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The Carletonian

Pink hats aren’t enough: Moving forward from 2017

<me people are calling 2017 “the year of the woman,” but I’m not. First of all, I’m not quite sure what the phrase means. Do they think that it was the year that women finally overcame oppression? Do they think it was the year when the rest of the world came to understand that women do, in fact, face oppression at all? I find it impossible to agree with them, if either of these possible definitions is the case. Donald Trump was inaugurated as President in 2017, despite the allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Sexism is clearly still around, and a lot of people still don’t know it.

Maybe they mean that 2017 was the year in which women finally started telling their stories of sexism, harassment, and violence. If so, I’ll have to disagree again. Women have been telling these stories for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It didn’t take Trump’s election for women to start talking about sexism in society.

If anything, 2017 was the year when a certain kind of feminism became trendy and mainstream. Like many people, I went to one of the Women’s Marches across the country early in January of 2017, and also like many people, I left it feeling not entirely convinced by the march’s rhetoric. The sea of pink hats felt simplistic and transphobic. Most of the speeches I heard seemed to skim the surface of social justice, saying words that sounded good and uncontroversial, creating phrases that could easily be turned into hashtags. And no matter how many pink hats people knit, Trump was still the president, and our society was still unequal—I didn’t hear many people talking about that at the march.

It’s true that there were advances in 2017, as there are every year. The #MeToo movement, to name a recent example, has changed many industries, as well as the very way in which issues of sexual harassment and assault are discussed in the media and are dealt with in the workplace. The Women’s March on Washington was undeniably historic, in spite of its shortcomings. A known sexual predator was not elected as a senator of Alabama (although the fact that we note that as a success, rather than a given, is absurd in and of itself).
But ultimately, 2017 cannot be declared the year of the woman in any of the senses of the phrase, because of the unavoidable fact that advances like these are not felt by most of the world’s women. Most people who face sexual harassment in the workplace don’t work for somebody famous. Marching on Washington didn’t end police brutality or make birth control more accessible or abolish transphobia.

Fixing sexism requires fixing these myriad other social issues that plague society. The mainstream feminist movement of pink hats and girl power focuses on white, cisgender, wealthy women and conveniently forgets about everyone else—even though the work of non-white women, trans women, and non-wealthy women is what has enabled feminism to enter mainstream discourse in the first place. The U.S. could do with a reminder from Audre Lorde: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

Maybe the Women’s March made you feel empowered and comforted after a horrifying election. I don’t want to take that away from you; it did make me feel that way, too. It’s when such sentiments become the end game, rather than the first step, of a movement that we need to stop and remind ourselves what our goals really are.  

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