On Jan. 21, I attended the Women’s March on Washington. I was excited and a little nervous for the size and spectre of this event. Though it was not my first protest, it was my largest by far. Blocks upon blocks of protesters chanted, cheered and waved signs.
Among the throngs of signs with puns and hand-drawn genitalia, there were a few that read, “White women need to be held accountable.” Some other signs read, “53 percent of white women voted for Trump.” Reactions in the crowd ranged from agreement to embarrassment, to anger and defensiveness.
After the march was long over, I had time to think about and process what I saw. I read Twitter thread upon Twitter thread of other people’s stories from D.C. and the sister marches, and I began to have mixed feelings.
For example, I wonder how a trans woman there might have felt seeing sign after sign that associated womanhood with having a vagina. I’m not referring to the ones based on the infamous quote of Donald Trump — I refer to signs that said, “No uterus = no opinion” and “Patriarchy is for dicks.”
I read how my friend, a young, black woman, watched white women urge Angela Davis off the stage so their day could continue on.
There’s a big difference between blame and accountability. If you are a white woman who identifies as an activist or as “woke,” and felt defensive reading “White women need to be held accountable,” reflect on why those feelings sprang up. Projecting guilt and embarrassment onto the next person does nobody any good.
White women do need to be held accountable. Acknowledgment of privilege and our place in the hierarchy of power is essential. White women need to use our platform and our identity as women to lift up more marginalized voices. Empathy is not optional in activism. Empathy is necessary.
It is not enough to label yourself intersectional and inclusive and move on. Don’t become complacent and allow activism to become a self-congratulatory performance. Practice what you preach, embrace discomfort and constantly be critical. Support other causes that don’t directly affect you.
This can be done in small and simple ways. Call out Sarah in your literature class who not-so-subtly makes fun of people who use they/them pronouns, and tell her about the spectrum of gender identity. If you’re on a date with Chad and he starts to say that he doesn’t understand why he doesn’t get to use the n-word, explain the history of systemic racism to him.
It’s easy to shrink back and shrug off comments and actions that don’t directly affect you. But it is explicitly within those moments that your voice and actions are essential. Use them.