This year’s Women’s March was nothing short of historic. With over 400 protests taking place across the country, and more than 500,000 people attending the Washington event, the 2017 Women’s March is expected to go down as one of the largest demonstrations in United States history.
The 2017 marches represented a mosaic of movements and issues. At the Washington March, speakers focused on topics ranging from #BlackLivesMatter to transgender law to the rights of indigenous communities to Islamophobia to racial and gender pay gaps. As the cofounders of the All In Together Campaign — an organization working to empower American women to fully engage in political life — we were inspired by the diversity of perspectives and moved by the collective energy to take action.
The progressive feminist movement has not resolved its multiple issues around diversity and inclusion — far from it. Protest signs at the marches made this clear. Similarly, the upcoming A Day Without A Woman Strike brings up issues of privilege, as not every woman can afford to take the day off of work (though it should be noted the organizers offer more inclusive ways to participate). But regardless of the significant issues that threaten to divide women on the left, it is encouraging to see that there is awareness of these issues and the will to listen, build bridges, and unite to protect women’s interests.
…But what about women on the right?
When it comes to reaching across the aisle, progressive feminism has a lot of work to do. Take the example of the New Wave Feminists, an organization that describes itself as “Badass. Prolife. Feminists.” Almost immediately after the Women’s March listed the New Wave Feminists as an official march partner, criticism from the left came pouring in. Activists were horrified, arguing that the right to choose is a fundamental pillar of the feminism movement, and that pro-life organizations had no place participating in the Women’s march. Organizers then issued a statement reaffirming that the march is a fundamentally pro-choice platform, and that New Wave Feminists had been listed as a partner in error.
It’s an extremely complicated issue; we get that. In the long and fierce fight for women’s rights and opportunities, many see the right to choose as a defining issue, all but non-negotiable. But as the feminist movement works to diversify and build bridges, the mainstream movement should invite diverse perspectives in — not shut them out.
As the feminist movement works to diversify and build bridges, the mainstream movement should invite diverse perspectives in.
This goes beyond inviting or not inviting groups to the march. At the All In Together Campaign, which is a deliberately nonpartisan organization, we have the privilege of working with both conservative and liberal women who want to increase their political advocacy and amplify women’s voices. Our conservative and liberal members fight equally fiercely for women’s empowerment and economic advancement. Our members may disagree on specific policies but there’s no doubt that the conservative women we work with are just as committed to women’s rights and advancement. Look at women like Meghan McCain, a pro-life Republican who works to call out sexism in the media and advocates for women’s leadership. Or Laura Bush, a Republican who has spent much of her career fighting tirelessly for the rights of Afghan women.
Women on the left and right can disagree vehemently with one another, but it’s important that we listen to, validate, and respect our counterparts across the aisle. We should encourage women’s activism no matter what form it takes, and recognize it as valuable. Doing so will contribute to our collective goal of empowering women to speak out, stand up, and engage in the political process.
It’s time to build bridges.
Following the contentious 2016 election, animosity between women on left and right has reached new heights. Part of the problem is the echo chamber. As women continue to accelerate their political engagement, share opinions on the issues, and organize for action (all good things!), this activity is generally happening within insular political communities. It’s especially challenging for women on the right, who feel like the majority of political protests, tools, and apps getting attention right now belong solely to the left.
We recently hosted one of our nonpartisan political advocacy trainings at Penn State, where several students expressed relief that they finally could learn about the political system and engage with their peers in a non-judgmental, non-biased way. It’s critical for women to seek out these types of nonpartisan, issue-agnostic spaces that enable meaningful conversation across party lines. Beyond that, we encourage our trainees and members to shift their mindsets, from a frame of certainty to curiosity — to recognize that their experience is not the only possible experience. You can learn something from everyone you meet, and we’ve seen this first-hand watching Democratic and Republican women exchange ideas and validate one another’s perspectives.
In an age of polarization and uncertainty, women would benefit by not only healing fractures within their own parties, but also outside of them. The Women’s March participants did an impressive job amplifying new voices and perspectives among the progressive community, but the march also further alienated some feminists on the right. Women on both sides need to embrace values of inclusion and our shared goal of equal rights by taking time to listen to one another and validate each other’s points of view. Seek out judgment-free spaces, and approach conversations with curiosity. When we alienate, stigmatize, or ignore the women who don’t agree with us, we risk undermining the very opportunities we’re fighting to achieve.