Old Divisions Haunt New Wave Of Feminism

Jan 27, 2017

Women turned out en masse this past weekend to protest newly elected President Donald Trump. Some women say it’s the start of a third wave of feminism. But old divisions that have separated women for generations threaten to impede progress again.

Black men and youths hold signs at Tallahassee Women's March on Jan. 21.
Credit Sarah Mueller

Millions of women took part in a march in Washington D.C. Sister marches also happened in every state, including Florida.

But even before the march, some pro-life women accused organizers of excluding them. And others said they walked away from the marches feeling out of place because of their race, gender or pro-life beliefs.

“I also felt like this was a white women’s march, said Lola Periwinkle, a black student at Florida State University who identifies as transgender. "I doubt I’ll see half the people there at the next Black Lives Matter march. If I friended any of those white women on Facebook, I doubt that I would see them talking about black issues.”

Thousands of marchers throughout the country wore “pussyhats” as a response to a video where then-candidate Donald Trump talked about groping women. Periwinkle, who marched in Tallahassee, says the pink “pussyhats” were offensive because not all people are the same color.

Paula Zenick marches at the Tallahassee Women's March on Jan. 21. She is wearing a "pussyhat."
Credit Sarah Mueller

The racial fractures date back to the abolitionist movement and the early years of women’s suffrage. Ameenah Shakir is assistant professor of History at Florida A&M University.

“A desire to abolish slavery, but also larger concerns about sufferage that created in the late 19th century, a lot of different representation or ideas about the ways in which women should participate in those fights," she said.

Shikar says women were still grappling with that in the late 1960’s when, in the next wave of feminism, women clashed over issues like civil rights, sexuality, equality, reproductive rights, and access to health care.

“A lot of those issues differed depending on where you were in the country, but also where you stood in terms of your racial, gender and also class and also sexual identity background,” she said.

Tallahassee activist Lakey Love was an organizer of the recent marches and an unapologetic progressive. she believes the marches were a success.

“The national march vision and mission and unity principals were very, very focused on black and brown, transgender, LGBTQ, undocumented, Muslim issues," she said. "So, we didn’t actually struggle with that.”

The Women’s March on Washington, a nod to civil right’s icon Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 march, was a show of solidarity in a movement that Shakir says is still trying to find unity. While women voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, a majority of white women voted for Trump.

Professor Shakir said earlier women’s movements failed because of a lack of inclusiveness. She said it’s impossible to separate out women’s issues from the issues of race, sexuality, privilege and class. Any successful movement has to factor in those realities.