Last Saturday, hundreds of Middlebury students travelled across the northeast to Washington D.C., Montpellier, Boston, New York, and beyond to participate in the Women’s March on Washington and its solidarity marches. According to the march’s website, a group of volunteers organized the demonstration in response to the particularly harmful and vitriolic rhetoric imbued in last year’s election cycle and perpetuated by our current president. Though the movement originally struggled to reflect an ideology inclusive of all bodies, by January 21st, central to the march’s mission (as stated on its website) was support for “advocacy and resistance movements that reflect […] multiple and intersecting identities.” Key to its vision was a recognition that “defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.” Before the march had even begun, however, straight, white, cisgendered women took to Facebook to chip away at the movement’s intended focus on intersectionality.
I didn’t participate in the marches; I sat in my thesis carrel ruing the days I’d procrastinated over winter break while watching the livestream of the march in D.C.. I knew that being there wasn’t the point; marching in a demonstration of this size is an easy display of activism, a chance to participate in a movement without fully committing to its values. Each day, within the confines of this campus, I have the same opportunity to advocate for the safety and well-being of those who are threatened by structural violence as perpetuated by members of our own community and administration.
But from a distance, sitting in my “The Future is Female” sweatshirt, I was struck by my own brand of feminism’s shortcomings. “Female,” I realized, is a heteronormative and highly limited term that reinforces the gender binary. Catchy and alliterative as it may be (and empowering to me personally) the phrase has deficiencies. A friend retweeted this:
The trending hashtag from the march, #vivalavulva, signs that read “shed walls don’t build them,” all emphasized the female genitalia. These statements, my own sweatshirt included, are inherently exclusive to members of the trans community.
In the days that followed, I’ve had a number of interesting conversations with my friends about the march’s emphasis on the vagina. I’m left with this question: how do I as a cis-gendered woman concerned with my own reproductive rights advocate specifically for this issue without using rhetoric that is exclusive to any women-identifying people? how do I counter President Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” comment in a way that does not reinforce white feminism? more broadly, can I engage with the issues that feel most personally connected to my individual experience while remaining inclusive to those who are far more oppressed than I am?
I’m asking these questions not for definitive answers, but to invite discussion and to learn from my peers. I recognize the limitations of these questions themselves, but this is where I know to start. I invite anyone to submit a reflection to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymity is always an option for those who wish to protect their identities.
— Lizzy Weiss ’17