By Bailey Hosfelt
Four-hundred seventy thousand people.
That was the estimated number of individuals who participated in the Women’s March on Washington this past Saturday, an amount that overwhelmingly exceeded the organizers’ expected headcount by more than double.
With offshoots coined “sister marches” sprawled about hundreds of cities across the country and many matching the energy abroad, Jan. 21 sent a message loud and clear: third wave feminism is alive and here to stay.
As I marched throughout our nation’s capital, standing in solidarity with my fellow Americans, I reflected on the statement we were making. That, although vulnerable, we will remain vigilant to the rhetoric and action that surrounds us, silences us, scares us.
I was proud that I could scan the crowd, studying the throngs of people walking on each and every side of me, and have anything but a white-washed swarm looking back — a common critique of feminism in the 21st century.
The Women’s March on Washington was not like the women’s movement of decades past that excluded people based on skin color, education level or socioeconomic status, but rather an inclusive gathering of all races, genders, ages, sexual orientations and backgrounds: a snapshot of true intersectional feminism.
This was not like the National Organization for Women meetings of the 1960s and ’70s where upper-class, white women came together without paying any attention to the voices of minorities, but rather a gathering that welcomed everyone from all walks of life. As stated in the event’s mission and vision statement and upheld by the diversity among marchers, “We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.” Daughters sat atop fathers’ shoulders. Mothers pushed their sons in strollers. Couples embraced each other holding matching signs. Friends harmonized while singing to “This Land Is Your Land.”
Feminism has an incredibly complex history, one that I realize is not free of flaws, but at its core, the movement simply strives to attain the political, social and economic equality of the sexes, an idea that I believe every individual should stand behind.
Too often I find that people extrapolate something much more complicated from the definition, which turns them off from the movement altogether.
Whether it is the result of misinformation, preconceived stereotypes or internal prejudices, many are wary of the validity of feminism and discredit the work it does.
Listening to the Women’s March on Washington reduced to nothing but an anti-Trump protest overshadows the marginalized communities and oppressed individuals that it supported, discrediting the validity of those who publicly vocalized their concerns.
The negativity and stigma surrounding feminism is prevalent and pervasive. Feminists are by and large met with criticism, how they choose to organize often being at the forefront of such criticisms.
No activism or person is perfect, but I would rather participate, acknowledge my privilege and establish a precedent to stand together with my peers rather than remain stagnant and silent.
It took me years to identify as a feminist despite believing in everything the word stands for (likely due to the close-mindedness I was surrounded by), but after I finally embraced the label, I never looked back.
Whether it has been intentional or the result of blind luck, I have found myself surrounded by strong feminists who I call upon every day. When I want a second opinion about an important decision, need another voice to quiet the one inside my own mind, to share a creative space or simply send along a reassuring text, I know that I can always count on these people to be on the other end of the conversation.
Together, we have created a ragtag coalition with a raging albeit slightly aggressive spirit that empathizes, understands and, most importantly, empowers.
I like to picture us as the key players whose faces are thumb-tacked onto the suspect board in an episode of crime television, intersectional feminism the common thread linking us all:
From my sister who stood two steps ahead of me on Election Day, leading the way to our Brooklyn polling place, to my roommate who matched my feeling of sheer exhaustion as they announced the 45th president at three in the morning; from the 23-year-old two subway rides away who won’t apologize for sharing her opinion to my mother whose wisdom never ceases to give me the strength to speak mine.
There are countless examples of people fighting for equality in both drastic and everyday measures:
A friend a Fordham campus away engaging in thought-provoking conversations; another across the Atlantic, studying in a country that already welcomed its first female leader with open arms; a hookup who upheld the truth that men too can be feminists in a time when I needed reassurance the most and a male peer who, despite having different political leanings, understands that we will not succeed as a society until both sexes are equal.
While the 2016 election result left millions of Americans at a loss for words, I, along with all of my fellow marchers, were able to find more than enough to say this weekend. Although the next four years remain unknown, the Women’s March on Washington affirmed, in the form of direct action by hundreds of thousands of feminists that, as Hillary Clinton declared over 20 years ago, “women’s rights are human rights.”