The ‘Women’s March’ on Washington might not have actually happened yet but it can already be judged a success. Few demonstrations in recent years have attracted such advance publicity, inspired so many supportive column inches, or prompted such an abundance of ‘how to’ guides for the novice protester.
The march, planned for 21 January – the day after Trump’s inauguration – and now scheduled to take place across a further thirty American cities as well as in London, Sydney and Zurich, has clearly captured the imagination of those determined to signal their distaste for the incoming administration. More than 200,000 people are expected to participate in Washington alone with trains and hotel rooms now reportedly fully booked.
But dig beneath the distaste-signalling and the vague social justice rhetoric and the objectives of the ‘Women’s March’ are not at all clear. The organisers claim the event is not a protest against what will be Trump’s day-old presidency but is rather intended to provide a more general platform for promoting women’s rights and social justice issues ‘ranging from race, ethnicity, gender, religion, immigration and healthcare‘. But the timing of the march and the focus on Trump’s sexist views, whatever his practice once in office might be, has led to it being widely touted as an ‘anti-Trump’ rally.
I was in America just days after the election and saw the marches that were taking place nightly in San Diego. Women carried ‘Pussies Against Trump’ or ‘Love Trumps Hate’ placards and the protesters, mainly white and young, would chant ‘Trump you’re fired!’ and ‘Donald Trump has got to go!’. ‘We want people to know that Trump doesn’t represent us,’ one woman told me. A bemused passer-by asked me, ‘Do they want the election to be re-run?’ while another was more forthright and told me: ‘These people are an embarrassment to our country.’
Here lies one problem with the ‘Women’s March’: Trump was democratically elected. Any protest against a president on his first day in office is a protest against democracy, a cry of rage against a decision made by fellow citizens. The Trump-haters lost the argument – and the election – and as a result Trump does now represent them whether they like it or not. Trump may well go on to restrict access to abortion services or enact other legislation that will have an impact on women’s rights. If and when he does I’ll be first in line to march. But protesting against an incoming president is less a bid to overturn new laws and more an expression of distaste against the electorate.
Unfortunately for all the commentators keen to present a narrative of women united in a shared liberal outlook, the shock of the election post-mortem was the discovery that Trump got the backing of so many women. Most disbelief and hand-wringing has been reserved for the 53 per cent of ‘white women’ who voted for Trump. A ‘Women’s March’ suggests XX chromosomes engender a specific viewpoint and that all women share interests in common. They clearly do not.
Forget the intersectional squabbles that have already beset the march over whether black women and muslim women are fairly represented. Far more significant are the political differences that arise because, in what must be a surprise to the protest’s cheerleaders, women do not all experience the world in the same way. Some women stress over ‘mansplaining’ while others juggle two or three back-breaking jobs to feed their families.
Feminists unable to comprehend that some women might think differently to them have diagnosed female Trump voters as suffering from ‘internalised misogyny’. According to this way of thinking, women who voted for Clinton were rational, sensible and self-confident whereas those who voted for Trump were self-loathing, irrational and, frankly, stupid. And engaging such an apparently alien species in debate is considered all but impossible.
Instead, commentators, taking their lead from Clinton, prefer to appeal directly to ‘little girls’. In her concession speech, Clinton instructed ‘all the little girls watching,’ to ‘never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.’ Writing in the Observer this week, Catherine Bennett notes that British girls have already learnt they can’t depend on other little girls when it comes to politics.
The women’s march has been promoted as a demonstration of the ‘sisterhood’ standing up to the misogynistic Trump. But all the talk of internalised sexism and little girls shows that it’s those opposing Trump who demean and infantilise women.
Joanna Williams is education editor at Spiked