The Women’s March on Washington—Toronto

In response to the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, a Women’s March on Washington was held in the U.S. capital and sister marches were held in many cities across the world. The purpose of these marches was to protest the type of right-wing political sentiment that has increased across our continent as a result of Trump’s election, which has caused an increase in racist, misogynist and anti-immigrant attitudes, behaviors, and hate crimes in the United States as well as in Canada.

The mission of the Women’s March on Washington, from their web page, is the following:

“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us – immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, survivors of sexual assault – and our communities are hurting and scared. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear.

In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.

We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.”

In Toronto, a women’s march also took place, and was attended by members of Radical Feminists Unite. We agree with many aspects of the march’s vision, such as the need to end racism, violence against women, and homophobia, and the need to protect worker’s rights. As radical feminists, we are against capitalist patriarchy and want justice for all people currently oppressed by systems of power.

womens-march-toronto
The Women’s March on Washington—Toronto. Photo by Jessica Wilkes

We have some criticisms to make, however, of the neoliberal nature of the march which seeks to be so “inclusive” of various identities that it fails to name women as a distinct class of people and refuses to name exactly where our oppression is coming from. The paragraph from the march’s Guiding Vision, available in their PDF statement, demonstrates this problem:

“We believe in Gender Justice. We must have the power to control our bodies and be free from gender norms, expectations and stereotypes. We must free ourselves and our society from the institution of awarding power, agency and resources disproportionately to masculinity to the exclusion of others.”

This statement about “gender justice” confuses what gender is and hides the reality of sex-based oppression in order to align itself with transgender politics. Women are oppressed because of our sex— that is, our female biology. The reason we are targeted for such hate crimes as rape, incest, sexual assault, forced marriage, forced pregnancy, and sexual slavery is because we are members of the class of people who can become pregnant and the system of patriarchy gives men power over us and the use of our female bodies. Women are not oppressed on the basis of our identities as women. Male abusers do not check to find out what a woman’s identity is before abusing her—if they did, they wouldn’t abuse any of us, because all of us identify as human beings deserving of rights and none of us identify in such a way as to invite male violence against us. Male abusers target women because they can identify that we are female and our patriarchal society gives them the power to harm females.

The paragraph above claims that power is given to “masculinity,” but this is not true—power is given to males. Women who display masculinity are not given any power; in fact, they are ostracized and they are targets for sexism due to the fact that they deviate from the social norms placed on women. It is males, as a class, who have power over females, as a class, and masculinity is a part of the social manifestation of that power.

It is terrible that a Women’s March would cater to a set of politics that erases the existence of the class of people who experience sex-based oppression, women. The politics and activism being put forward by the transgender community is in direct opposition to women’s rights, since it imagines women to be in a position of privilege over men who feel they have a gender identity, and seeks to eliminate sex-segregated spaces for women in order to include such men in women’s spaces. A Women’s March should recognize what women are (human females), should name sex-based oppression and should name the perpetrators and beneficiaries of patriarchy: men.

The March on Washington also claims to support ‘the sex workers’ rights movement.’ The ‘sex workers rights’ movement is a movement of people who support the sexual exploitation of women and girls, rebranding it as a woman’s choice. The term ‘sex worker’ can include anyone in the sex trade, including the perpetrators of crimes against women, such as pimps, procurers and profiteers, who obviously do not have the best interest of women in mind. The rebranding of prostitution as ‘sex work’ is a deliberate attempt to hide the violence inherent in prostitution and silence the voices of prostitution survivors. A march that was truly for women would take a position against the crime of prostitution, elevate the voices of the survivors who speak out, and demand that male abusers of women (pimps and johns) be held accountable for their violence.

Here in Toronto, survivors Natasha Falle and Bridget Perrier of the group SexTrade101 issued a statement to the local women’s march, after they attempted to use their photos on their page:

“As a prostitution survivor coalition (SexTrade101), we do not agree with your use of terminology (sex-work-er) when referring to the sexual exploitation and abuse of women in the sex trade. Your decision to legitimize this form of violence against women is both appalling and offensive to our survivor sisters (and bros). We do not wish to be affiliated with your March, as it excludes a countless number of voices who tell the truth about prostitution violence, and using terminology as such, discredits our traumatic experiences with pimps; escort owners/mgt, strip club owners/mgt, massage parlour owners/mgt, street level pimps, drug dealer pimps, etc, and buyers of sex.”

Natasha Falle & Bridget Perrier
Survivors of Prostitution
Founders
Sextrade101

womens-march-message

We believe in supporting the most marginalized women, not the most privileged. The majority of women in the sex trade are there due to lack of other options and wish to get out. It is those women who should be prioritized, not the vocal minority of women who claim empowerment through ‘sex work.’

Despite our differences with the stated mission of the march and some of their neoliberal politics, we found it necessary to attend the march, to show our solidarity with progressive values, to oppose the inauguration of Donald Trump and to bring with us a radical feminist message. We were pleased to see lots of signs that clearly focused on women’s rights and that contained images of female biology. Clearly, there is a large mass of women who still know who feminism is for. Although several of us noted that we felt it was dangerous to put explicitly radical feminist slogans on our signs, for fear of harassment, we did name male violence against women and misogyny on our signs. We felt that it was necessary to be clearly feminist in our messaging.

Two days after the march, we have seen the photos pouring in on social media and we’ve witnessed how large and widespread the women’s march has been. We’ve also seen the backlash coming from trans activists who complain the march focused too much on female biology. It is our hope that this event, and the reason behind it (Trump taking away women’s rights and a rise in misogyny in the country in general) will galvanize more women into feminist organizing. Our rights are always under attack, and over the next few years there will be lots of work to do.