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Remembering the Women’s March It sparked an insurrection against reality

Anything! (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)


January 21, 2022   6 mins

Five years after the Women’s March, it’s hard to remember how much changed in 2016: politics, seemingly overnight, became the most popular entertainment of the day.

It’s not that there hadn’t been things for Leftists to protest. But even as a war raged in Afghanistan and the economy nearly collapsed, in the days before Trump, one generally talked of other things at dinner: Mad Men and Breaking Bad, or sometimes Beyoncé. It was the Golden Age of Television, and it seemed that you only heard about the president at BDS meetings or in garages, where the late Rush Limbaugh was always playing from one radio or another.

Then things became very, very strange. Hillary Clinton was the Democratic frontrunner, even though she was the most hated woman in America (no woman is more disdained than the cuckquean that takes him back). The youth candidate was Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist from the state with the second smallest population.

The Republican field, meanwhile, was a rat-race-style menagerie of over a dozen buffoons, outcasts, and idiots: a Christian brain surgeon, a discount-pizza mogul, an office-supply executive, the producer of The Christmas Candle (21% on Rotten Tomatoes). Jeb Bush was giving out toy turtles at his rallies, calling himself a “joyful tortoise” who would “slow and steady win the race”. Rand Paul was advocating Medicare cuts, saying, “it’s your grandparents’ fault for having too many damn kids”.

And then there was Trump. He was a quintessential American huckster. He was a loud, cartoonish comedian. Obama had been good on TV too, but good for exactly the opposite reasons: he was handsome and charming, but ultimately, a level-headed technocrat following the facts.

Trump was chaotic, intense, irreverent. It was hard to tell what was serious, or how seriously to take him. Of Mexico: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Of the refugee crisis: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” Of his own racism: “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.” Of his own power: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

The election, of course, became about women. Obama had been an unequivocal, mainstream feminist; in the August of the election year, he was profiled in a Glamour article titled, “This is What A Feminist Looks Like.” It was a popular T-shirt slogan. And of course, Hillary was supposed to make history as the first female president, a job she’d been groomed for since her days as a Goldwater girl.

But rather than play up his feminist bona fides, Trump went all in: Of a woman who’d won Miss Universe while he owned it: “She was the winner and she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem.” Of Hillary Clinton: “Well, I think the only card she has is the woman’s card.” Also of Hillary Clinton: “Such a nasty woman.” Also of Hillary Clinton: “Lock her up.” Of women in general: “I cherish women. I want to help women. I’m going to be able to do things for women that no other candidate would be able to do.”

And of course, also of women, as revealed in the Access Hollywood tapes, gloating to Billy Bush in a bus on the way to set: “I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything”.

But Trump won. It was against all efforts (the Clinton campaign flogged a $5 “Woman’s Card”) and against all predictions (the New York Times’s infamous “Hillary Clinton Has a 91% Chance to Win”). The Clinton campaign had been sure she would “break the glass ceiling”, but in the wee hours of November 9, her victory party under the transparent ceiling of the Javits Center in Manhattan turned into a scene of confused despair. The next few days felt surreal; there were calls for recounts. There were petitions for the Electoral College to revolt. My feminist mentors started warning me that a fascist coup was coming, and urging me to stock up on abortion pills.

And then there was the Women’s March.

The day after the election, a retired lawyer in Maui started a Facebook event inviting friends to march on Washington in protest. More pages popped up, for allied marches across the US. Within days, thousands had RSVP’d. Black, Latina, and Arab women were brought onto the leadership. Planned Parenthood became a partner. Indeed, hundreds of organisations became partners. Women coordinated marches in Norway, Canada, Australia, the UK, and France. There was even a march in the smaller European city I was living in at the time, though we were mostly drowned out by PKK protestors across the plaza. All told, half a million protestors descended on D.C. that January 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration, and three or four million across the country, and up to five million across the globe.

But what was the Women’s March about? When the organisers released a policy platform on January 12, it wasn’t just about so-called women’s issues: it covered reproductive freedom (government-funded reproductive healthcare, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, medically accurate sexually education, and access to affordable abortion and birth control), but also immigration reform, healthcare reform, prison reform, Islamophobia, worker’s rights, and even environmental rights. Borrowing Hillary Clinton’s tagline, the “guiding vision” document for “#WHYWEMARCH” stated that “We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights”. It also stated that “Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice” and that “LGBTQIA Rights are Human Rights”.

As many noted, though, the icon of the Women’s March was far less inclusive: it was the famous “Pussy Hat”. On the one side, there were the bright red MAGA hats; on the other side, there were the hot pink beanies with ears. Even today, you can find nearly a thousand Pussyhats on Etsy.

