Prof. Phyllis Chesler
I have been marching for women’s rights for a long, long time — with my feet, my voice, and my pen. I am still doing so.
Currently, the most high-profile activity of the so-called “women’s movement” in the United States is one that saddens and outrages me. The Women’s March (and more specifically, the Women’s March leadership) in the US appears to have nothing to do with women or feminism. I never did care for the hats, but I still supported the grassroots marchers, many of whom were serious and long-time feminists in their communities. The leadership, on the other hand, oddly seemed to have no track record in terms of fighting for women’s rights.
I am in mourning for a vibrant and radical feminist movement. But this is not it. Rather, it is a shell game, a performance, a con job.
The Women’s March leadership consists of women completely new to the movement, who are branded in the same way that actresses or reality show celebrities are. They are savvy about procuring corporate funding, and even savvier about getting Hollywood stars — eager to virtue signal — involved. They stage events, not revolutions.
Most concerning, though, is that the Women’s March leadership appears to have no particular interest in the independent women’s liberation movements. I have read their literature extensively and all I can find are issues, which, however worthy they may be, are not, strictly speaking, feminist issues. The Women’s March addresses things like “immigration reform” and “police violence against black men;” they say they are “anti-racists,” more than they are “anti-sexists;” and they prioritize “queer and transgender” politics, but never plain old garden variety women’s issues.
Women’s issues — even those that are impacted by race, class, religion, and ethnicity — are still woman-specific: sexual harassment on the job; rape; incest; domestic violence; economic, social, and legal discrimination; and of course reproductive rights, including access to birth control, abortion, and prenatal care.
But while the Women’s March wants to talk about things like the criminalization of poor men and men of colour — something women of colour are definitely affected by, as it is their sons, brothers, and husbands who are jailed — women of colour and poor women are also jailed quite a lot themselves. And unlike male prisoners — including serial killers — no one marries female prisoners. Few visit them. And jailed women (who have often been their children’s primary caretakers) lose custody of their children.
Battered women who kill their batterers in self defense are too frequently jailed for life. Women who are kidnapped or tricked into sex slavery are treated as disposable non-humans. Prostituted girls and women suffer from PTSD far more than former combat soldiers do. Pregnant women are being accused of child abuse.
These are issues worthy of being addressed by the Women’s March, but are not.
Mothers unjustly lose custody of children — often to their abusers — every day in North America, (as well as in Europe and globally). I’ve studied this in depth. We sometimes hear about this when the mother in question is an immigrant trying to cross the border, but almost never when the mother is simply a citizen. North American mothers who allege that their child is being sexually abused are treated as “crazy” and “father-hating,” and judges, armed with anti-woman forensic reports, remove custody from “good enough” mothers, that is to say from competent, loving mothers who have also been their child’s primary caretaker.
Custody of children and child support remain pressing issues for women, but go unaddressed by the Women’s March. Access to abortion is pivotal to women across the US, but I have yet to hear the Women’s March leadership address it except in passing. They are far more passionate about racial justice; reproductive justice, not as much. .
Sex trafficking? Child marriage? FGM? Forced face veiling? Honour Killing? None of these issues are being addressed by the American Women’s March leadership.
What is going on?
The first Women’s March took place on January 21, 2017, the day after President Trump was inaugurated. At that time, the leadership gave lip service to general “women’s issues” and “gender justice,” but were more specific about “immigration reform,” “freedom of religion,” LGBT rights, workers’ rights, racial equality, and environmental issues. The co-chairs were Tamika D. Mallory, the former executive director of Al Sharpton’s (the original race-card player), National Action Network; Carmen Perez, the director of The Gathering for Justice (an organization dealing with racial injustice in the criminal justice system); Linda Sarsour, the director of the Arab American Association of New York, (an organization that works with Arab-American and Muslim immigrants); and Bob Bland, a female fashion designer.
On stage at the March in Washington were countless celebrities and a full complement of honorary co-chairs, mainly people of colour — Harry Belafonte, La Donna Harris, Angela Davis, Dolores Huerta — as well as Gloria Steinem, the only white co-chair. The Jewish co-founder, Vanessa Wruble says she was pushed out of the organization due to anti-Semitism on the parts of the other leaders, which was either never acknowledged or never condemned. She told The New York Times that one of the march leaders said they “really couldn’t center Jewish women in this or we might turn off groups like Black Lives Matter.” (Wruble went on to help found March On, a non-profit organization which has organized marches around North America to coincide with the Women’s March.)
It seems that certain identities matter much more than others, and that the identity of “woman” is not the priority. Many of the leaders work prior to joining the Women’s March happened within specific communities, their work did not specifically concern things like reproductive justice, the fight against sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, or feminism, more broadly.
