled in sharpie, the result will be the standard Women’s March attendee. The few norms of behavior that take place in a typical march are among some of the most misguided attempts at feminism that infest spaces with “inclusive” fronts.
I’ll admit it: I wore a pussyhat in 2017. My friend’s mom knitted it for me, and I was intoxicated by the joy of realizing even older women were on my side. But I would later recognize, of course, those baby-boomers would only be accepting of white, cisgender women like me.
Almost a year after the first annual Women’s March, I attended the second one, this time in New York City. The streets surrounding Columbus Circle were blanketed with, once again, thousands of knitted pink hats, and pieces of cardboard splashed with pink, symbolizing femininity, and orange, alluding to the color of the president’s skin. I never made it to the main hub of the event, which perhaps influenced my attitude towards the protest: the environment was off-putting. I exited the subway onto the cramped street with dreamy expectations of justice and harmony. And almost instantaneously, after hearing cisgender women with cat ears chant, “My body, my choice” and men replying, “Her body, her choice,” I felt conflicted. Tension was brewing in an environment that provided no outlet for my and others’ frustrations. I wanted to interrupt by yelling something like, “Why the hell would you do this?” but it was no use, because the group with the speaker couldn’t even hear my song requests. Disgusted by the lack of communication, I left the scene.
On the subway home, I compared the Women’s March on Washington to the disaster I left behind. How could they be filed under the same type of activity? The transphobic posters, chants, and outfits were the same as before. On the walk home, I formed a conclusion: as more time passed following Trump’s inauguration, it became more pressing to point out the exclusiveness of the rally, and every other staggering flaw. We should keep in mind the words of Angela Davis spoken at the Women’s March on Washington: “We dedicate ourselves to collective resistance… Resistance to institutional and intimate gender violence, especially against trans women of color.” In 2017, I failed to comprehend how a protest for rights could be veiled with deception. Moving forward, revolt against any and all oppressive powers is clearly necessary.
Image by Hua Chen