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(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Check your privilege

Women’s March on Washington provokes heated debate on class and privilege

By WITW Staff on January 10, 2017

The Women’s March on Washington, scheduled for January 21, is intended to offer a symbol of unity in protest against an incoming president whose campaign was dominated by accusations of sexual assault and harassment. As many as two-hundred thousand are expected to attend in the capital and sister marches are being planned around the world. However, as the event approaches, the march itself is becoming a source of division.

Jennifer Willis, a 50-year-old wedding minister from South Carolina, told The New York Times that she would no longer be attending the march after reading a Facebook post, written on the event’s official page, that made her feel unwelcome because she is white.

The post suggested that “white allies” participating in the march need to listen more and talk less, and mocked women who were only acknowledging the reality of racism in light of the election. “You don’t just get to join because now you’re too scared, too,” the post reportedly read. “I was born scared.”

The comment, authored by a black activist from Brooklyn, touched a nerve with Willis, who argued that it deterred from the purpose of the march: bringing women together. “This is a women’s march,” she said. “We’re supposed to be allies in equal pay, marriage, adoption. Why is it now about, ‘White women don’t understand black women’?”

Her frustration fits into a broader debate that has emerged around the march, around whether the event ought to be used as a way of confronting longer term issues regarding race and class privilege in the fight for women’s rights. It is a debate the event organizers have purposefully sought to engender.

“This was an opportunity to take the conversation to the deep places,” Linda Sarsour, a Muslim who heads the Arab American Association of New York and is one of four co-chairwomen of the national march, told the Times. “Sometimes you are going to upset people.”

While for some, like Willis, the approach has felt unwelcoming and suggestions that white women “check their privilege” have been seen as insulting, for others, opening up a conversation about the problems facing minority women is well overdue, having long been eclipsed by a women’s rights movement focused solely on issues concerning well-off white women.

Meanwhile, within the ongoing disputes on social media in the lead up to January 21, there is one group that remains distinctly underrepresented: Men. As the Wall Street Journal points out, of the 175,000 people who have suggested on the event’s Facebook page that they plan to attend, only a “fraction” appear to be men and march organizers across several states have noted very few seats on their buses being reserved by men.

“This is a movement that is led by women, but it is not just for women. It’s for all people,” said Linda Sarsour, one of the march’s lead organizers, to the Wall Street Journal.

The election in November resulted in the largest gender gap in more than 40 years, with women preferring Clinton by 13 points and men favoring Trump by 11 points. Nonetheless millions of men turned out to vote for what would have been America’s first woman president and, if they are to stand against Trump’s stance on issues like abortion and sexual violence, then they will need to speak up, Jackson Katz, author of Man Enough? Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and the Politics of Presidential Masculinity, said.

For whatever reasons men may be choosing not to attend the march, the reasons for those who do plan to turn out prove varied. Katz may be encouraged by their responses.

Read the full story at The New York Times and The Washington Post.


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