Political protest at the end of the world: Reflections on Trump and the women's resistance
It was a cold and foggy day in Toronto when we descended on Queen’s Park, the women and I.
The Women’s March felt more like a celebration than a protest. It was a pussy pride parade with an estimated 60,000 marchers, many of whom donned pink kitty hats in reference to comments made by newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald J. Trump. The tone was defiant but light-hearted. Many sported signs with cheeky slogans like, “Girls just wanna have fun-damental human rights,” and “This pussy grabs back.”
If fear, anger and hate have been the prominent emotions in political discourse of late, they were far from the focus of this march. Even in the U.S., where the repercussions of the recent election will be felt most severely (and have already begun), the slogan “Love trumps hate” seemed to reign supreme. As a demonstration of feminist solidarity and empowerment – and certainly the largest show of opposition to Trump’s election at that point – the March was a breath of fresh air for many women (and men) who have been in a state of shock ever since the pouting plutocrat took an unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton this past November.
If the tone of the March was celebratory, it could not have stood in greater contrast to the doom and gloom of Trump’s inaugural address the preceding day. Hearing Trump proselytize at that podium, one might think the world really is coming to an end. Depending on whether you were cheering during his speech or marching in the streets the next day, your view might be that Trump is the answer to the impending apocalypse or that he is its harbinger.
Pundits have painted the Women’s March as essentially an anti-Trump rally (as opposed to a march for women’s rights per se). Trump ruffled many a feather with his leaked “locker-room” blustering along with his all-out assault on progressive, liberal values. Never before had a president-elect been caught on tape advocating sexual assault and in such a vulgar way as to repulse a broad spectrum of liberal and conservative pussies alike. People were either morally outraged by the brashness of his language or politically outraged at his apparent sense of entitlement to female bodies.
Enter, stage left, the women.
The Women’s March was the largest protest in U.S. history. Let's reflect on that for a moment. The largest political protest in U.S. history came the day after the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. Its turnout dramatically outstripped that of Trump’s inaugural ceremony, much to his highly publicized chagrin. This may be simply a reflection of the constituency of DC-area voters. It could also indicate that Trump’s reactionary, fear-mongering rhetoric is not as resonant with the people as once thought. I like to think it’s a little of both. The point is that on January 21st, millions of women around the world took to the streets to stand up for gender equality and a host of other intersecting issues. In this case, it seems, pussy really did grab back
While calling the Women’s March an anti-Trump protest conjures up a nice image of injustice and resistance, it doesn’t quite get to the heart of the story. It seems dismissive, as if its true purpose is to undercut feminism’s ongoing relevance and power in today’s socio-political milieu. It also discounts the mobilizing power of hope. “Hope is better than fear,” to quote the late Jack Layton. His message of hope could be one reason Obama had one of the largest inaugural audiences of all time in 2009. Hope mobilizes. Fear immobilizes. Love brings people together. Hate breeds isolation. It wasn’t hate for Trump or fear of what he would do that brought millions of women into the streets on January 21st. It was in spite of those things.
I went to the Women’s March because I wanted to feel hopeful again after the profound disappointment I felt when Hillary Clinton lost the race for the presidency this past November. As the reign of Trump comes into full bloom, I think it is worth reflecting on how the first (and maybe last) female candidate to have a real shot at being President of the United States could lose so spectacularly to someone so vile and reviled. Ruminating on what the election of a female president could mean to the struggle for gender equity and human rights might seem like an exercise in futility at this point — perhaps even self-flagellation. But for the extent to which it may have bolstered Trump’s rise to power, it is worth taking a moment to consider the deep-seeded dangerous misogyny that undergirds our purportedly egalitarian society. Trump isn’t the first chauvinist to hold office. If we fail to address the roots of his bigoted attitudes towards women and other marginalized groups, he certainly won’t be the last (unless of course he actually does bring about the apocalypse, in which case, this truly is an exercise in futility).
When I think about the most painful aspect of Clinton’s loss, it was not that she was some shining political messiah who would have made "America great" and women equal. It was that, if you took Clinton exactly as she was and switched her out for any other politician with a penis, I wholeheartedly believe he would have beaten Trump in a landslide. Many of Trump’s reluctant supporters hated him almost as much as Clinton’s critics hated her. Voters, Clinton’s rivals and much of the media framed the election as a choice between the lesser of two evils. Trump has evil down to a tee. His incoming approval rating was the lowest of any president in U.S. history. I find it hard to believe that Clinton lost to a man who could only get Three Doors Down to play his inaugural celebration because of her inability to use email or her ties to Wall Street and the established elite (as if these were qualities only she possessed).
