Women's March Marred by Controversy and Disunity
Updated: Jan 11
This year’s Women’s March came across as a blurry, out of focus reflection of the vivid and exultant picture that was the monumental march of 2017. Crowds were smaller and spirit ebbed. Why the dulled passion? It almost certainly stems from a controversy involving a board member of the Women’s March and her support for an anti-semitic leader, as well as the lack of a driving force behind this year’s protests.
Whatever the reason, the happenings of this year’s march are reflective of what threatens today’s feminist movement: decay as a result of diverging priorities and competing identifiers.
The controversy involving Tamika Mallory instigated upheaval and rejection in this year’s march. She voiced support for Lord Farrakhan— leader of a group that calls itself the Nation of Islam— who has made a series of anti-semitic comments, including calling Jewish people “termites.” Mallory has publicly renounced his anti-semitism, but has refused to condemn him wholly, as she praises the work he has done in struggling black communities.
Other board members have made a point of including Jewish women in the movement and many potential marchers have accepted that Mallory and the few board members do not represent the collective group. The controversy led to groups in a some states organizing marches and rallies separate from that of the official Women’s March. In New York City, the Women’s March NYC hosted a separate rally in Foley Square, where women banded together under an apparently more unified message.
Another, arguably more positive, reason for smaller numbers was a lack of motivation. It was less necessary that women march this year because, relatively speaking, it was a good year for the woman. The most diverse Congress in history was elected, including a total of 102 women who now comprise nearly a quarter of seats in the House.
Nancy Pelosi, now serving as House speaker, has become the most powerful woman in the history of United States politics. The #MeToo movement has provided a platform for women to be heard and for men to be held accountable for their unacceptable actions. Nonetheless, there is a long way to go and an ample reason to march.
In response to the contention, legendary women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem gave the following advice: “March with one of them. But march.” Some listened, and others sat this one out, but indifference should not have been and cannot be an option.
Signage has been an informative way to understand driving forces behind each year’s march. The march in 2017 occurred the day after Trump’s inauguration, and was meant to project the voices of the people, particularly women, who felt disparaged and threatened by Trump and his administration. Although the overall message was one of female empowerment, the anti-Trump atmosphere was manifested in the signs calling attention to climate change, immigration, reproductive rights and more.
Protesters left the march with feelings of euphoria and purpose. A spark was ignited and it would remain alighted for the year that followed, passing on to the candle that was the 2018 march. There, signs demonstrated an overall frustration with and rejection of Trump’s persona and policies. Popular signs included messages of love, such as “Love trumps hate.” Flash forward to 2019, when the light began to flicker. Signage was scattered and included an emphasis on the Russia investigation and the wall.
The fight for women’s equality encompasses thousands of other movements, including rights of immigrants, LGBTQ+ rights, workers’ rights, and more—fortifying that women’s rights are human rights. Managing a tent this large demands a universal, clear message of inclusivity and concern for women of all walks of life. The Women’s March organization defines its mission as “to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change.” This seems to be as universal as it gets, and still, they have been accused of exclusivity.
Because of the inherent intersection of race, ethnicity, sexuality, creed, gender, socioeconomic status, and other identifiers with sex, it is difficult, albeit necessary, to create a collective group of women without falling victim to the schisms that result in diverging priorities. An effective feminist movement demands the adequate representation of all women, or else these separate movements will dominate and no notable improvements will be achieved.
The attempt to reach this place of equality and empathy, within a movement that is a fight for equality, will demand patience and time. The controversy with the Women’s March may serve as an example —the organizers were inexperienced and made a few mistakes, but this year’s march was only the third. Their efforts deserve praise and appreciation, as they did instill an enthusiasm in many women which led them to act, to vote, and to lead in a way many of them never had before.
We must learn that with this movement, when so many individuals from so many different walks of life, with divergent experiences, hopes, and beliefs, attempt to gather under one tent, there will be mistakes and there will be controversy. Fighters and marchers must be fortified and motivated by a shared ultimate goal: to achieve equality for the sexes. This they can never forget.