2017: Year of the White Woman

2017 was supposed to be the year that the United States inaugurated its first female president. Instead, on January 20, a serial sexual assaulter who lost the popular vote was sworn into the highest office in the nation.

Just a day later, millions of women across the nation took to the streets to protest the illegitimate president and his misogyny in the largest single-day protest in American history. To many liberals, the Women’s March marked the beginning of a massive year of female resistance to Donald Trump. And there’s no denying that 2017 was huge for women.

On November 7, just a year after Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory, a diverse slate of progressive candidates, many of them women, ousted members of the GOP establishment, proving that “identity politics” is not a death knell for Democratic campaigns.

After years of bubbling beneath the surface, the #MeToo movement finally broke into the mainstream with high-profile celebrities coming forward with stories of sexual abuse that to this day are taking down powerful men who have never before faced consequences for their actions. TIME Magazine even crowned many of these women “Person of the Year” under the title of “Silence Breakers.”

But despite the celebratory NowThis videos making their way around social media and enthusiasm for the 2018 Women’s March, I struggle to join many of my sisters in their celebration of 2017.

For me, the opening feminist rallying cry of 2017, the Women’s March, was little more than a reminder of how unwelcome I feel in the mainstream feminist movement. Surrounded by cisgender women who defined womanhood by genitalia and white women who seemed to forget that 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump, I felt isolated and disheartened.

The greatest comfort came not during the march but rather on my journey back. As I was waiting for the subway in a packed station, a Black transgender woman approached me with a shy, beautiful smile and asked if she could take a picture with me. She complimented the transgender flag I had draped on my back like a cape, noting that she was surprised that mine was the only transgender flag she had seen at the entire march. I too had not seen any other transgender flags until I entered the subway station, though one woman during the march did ask me what the flag meant.

From January 21 on, the feminist movement continued to center cisgender white women despite the continued protests and labor of transgender women and women of color. I became increasingly wary of “feminist” events, where my gender was questioned and invalidated. At one event I attended over the summer, a leader from a major national women’s organization asked me out of the blue if I was transitioning. She went on to tell me that a relative of hers was transitioning. She managed to misgender her relative in the process.

When Election Day came around, I watched as white women yet again voted for racist Republicans, with white women in New Jersey voting for the Republican gubernatorial candidate by an even higher margin than white men.

A month later came the Alabama election, in which 63% of white women voted to send a child molester to the United States Senate. With 98% of Black women voting for Doug Jones, Democrats finally started saying #TrustBlackWomen, something that apparently never registered with them after 94% of Black women voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. I suppose these Democrats were too busy obsessing over the “white working class” to notice.

While many were shocked by white women’s overwhelmingly support of a child molester, the results came as no surprise to people of color. And no, it’s not because we think that white women have an “internalized misogyny” problem. Far from it. White women aren’t voting against their own self-interests when they vote for men like Roy Moore and Donald Trump. White supremacy is in the self-interest of white women. White women have always participated in white supremacy. White women benefit from white supremacy. It’s why white suffragettes like Susan B. Anthony chose to exclude Black women in their pursuit of “equal rights.” It’s why white women led the revival of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920’s.

via The Nib

It’s why Heather Heyer, a white woman who lost her life fighting against fascism, was forgotten just weeks after her slaughter at the hands of white supremacists, with the media obsessing over the perceived evils of anti-fascist protesters like Heyer instead of condemning white supremacy. It’s why Taylor Swift, who refuses to condemn her neo-Nazi fans or even say who she voted for in 2016, is lauded as a feminist hero on the cover of TIME while Tarana Burke is left off of the cover honoring the movement that Tarana Burke started. It’s why Jessica Chastain is credited for criticizing the all-white Los Angeles Times cover shoot she participated in despite having said nothing until women of color called her and the other participants out.