Every protest movement needs symbols, however cringe those symbols might be. And every protest movement, at an essential level, is symbolic. But perhaps the Women’s March, more than most, was a blurry call to action in pursuit of vague policy goals and in defence of a nebulous “democracy” that, as any reasonable political observer had noticed, had long been incapable, even under Obama, of achieving those aims. As speaker Gloria Steinem said, it was about “working for a democracy in which we are linked as human beings, not ranked by race or gender or class or any other label”. As the actress America Ferrera declaimed from the podium, it was about “saving the soul of our country”.

The Women’s March was supposed to set off a political movement. According to Scarlett Johansson, the tragedy of Trump’s election offered a chance “to get involved with and stay active in our communities. Let this weight not drag you down, but help to get your heels stuck in”. And in a sense, that happened. The next four years were ones of absolutely inescapable political divide. Holidays became unbelievably fraught; campuses were riven; social media became a fiery crucible of political memes, semi-accurate news, and open war. Protest movements were larger and more disruptive than ever — Kavanaugh was protested, George Floyd was avenged; it became normal, even de rigueur, to solicit donations to non-profits from your Instagram.

But did it work? The Trump Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stopped collecting pay data (which the Biden administration has stated it will resume). The Trump Department of Education narrowed the definition of campus sexual harassment and heightened the burden of proof in those cases (a move Biden is expected to undo in April). The Trump Department of Health and Human services implemented a domestic gag rule, preventing clinics receiving Title X family planning funding from offering or issuing referrals for abortions (which has since been reversed by the Biden administration). And in the largest, most enduring blow to the Women’s March agenda, Trump succeeded in installing a conservative majority on the Supreme Court – ironically, aided by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s much-celebrated refusal to retire under Obama. That last Trump achievement is harder to undo.

But did the Women’s March work? Their greatest hope was with the Kavanaugh protests, in many ways a redux of January 21, but one whose failure was harder to deny and thus more painful to endure.

Five years on, those early days seem like a strange dream. The energy and vitriol of the early Trump years have been largely buried, replaced with fatigue and resignation. It’s hard to find a Hillary fan these days, and the word “girlboss” has travelled from the proud “#girlboss” to the caustic mantra “Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss”. The Red Scare podcast has popularised a certain insouciant anti-feminism among fashionable young women. “Trad” Twitter is bigger than ever. The new Sex and the City is more a punchline than a triumph. Kamala Harris, whose approval ratings plummeted to 28% last year, is far from the girl power icon many hoped her to be.

Perhaps the Women’s March was the forerunner to the January 6 insurrection, marking the beginning of a four-year insurrection against reality. The parade of pussyhats was a protest against as-yet imagined evils, and the January 6 insurrection was a coup by an opposition so bumbling as to be borderline imaginary. Ultimately, women’s access to abortion, at least, seems about as delicate as it’s always been; and Americans are surely still ranked by race, class, and gender. Sadly, it seems, the symbol was not enough.


Ann Manov is a writer living in New York. Visit her website here.

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William Shaw
William Shaw
2 years ago

“As speaker Gloria Steinem said, it was about ‘working for a democracy in which we are linked as human beings, not ranked by race or gender or class or any other label’”. 
That’s odd since feminism advocates identity politics… a political approach that divides people by race, gender, class, and a multitude of other labels in order to establish its cherished hierarchy of oppression.

Terence Fitch
TF
Terence Fitch
2 years ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Exactly. Here in the UK we have ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘me first’. The result is a lack of solidarity across age, region, gender, ethnicity, urban vs rural, North vs South etc. When the Left appeal to ‘the working class’ the call echoes in an empty room. As for patriotism- we don’t feel British with any commonality.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

I think here in the UK we have cultural pluralism. But the popular conception – that I think is mistaken – is that it is multiculturalism?

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

HaHahaaa, so you won in the end – and got your hero in office to fix it all, Biden, and the Woman Harris. So are you happy? Was it as you expected?

“Obama had been good on TV too, but good for exactly the opposite reasons: he was handsome and charming, but ultimately, a level-headed technocrat following the facts.”

And Biden agreed with you on that:

“Biden famously said in the New York Observer, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.””

So Obama may have been handsome and charming and clean – but as a Technocrat he was a disaster. One thing he never fallowed was the ‘Facts’, he fallowed voter sentiment. The economy, jobs, savings, unfunded mandates, ObamaCare, government spending, military, Federal Reserve, Defense Spending, QE, – not an issue, everything was about feelings, nothing about making a stronger future. I guess you do not think much about international politics, economics, and industry, maybe wearers of Pink P*S sy hats are more about wrought up feelings than economies.

George Floyd was avenged;” Yes, and more, he became the National Hero of your Marching people.