What I witnessed in Clinton’s loss is the same thing I have seen (and experienced) a thousand times. It was yet another case of a strong, outspoken, fully capable woman being put in her place. It was an exceedingly qualified female candidate losing the presidency to a vastly under-qualified, privileged, unscrupulous and possibly-deranged man with Twitter handle and too much time on his hands. When she spoke the words, “And to all the young women out there,” I couldn’t help myself. I burst into tears.
I went to the Women’s March to get my feminist swagger back. But it didn’t leave me feeling empowered or connected. In fact I felt more alone and hopeless that day than I did during Clinton’s concession speech. Perhaps my despondence was due to the lack of diversity at the march. Perhaps it was the feeling of being alone in a big crowd. Perhaps it was my latent doubts about whether feminism really has made the world a better place, and whether it will continue to serve me or any of us as a key part of our collective identity. All I know is that the road ahead will be long and difficult.
There is an acute sense of helplessness in the hearts of many women. It’s become so ingrained in our collective consciousness that we hardly blink when our friend tells us what her partner did to her, or what she experienced walking home, or when coping with the struggle to be self-reliant in a world that tells women to succeed but relishes our failures. We don’t bat an eyelid when we hear these stories. We just laugh or turn away, or we squeeze our friend’s hand or take her in our arms and cry, or we hang up the phone and turn on the news and watch little kids being blown up in Syria and think, “At least it’s not that bad.”
But the truth is it’s bad. All of it. It’s all part of the same badness we need to stand up to, not just in one big march but in every moment of every day for the rest of our lives.
I wanted so badly to see a woman take the inaugural stage on January 20th, 2017. I wanted it so much I was blinded to the truth of our contemporary world: a world in which one can be both exceedingly informed on any given topic, and so far removed from reality that the truth feels ever-more elusive. The prospect of a Clinton presidency was one of those sweet delusions we allowed ourselves to consume the way we consume Ryan Gosling movies and tropical vacations halfway around the world: uncritically, unstoppably and with total disregard for any and all evidence as to the folly of our actions.
Any time an illusion is broken, as with Clinton’s defeat, we have a choice to make. We can go on deceiving ourselves into thinking we are right and always were and always will be, or we can change our point of view.
And so it goes, I let my girlhood dream of the first female U.S. President fade into oblivion along with that one about becoming an astronaut-movie-star novelist. In the case of the former (as with the latter), I realized it was somewhat shallow and perhaps a bit exclusionary. For instance, it excluded many women of colour, indigenous women, women of low socio-economic status, undocumented women, criminals, victims of war, victims of other countries’ tyrannical regimes, victims of failing education systems, suicide, murder, illness, oppression, disability, homophobia, and those who never had the resources to “fight like a girl” or go to Queen’s park on a Saturday afternoon.
Whatever comes in the next four years, I am excited to meet the resistance. The nasty women’s marches, the anti-hate protests, the radical new publications, the films and mass movements will serve as reminders that the gains we made as feminists never included everyone. The only way to move forward is to find ways to build a society that works for all.
To make the dream of an inclusive and egalitarian society a reality, we must resist the urge to isolate and segregate ourselves, and we must engage with our own communities and others, with civil society, and with the political system on a regular basis and not just during election season.
And to all the young women out there uncertain where to begin, know this: if ever you feel like you don’t have a right to speak up when you need to, to stop traffic in the middle of rush hour to make your point, to make someone uncomfortable with your truth, to shine to the fullest extent of your being, remember these words by Virginia Woolf, and remember that you are powerful.
And to all the pussies on the frontlines of the struggle, keep on grabbing back. Now more than ever, nasty women — unite!
“Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of a man at twice its natural size. Without that power probably the earth would still be swamp and jungle. The glories of all our wars would be unknown. … Supermen and Fingers of Destiny would never have existed. The Tsar and the Kaiser would never have worn crowns or lost them. Whatever their use in civilized society, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action. That is why Napoleon and Mussolini both insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for if they were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge. That serves to explain in part the necessity that women so often are to men. And it serves to explain how restless they are under her criticism… For if she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished.”
- Virginia Woolf (1928), A Room of One’s Own, Penguin Books, p. 37
Last edited 7/4/2017
Fio Del Rio is a freelance writer, photographer, filmmaker, musician and graduate student. Her current research explores how climate advocacy networks in the GTA are effecting progressive change on climate and related issues.