Selling a Message, not Pussyhats

With pink pussyhats warming their heads, and retribution filling their hearts, hundreds upon thousands of feminists across the United States began their march on a brisk winter morning for the second annual Women’s March. However, after looking beyond the sea of pink that acts as a smoke screen, the inherent and underlying issues associated with this protest emerge. In fact, other than publicizing and bringing awareness to important and relevant issues, the march fails to generate fixed, systemic changes which could be achieved through a different appropriation of funds and efforts used for these marches.

Too many times, the response of the government after such marches is rhetorical appeasement rather than major political reforms. The aftermath of these marches is often limited in scope and in impact because their participation is performative. In fact, many women chose not to participate this year as if to protest the protest; plenty argues that the march needs to go beyond “aesthetic, sanitized, Instagrammable signs and slogan T-shirts.” However, it could be argued that despite the intentions of participants, demonstrations like the Women’s March still give people an opportunity to become politically active which could encourage future political involvement. But for those people that use these protests as the only way to demonstrate their activism and further their social clout, they could be less likely to continue their political participation or push for reform.

This type of virtue signaling — publicly expressing good deeds to demonstrate pious moral character — is even more arresting when taking into account the amount of money spent participating in these protests that does not go into funding further action. The proceeds that are earned from selling branded “Women’s March” merchandise are reinvested back into the organization to continue supporting these protests. This organization is supporting the idea of creating a brand, which causes them to stray away from a traditional protest that doesn’t pressure participants to purchase merchandise. If we take into account that this merchandise helps support more protest and keeps the feminist movement activated, wouldn’t it be more effective to bypass the middleman, the Women’s March, and rather invest these donations to actual feminist organizations dedicated to policy reform? Instead of spending money on transportation, gas fares, merchandise, and posters, donating the money to help fund local campaigns, whose candidate’s policies are dedicated to women’s rights, might be a better appropriation of funds.

If the mission of the march is to harness the political power of women, the fact that they have become increasingly more performative than intersectional undermines this claim. Many women are not able to take off time from their jobs to participate in the march, at risk of being fired. This is due to the fact that many of these demonstrations are usually held in large cities, which could acquire many to incur travel expenses and the possibility of having to stay overnight in another city. Especially in red states where women work hourly wages, attending the march means sacrificing their livelihood to invest in a movement without mechanisms for systemic change.

Without formal action, the Women’s March could be reduced to a day designated to the celebration of women, and to a “feelgood spectacle.” One way to reduce the performative aspect of this march is to organize less “mass demonstrations” and instead host local marches which could allow them to be more intersectional. This could allow for small communities to better organize the march to fit everyone’s schedule. In addition, local demonstrations would better represent the needs of its district and allow for more concentrated aims instead of mass marches hosted in large metropolitan cities that protest broad issues. Despite the fact that protests do not actually have the ability to govern, these local marches can be the first step in starting a movement. However, the transition from march to movement is contingent on the ability of the Women’s March to concentrate its aims to include issues that affect every type of woman, which would allow for a more intersectional and inclusive movement, and could lead to fixed policy changes. Instead of favoring issues that matter to straight, white, middle-class women, these local marches would be more adept at representing the issues, such as racism, police brutality, LGBTQ inclusivity, and immigration, that matter to many underrepresented women.  

The Women’s March has enormous potential to change our corrupted system through the tremendous support that it has garnered in only one year. It has brought attention to the still prevalent and underlying problems facing our country and provides a physical manifestation of our fight for women’s rights. However, unless this march concretizes into an organized movement, it would be seen as nothing more as a day designated to celebrate women. By localizing these protests, you can get more people involved and could actualize a force capable of controlling city councils and mayorships.