This, of course, brings us to the #MeToo movement. Though the movement was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke, it went viral because of Alyssa Milano, a white woman who just recently lashed out at Mikki Kendall, a Black woman who pointed out that Milano had horribly misinterpreted Langston Hughes’ 1935 poem “Let America Be America Again.” As Jane Fonda said, the movement only gained traction in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein stories “because so many of the women that were assaulted by Harvey Weinstein are famous and white.” Fonda went on to say that while the rich white women speaking out against Weinstein make a “big difference,” “this has been going on for a long time to Black women and other women of color, and it doesn’t get out quite the same.” The disparity was exemplified even in the Weinstein stories by the fact that Weinstein singularly denied the story of Lupita Nyong’o. Weinstein did not feel the need to invalidate the stories of any individual woman he abused, just the one Black woman who came forward.

Again, as Fonda said, this is not to invalidate any of the rich white survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of powerful men like Harvey Weinstein. Their experiences are in no way diminished by their privilege. The issue is that these are the women being centered while marginalized women like Tarana Burke, who are the backbone of the movement, are sidelined. Moreover, many of the cisgender white women supposedly representing the movement are oppressors themselves. Megyn Kelly, who was featured as one of TIME‘s “Silence Breakers,” built her career on race-baiting. Rose McGowan is a racist, homophobic trans-exclusionary white feminist who actively rejects marginalized women like Ava DuVernay when they attempt to teach her about inclusivity and intersectionality. Sure, we should applaud them for their bravery in regards to the #MeToo movement, but they cannot truly be heroes to women when they do not actually advocate for all women.

This all happens as working-class women are ignored as they speak out about the sexual abuse they experience, if they are able to speak out in the first place; as likely over 100 transgender women are murdered per year in the United States, though we only know the names of 28; as thousands of disabled women die waiting for judicial decisions, yet are erased by the able-bodied feminists centering themselves in the battle to protect Obamacare in the face of GOP repeal attempts; as Black women are harassed on social media, only to be suspended while their harassers are free to continue spewing hate.

Unlike many of my closest female friends of color, I was shocked when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. Like them, I expected a majority of white men to vote for Trump, but I genuinely believed that “grab ’em by the pussy” would convince a majority of white women to vote for Hillary Clinton, a white feminist who did the bare minimum to reach out to people of color. But I was wrong. On November 9, 2016, I finally understood the power of whiteness. I learned that whiteness trumps all for the majority of white people. That means that the majority of white women will vote for sexual predators and child molesters if it means upholding white supremacy.

What has changed since then? Where is the solidarity white women and cisgender women always speak of? I don’t see cisgender feminists holding their icons accountable, with trans-exclusionary radical feminists still held in high regard as an average of two Black trans women are murdered each month. I don’t see white women calling out their racist family members who voted for Trump, though they’re all too happy to complain about them on Twitter. I don’t see the able-bodied 2018 Women’s March organizer making space for the disabled women who saved Obamacare this year.

Instead, as always, marginalized women are left to advocate for themselves. While the current demographics make it so that I cannot really distance myself from the cisgender feminists who invalidate me on a daily basis, as Democracy in Color President Aimee Allison told me, Alabama proved that white women are quite simply not a part of the New American Majority, a coalition of marginalized bodies and allies dedicated to progress.

Of course, I’ll gladly take any allies I can get. But I’ve found that cisgender women and white women are more interested in proclaiming their allyship than putting any labor into actually dismantling systems of oppression.

I hope things get better in 2018. But I’m not going to waste my time surrounded by vagina art at the 2018 Women’s March or chasing after white voters who might maybe someday grow sick enough of Trump’s misogyny to vote Democrat. Instead, I’ll be thinking of the trans woman who asked for a picture in the subway station, and all the other marginalized women who did so much for their sisters this year. Because when it comes to my real sisters – not just my cis-ters – I couldn’t be prouder.

Jordan Valerie is a cinephile, filmmaker, journalist, political activist, and proud queer woman of color currently serving as Editor-in-Chief of Millennial Politics. Jordan Valerie also hosts the Millennial Politics Podcast, where she speaks to progressive candidates and leaders about the issues that matter to millennials. You can find her on Twitter and Medium @jordanvalallen and pay her at PayPal.Me/jordanvalallen.

Leave a Reply