My goodness, reading the article was something – a remarkable ‘Girly’ one, all about abortion, race, protesting, all feelings and harmful social issues and such….

reproductive freedom (government-funded reproductive healthcare, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, medically accurate sexually education, and access to affordable abortion and birth control), but also immigration reform, healthcare reform, prison reform, Islamophobia, worker’s rights, and even environmental rights. “We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights”. “Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice” and that “LGBTQIA Rights are Human Rights”.”

But those are all side things – the world is poised on a very dark pit – Debt to GDP is over 100% all across the West, and more so in China – the developing world about to go into the biggest US Dollar Debt crisis ever, Taxes can never pay off the debt – cannot service the debt if interest is not kept zero (which is impoverishing all savers, all pensions, and fixed incomes) and with 7% inflation means all will soon be impoverished, a world Depression looms, A billion of the global poor face returning to poverty, any you worry all about your list above – to the exclusion of if the West, and World, can survive.

Your sort who vote National Leaders on Looks, and how they feel about imagined Woman’s issues and race issues and Gender, LGBTQIA wile Rome burns… – you are voting in the apocalypse. Your man Biden is like voting in the arsonist to put out the fires his gang has set. But hey, he is correct on the issues you care about, the women in the soup line will get as much as the men.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago

I decided to give this writer one final chance to prove she can say something, if not interesting, at least coherent.
But what, in the end, is the point of this essay? Is it to give voice to a bunch of coastal, American feminists with so much sickening middle class privilege that the only thing that defines their ‘struggle’ boils down to bellyaching about imaginary threats to their right to abortion on demand?
Where is the self-reflection? Where is the insight?
It is lacking, because the author has nothing, really, to say.
This is truly the last time I click on one of Esther Manov’s articles, and I leave her with one final word of advice: stop trying to be a writer, and go do something for which you feel a genuine sense of purpose.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Yeah, I’m out, too. One of my students, a bright and eager girl of 15, was taken to the Woman’s March by her angry, divorced, newly lesbian mother. When she returned to class (it was on entrepreneurship, and we were in the middle of writing business plans), she was always angry, spouting off nonsense about “the patriarchy” and the “evils of capitalism”. She didn’t complete her business plan or create the prototype for her product. She would be 20 now, probably at some college somewhere, writing pointless essays like this.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

I read this, well, tried and thought I disagreed with it. Then I realised I didn’t know what I disagreed with because it’s just a bucket of statements completely devoid of argument or coherent position.
At least with Julie Bindel, I know what she’s complaining about.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

Exactly. I disagree with JB on a lot of things. But that’s the point of UnHerd – different points of view! And at least she has one.

By contrast Esther Manov is an insult to her own tribe.

George Glashan
GG
George Glashan
2 years ago

” urging me to stock up on abortion pills.”

why are women’s rights always conflated with terminating the unborn ?, or murdering babies might be another way to put it. Always. Women’s rights are the right to kill a baby without criticism, its never just equal pay or whatever other rights. Always abortion, is it a Marxist power thing, where unborn babies are the only group woman can exert power over with impunity so its taken to its most extreme ?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  George Glashan

I’ve always wondered what would happen if a mischievous right-wing government brought forward a bill proposing to extend the right of abortion to, say, five years of age.
I imagine the left’s heads would explode.

George Glashan
GG
George Glashan
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

i think that mischievous right-wing government should extend voting rights to the unborn, the left always says they want more democracy. the unborn aren’t going to vote for their own extermination, unless maybe the mother has been reading White Fragility to them whilst in the womb.

Last edited 2 years ago by George Glashan
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

On ” Not the Nine O ‘ Clock News ” there was a sketch a Mother walks into a doctors surgery with a son and says she wants an abortion. The doctors asks how far gone is she. Mother turns to son ” How old are you Nigel ? “

R Wright
R Wright
2 years ago

I didn’t subscribe to Unherd to be subjected to the sort of mainstream revisionist drivel I could find on Vox or Pink News.

Bronwen Saunders
Bronwen Saunders
2 years ago

The Women’s March was never anything more than just an anti-democratic publicity stunt by a certain class of women who cannot bear to be gainsaid.
It seems not to occur to the author that many women are also mothers – mothers of sons, who under Obama’s rules for Title IX investigations of sexual assault on campus could be expelled from college on the basis of malicious tittle-tattle or for the ‘crime’ of having made a pass at a girl who wasn’t interested. Even The Atlantic approved of Betsy DeVos’s reforms, hailing them as a necessary correction to a flawed policy that was denying young men due process.
The author also disregards the large number of women who do not regard abortion as a worthy cause on which to lavish public money, and who frankly find it hard to imagine ever needing even one abortion pill, let alone several.

Lindsay S
LS
Lindsay S
2 years ago

I can only imagine std’s are rife in the feminist community! Why is it always about abortions with these people? If they used contraception in the first place they wouldn’t need to have an abortion! And if they’re not responsible enough in the first place then I question their maturity to be having s3x at all!

