In 2016, we saw a year where women in Western democracies were heavily politically divided. The 2016 United States Presidential Election ended with 61 per cent of white women without a college degree and 45 per cent of those with a college education voting “against their own voice“ by casting a ballot for Donald Trump. Similarly, the Brexit outcome that caught the world by storm highlighted deep generational divides, where 67 per cent of UK women aged 18-34 voted to remain in the EU in comparison to only 39 per cent of their female counterparts aged 55+. While many are happy to say farewell to 2017, it would be foolish to ignore the number of milestones achieved this past year in support of intersectional feminism.
The first annual Women’s March on January 21 surpassed the expectations of most if not all observers, with over 2.6 million people participating in marches worldwide, reaching cities as distant as Nairobi, Berlin, Auckland, and Paris. The scenes of witty and woke protest posters, bright pink pussy hats, and protestors representing a range of ages and socioeconomic backgrounds painted a visual of activism on a scale that arguably had not been seen for decades in the United States. Paired with the resurgence of the #MeToo movement, the case for women’s rights enjoyed a renewed sense of urgency in the latter half of 2017.
With a heavy focus on social justice studies during my bachelor’s, I will be the first to admit that I had little to no faith that Hollywood and major entertainment corporations would do anything to reprimand the accused. Actors, athletes, musicians, and producers facing allegations over the years have historically been untouchable because of their money and access to powerful legal teams, so why would this time around be any different? To my amazement, networks were beginning to sing a different tune: household names including actor Kevin Spacey, the Today Show’s Matt Lauer, comedian Louis C.K., and Democrat Senator Al Franken lost their jobs and public support. Entering 2018, women in the industry are garnering significant media coverage for their announced initiatives including a legal defense fund for less privileged women and for washing the Beverly Hilton ballroom in a sea of black at the Golden Globes to stand in solidarity for women’s rights. The Women’s March also notably made a comeback in 2018 with installments here in Toronto and in major cities around the world.
Pegged “a watchable revolution” by the Washington Post, the 2018 Golden Globes will arguably be most remembered for a lifetime achievement award acceptance speech by Oprah Winfrey, who lamented, “Speaking your truth is the best tool we all have.” If nothing else, 2018 promises to be the year of open, difficult, and necessary conversations. The strength and distinctive feature of these nascent movements is the fact that they are amplifying new and diverse voices. Many women and men who previously had no space to verbalize the pain and shame associated with interactions with powerful predators finally feel comfortable enough to speak, and people are beginning to listen. Instead of glossing over the lived experiences of victims with a one-size-fits-all approach to damage control, movements aiming to address women’s rights in Hollywood, the workplace, and academic institutions are embracing the value of sitting back and listening.
These conversations should not be confined to specific industries or groups of people. The dialogue must be kept open by lending an ear to even the most unpopular opinions. Too often our well-intentioned reflex is to shut out or censor controversial ideas because, well, we don’t want anyone to get hurt or offended. But the best way to rebut against different opinions is to first better understand the articulation of their arguments, and to try to grasp where dramatically different opinions come from. Defending essential rights and freedoms that are central to leftist and alt-right activism must remain a priority for the leaders and political players of tomorrow.
A perfect illustration of this came in the form of a New York Times opinion piece in November 2017. A civil rights activist and Yale law student in the 1960s, Pauli Murray came to the defence of segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace’s right to freedom of speech when the school’s provost advised students to withdraw their invitation for him to speak on campus. In her letter to the provost, she wrote, “The possibility of violence is not sufficient reason in law to prevent an individual from exercising his constitutional right… This has been the principle behind the enforcement of the rights of… James Meredith and others to attend desegregated schools in the face of a hostile community and threats of violence. It must operate equally in the case of Governor Wallace.” Though she admitted that she would be the first to organize a protest should Wallace’s event come to campus, Murray’s point was much simpler: the constitutional rights of everyone must be equally protected if they are to hold any weight.
An important lesson I’ve learned while studying global development is you can’t make meaningful change until you have a proper grasp on the full context and needs of the target group, as explained by members from that group. Coming in as an outsider, you inevitably have your own unique, different identity that is going to set you apart from the people you are working with in any given consulting, policymaking, or fieldwork project. But that doesn’t mean searching for unity and mutual understandings in any of these relationships is fraught.
In 2018, pledge to listen more often to your coworkers and relatives who grumble about gender pronouns, and then debate. Respect the fact that when a woman of a vastly different racial, national, sexual, religious or socioeconomic background says that you cannot relate to exactly what she is going through, she is probably right. As we wade deeper into the months of 2018, our greatest strength as women, feminists, and allies will be recognizing that #MeToo is not synonymous with “I’ve already heard it all.”
The MGA Intersectional Feminist Collective is committed to inclusivity regardless of age, gender identity, class, sexual identity, ethnolinguistic group, or religious affiliation. The purpose of the Collective is to provide a safe space for discussion, support, and learning around issues and topics within intersectional feminisms.