They Marched in Record Numbers, But Will the Fight for Women’s Rights Stand the Test of Time?

By: Lauren Fabrizio (@lfab12)

Many might wonder whether the recent widespread protests over women’s rights are a knee-jerk reaction to Donald Trump’s presidency, and if so, whether these demonstrations will stand the test of time. For better or for worse, history tends to repeat itself, as evidenced by lingering sexist views in America despite feminists’ efforts to undo them, dating back to the battle for women’s suffrage during the late 18th century. Older women attending this year’s marches are outraged that they are having to fight the same battles as they did decades ago. 

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Luckily, as evidenced by “A Timeline of the Feminist Movement,” each “wave” of feminism has built upon the last, and this awakened modern consciousness surrounding the fight for equal rights–energized by the #MeToo and Times Up campaigns–is no exception. With the introduction of social media, women and other marginalized communities are able to share resources and organize like never before, making “fourth-wave” feminists arguably the most informed yet. Trump’s election undeniably urged many women to start a resistance built on concern that the president’s misogynistic remarks would further normalize discrimination. Americans who were once complacent about politics are taking more of an interest in it after reading the frequently chaotic news headlines.Though there may have been a question about the longevity of these demonstrations after the first Women’s March, the second march and the persistent protests throughout 2017 prove that the initial demonstrations were not just a fluke of history.

The #MeToo movement has deepened progressive women’s activism, which many hope will result in electoral triumphs. Many of the speakers at the New York gathering, such as Ashley Bennett, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand advocated for more women in office. Gillibrand stated, “To change the system, we need to change the players and have women at the table.” This year’s Women’s March had a more centralized focus on supporting the over six hundred female candidates running for political offices (in contrast to the 200 women who ran in 2016 reported by the Center for American Women and Politics). The organizers hope to register one million new voters from swing states by the midterms.

Image courtesy of NPR.

The organizers of the last Women’s March have dedicated considerable energy to a “Power to the Polls” event in Las Vegas, which encouraged women to embrace their civic duty and vote for candidates that best represent them. Central issues discussed at the gathering in Las Vegas included concerns facing sex workers, women of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and immigrants. These discussions and worries about healthcare reform and reproductive rights were subjects of interest at protests across the nation, where demonstrators appeared in astonishing numbers.

Vox columnist German Lopez declared that “…the Women’s Marches over the weekend involved between 1.6 million and 2.5 million people in events across the US, with an average of 6,700 to 10,400 per march.” Reportedly 200,000 went to the New York demonstrations while 600,000 protesters participated in the Los Angeles march, according to the cities’ mayors. The first Women’s March attracted more demonstrators with over 4.2 million people by comparison, but the statistics for the second march are still impressive considering it took place an entire year after Trump’s inauguration. Even more monumental is the amount of protests that took place in the interim between the two marches. Lopez cites data from the University of Denver’s Erica Chenoweth and the University of Connecticut’s Jeremy Pressman that shows 74% of the 8,700 protests organized throughout 2017 reflected anti-Trump sentiments. Some of these include the Day Without an Immigrant, the March for Science, the March for Truth, and demonstrations condemning white supremacy.

Despite the prominence of these protests, less than 0.5% of the demonstrations turned violent. Because the protest methods were in plain sight and simple to join, and because so many people of all backgrounds were shown participating, the demonstrations were able to sustain themselves and attract even more marchers. When more people participate in a campaign, those who may be on the fence about joining feel more secure and comfortable about taking a stand with so many like-minded individuals.

Image via CNN.

The seemingly endless crowds of demonstrators provoked conversations about the fundamental meaning of feminism. After the second Women’s March, Trump fueled more controversy by proclaiming that he was not a feminist. He explained to interviewer Piers Morgan, “I’m for women. I’m for men. I’m for everyone. I think people have to go out…and they have to win. And women are doing great, and I’m happy about that.” Trump may have thought he could appeal to both sides with this stance, but he only confirmed that he is not familiar with the true definition of feminism, which he inadvertently echoed in the body of his argument. Merriam-Webster defines the movement as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” The commander-in-chief alarmingly seems to base his pride about rejecting the feminist label off the misconception that it means stifling opportunities for men. By his own statement that he is “for everyone,” Trump is a feminist; however, considering his history of making crude remarks about women, many would disagree. According to a Washington-ABC poll, the president’s approval rating among white women (some of his most adamant supporters during the 2016 election) dropped ten percent since April.  

For all the opponents Trump has gained, skeptics from the left and the right have expressed doubt about the effectiveness of the marches themselves. Some find these protests too partisan and feel dismayed by the lack of inclusiveness. Critics of the movement likewise argue that simply marching for causes has little to no effect on real issues, but the initial Women’s March created a spark of hope and sense of power that led many to become activists in more focused initiatives. This energy carried over to the successful travel ban protests, which prove that activism can help keep the executive branch’s authority in check.

Modern feminists have varied reasons for resenting the treatment of women in the political sphere, but most feel disillusioned by the portrayal and treatment of women in American culture at large. Trump’s election emboldened more people to seek social change, but the constant rallying against his character and his policies has had a snowball effect, sparking conversations about sexual misconduct throughout Hollywood and the U.S. workplace in general. Referring to feminism in terms of waves simplifies our understanding of history, but makes feminism sound like a trend. The record number of women running for office alone should prove that many are in it for the long haul, and this modern feminist consciousness will not disappear any time soon.

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