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago

What is the point of this rubbish? A story now on a women’s march from 2017? A bit like 6.1. 2021, with many of the marchers questioning the legitimacy of the election, as HRC still does?
And now Biden has sown doubts about the legitimacy of the 2022 elections? Utter tosh!
What is this article supposed to be about? Why now?
Can we send this foolish clown to London to get a PPE, instead of inflicting her on UnHerd readers? As many of the commentators have noted, we deserve better!

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago

The Women’s March was an attempt to distract Democrats from the reason why Clinton lost: that she was a deeply unattractive woman who represented the interests of Wall Street and the War Machine and who with her husband had left a trail of bodies in their wake.

Kat L
KL
Kat L
2 years ago

What was this tripe I just read?

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
2 years ago

The Women’s March failed the minute they replaced the original organizer (an evil white woman) with a group of Professional Organizers, who advocated, among other things, for demonizing Jewish people and legalizing pimping & sex buying (because for poor women – not elite college girls – sucking d**k is a “perfectly legitimate” form of “work”. What else are the little dears supposed to do? Holy shit).
Intersectionality & sex positivity has been an anchor around the neck of “feminism” for years.
The only feminist movement that made any tangible gains for women was the Second Wave, during which laws were changed to uplift women in the workplace, at home, in courts of law, and in controlling their own finances.
And what did the little twats who benefited from those reforms do?
They attacked the Second Wave feminists as “racist” (they did the same thing to the Suffragettes, completely erasing the many Black women who bravely participated in these movements); and they attacked the Second Wave as “anti-sex man haters” because they pointed out the obvious fact that prostitution and rape porn are forms of sexual violence.
The upper middle class beneficiaries of Second Wave feminism eviscerated their foremothers while making female sex traffickers into heroes. They also made waxed hairless pubes into a symbol of sexual “liberation” (OUCH!);they compared getting an abortion to ordering a pizza; they erased women from their own reproductive lives (“men get pregnant, too” “pregnant PEOPLE not pregnant women” “It’s MENSTRUATORS, not menstruating women”); they staged elaborate s**t Walks declaring their right to be “sluts” while men leered and cheered; and they fought “valiantly” to Free the Nipple!
Hey, girls, is it free, yet?
The sheltered brats who benefited from actual feminism hijacked the movement and s**t walked it straight off a cliff.
Today, a woman who wants rapists, batterers and child molesters to go to prison is slandered as a “carceral feminist” (prior to second wave feminism, these crimes were basically legal).
A woman who wants sex buyers prosecuted to suppress demand (thereby decreasing the incentive of sex traffickers to enslave vulnerable women and children) are accused of “hating sex workers”. The men who actually buy, brutalize, and murder “sex workers” are portrayed as “nice lonely guys” who “just need human touch” and “someone to talk to.” It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
And don’t get me started on the “ableist” idea that disabled men are so pathetic that they can’t get laid unless they force some poor woman to f— them for money. Many disabled men are genuinely loved and desired by the women in their lives.
The Women’s March put the ignorance and entitlement of “Third Wave” feminism on full display.
Their speakers included people like Janet Mock who claims that “sex work” is a healthy “rite of passage” for underage trans kids. Another trans woman on the stage was someone named Cherno Biko who was credibly accused of rape by a trans man.
This is “liberation”?
The current Women’s March mission statement says
“Our organization welcomes and values all women …When we say all ‘women’ that means everybody invested in gender justice and putting an end to sexism in all its forms.
In other words, they do NOT welcome “all women” and should stop claiming they do. I say this as someone who was kicked out of the Texas Handmaids for questioning the wisdom of trying to close anti-abortion Crisis Pregnancy Centers that provide free diapers, clothing, and other forms of support if we weren’t going to replace those services ourselves.
I quit “feminism” for the same reason I quit the Democratic party: both have been poisoned by a Woke ideology that alienates and erases most women in the USA and around the world.
The best thing the Women’s March could do for women is to go away.

Mirax Path
Mirax Path
2 years ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

Bravo! Exactly how I feel about western feminism and the utter self-destructiveness of intersectional feminism in particular. Silly self absorbed women who have ceded their cause to beardy blokes in dresses.

JP Martin
JM
JP Martin
2 years ago

I am reminded of a recent article about rates of mental illness and psychoactive drug utilisation by race, sex and political affiliation.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago

Those marches seemed to me like an irritation (Trump and his comments about women) which lit a larger touchpaper for all sorts of other issues.
But, as a spectator (I didn’t go to any marches and I certainly did not knowingly go within a 10m radius of a p***y hat), it also had an element of boredom relief. As if all of these people (men went too!) had generally thirsted for some kind of fight and purpose…and this fit the bill.