Photo by the Socialist Alternative
By Marni Fritz
While women in the United States march in the streets protected by police, sell pink hats to brand a movement and use hashtags to assert passive liberalism on social media, women all over the world, and in this country, are dying as a result of United States imperialism and neocolonialism. Every year International Women’s Day is held on March 8th. Originally organized by the Socialist Party of America in 1909, when fighting for white women’s suffrage, modern feminist movements shake off their socialist roots in favor of bringing the cause mainstream attention.
The power harnessed by women was seen in Russia had the power to begin the Russian Revolution in 1917, a truly radical moment. What are we shutting down this International Women’s Day? What revolutions are we starting?
It is critical that we harness the power of oppression women face in the United States and come together across race, class and gender lines to create change. This means that white women and other women of privilege need to fight for the dignity of those more vulnerable than themselves as if it were their own, while recognizing their unique experiences.
There is a funny meme that pops up when scrolling the internet. It is a white woman wearing a pink pussy hat holding a sign that says “If Hillary Were President We Would All Be At Brunch Right Now” while the caption reads: “We know, that’s the problem.” For me, this meme is truly representative of the symbolic nature of the current feminist movement in the United States. The commodification of feminism by selling products to support women contribute to a capitalism which inherently undermines feminist movements. Having a woman president is merely a symbol of feminist success and, all too often, an end-goal women ascribe to. Whether a woman is in the White House or not, the United States needs to address the brutal reality of violence our state imposes on women of color at home and abroad.
In the United States, Native American women are ten times more likely to be murdered than other people in the U.S. and are four times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted, as reported in the New York Times by Timothy Williams. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five trans women will experience homelessness at least once in her lifetime.
There are an estimated five million undocumented women in the U.S., with sixty percent of those women working in the informal economy, including the food service and domestic sectors, and they have little to no access to legal representation regarding sexual violence, domestic violence, or labor exploitation. An estimated 70% of undocumented women experience sexual assault while crossing the border to the United States, as reported by Human Rights Watch.
In the U.S. a black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer, and 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes according to the Center for Disease Control. These numbers are alarming.
While we have made great strides in supporting experiences of sexual assault on the internet, our country’s most vulnerable populations of women remain silenced, lacking agency and unable to access resources to seek justice for the crimes committed against them. The #MeToo movement itself was appropriated by white women when Alyssa Milano tweeted encouraging women who had also experienced sexual assault to post a #MeToo status to highlight the magnitude of the problem. While powerful, this phrase can originally be attributed to activist Tarana Burke in 2007, who used the #MeToo phrase to empower specifically women of color to speak out against their experiences of assault. According to the Department of Justice, one in five women who are raped report the assault, while only one in fifteen Black women report being raped. While it is so beautiful that women all over the U.S. were inspired by Alyssa Milano’s ability to speak up, we need to protect the spaces created for women of color to speak out against their specific experiences, without silencing them and pushing them back into the shadows.
If we want to support International Women’s Day, we need to look beyond the commodification of a movement to show support. We must support policies that are pro-women, pro-immigrant, anti-war and anti-racist. It isn’t merely using a hashtag to show your support but actually voting in local elections. It is calling your representatives and local politicians to assert your voice. It is educating yourself regarding harmful neoliberal policies abroad. It is listening to and reading works by women of color to understand that experiences of gender are not homogenous in the United States. It is forcefully supporting women of color leadership and insisting there be seats at the organizing table ; otherwise you walk.
When will women in the United States look beyond polite marches and selling cute hats? Let’s be inspired by the women in Russia in 1917. These women had the power to go on strike, demanding an end to World War I and the end of czarship, to shut down the cities of Petrograd and St. Petersburg, and to spark the Russian Revolution. Where is our revolution? The women’s movement needs to embrace intersectionality to emphasize that one group’s oppression is all of our oppression. A strike against one of us threatens the security and dignity of all. Only then can we harness the power of the masses to mobilize for true change and true equity.
A screenshot, provided by Marni Fritz, of a photo of a white woman holding up a sign that says “If Hillary was President, we’d be at brunch” and a commentary above, saying “Yes, we know. That’s the problem.”(Photo provided by Marni Fritz).
Marni Fritz is living it up in New York, shucking coffee while applying to graduate programs in American Studies and Sociology.