While that first march was massive and galvanizing, the real revolutionary potential was yet to come. I am referring to the #MeToo movement which exploded in the fall of 2017, about eight months later. Women began speaking out, becoming whistleblowers, naming names, launching lawsuits, and holding demonstrations coast to coast and all around the world. This activism is an evolved, digitally enhanced continuation of our early 1970s speak outs about rape, incest, domestic abuse, and sexual Harassment. The Women’s March leadership is indebted to the #MeToo movement (as well as to the second wave women’s liberation movement) and have piggybacked on it, but without adding to it.
Considering that the march began in response to a powerful man bragging about sexual assault, why has this issue fallen to the wayside?
Has the Women’s March leadership been funding lawsuits for poor women who are being sexually harassed as they work in lettuce fields and on factory floors, whose harassers and rapists demand sex as the price to work for below-poverty wages? Maybe they have and have simply not claimed credit for it. Have they funded escapes for prostituted girls trapped in brothels, or to dissidents and women in flight from being honour killed? If so, they’ve kept quiet about it. What about women abused in pornography and in their homes, even?
In a sense, it is very welcome to see such diverse women taking action on a full range of issues. But are they doing feminist work? Do they approach their tribal, ethnic, sexual preference and racial communities with a feminist analysis? If so, what does that look like?
For the moment, I am willing to forget about the soul-shattering allegations of anti-Semitism that the leadership continues to refuse to address. Tamika Mallory has still not publicly condemned Nation of Islam’s leader, Louis Farrahkan, for his rank, filthy, and continuous remarks referring to Jews as “Satanic” and as “termites.” Linda Sarsour has repeatedly condemned the Jewish state but has remained quiet about human rights abuses in all 57 Muslim states. Her condemnation of Israel is not even specific to women — it concerns Israel’s alleged mistreatment of a people (Palestinians) that did not exist until the mid-1960s.
I am also ready to put aside the alleged financial corruption and greed these leaders are accused of. According to Leah McSweeney and Jacob Siegel at Tablet, the Women’s March Leadership raised huge sums which they have not distributed to their grassroots activists. Rather, they have kept and/or used the money for themselves and for their new high lifestyle.
McSweeney and Siegel also revealed that the March Leadership’s used Nation of Islam members for their security. In other words, Islamists whose views of women are beyond questionable–instead of hiring former female police officers or military women as their guards.
This week, the Women’s March published a statement explaining that they had expanded their steering committee. If ever there was a naked emperor (or in this case, a naked empress), here she is.
This new steering committee is, the statement explains, made up of “32 women from a wide range of backgrounds…made up of visionary women — cis and trans, straight and queer, disabled and non-disabled, white (not capitalized), Asian, and South Asian, Black, Latina, Arab, Indigenous, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Christian (all capitalized), spanning the ages of 24-70.”
I do not know what — if anything — happened to Mallory, Perez, or Bland. They did not sign onto the announcement about the 32 new steering committee partners. But here is what Sarsour, Nina Turner, and Christina Jimenez wrote in a blast email:
“On January 19th and beyond, we bring our communities together and commit to defending each other, to understanding the different struggles we hold and those we share. Our #WomensWave will rise high enough to break down any wall in our way. It won’t be the same without you. Will you march with us?”
Despite what appears to be an attempt to add “Jewish” to the list of identities the Women’s March would like to claim to represent, the statement does not actually address the substantive criticisms made
The first person and photo presented as part of the new steering committee is that of Abby Stein, described as follows:
“A Jewish educator, writer, speaker, and activist. She was born and raised in a Hasidic family of rabbinic descent; she is the 10th generation of Baal Shem Tov — founder of Hasidic Judaism…in 2012, she left the Hasidic world to explore different world views. In 2015, Abby came out as a woman of trans experience. Since coming out, she has been working to raise support and awareness for trans rights and those leaving Ultra-Orthodoxy.”
So, the first member of the steering committee is Jewish, but has left Judaism behind. What “a woman of trans experience” means is not explained. Is Abby a man who now identifies as a woman? Or a woman who identifies as “trans”? What does this mean? And what relevance does this have in terms of the Women’s March?
Bamby Salcedo is the second trans-identified person mentioned as a new member — a “Latina transgender activist and President of the [email protected] Coalition.” Yet another male, but one who focuses on issues like “migration, HIV, youth, LGBT, incarceration and [email protected] communities.”
Neither Stein nor Salcedo seem to be working on abortion or on custody rights for women.
The other steering committee members listed remain proudly part of their ethnic, racial, class, and gender identity groups. These descriptors are consistently used.
April Baskin is described as the daughter of a “white Jewish mother and a black Jewish father.” She is also a member of “Bend the Arc, a Jewish advocacy group fighting “white nationalism,” “racial justice,” and “Trump’s wall.” It is a politically correct entity, and if you are a Jew in the cross-hairs, these are the concerns you are permitted to espouse. Poverty in the Jewish community, sexism within the Jewish tribes, Jewish women’s religious rights are not mentioned. Baskin supports “social justice” and “immigration reform,” but there is no mention of what she has done about domestic violence, sexual violence, and reproductive justice.
Does the fact that she is half-black somehow “cleanse” the fact that she is also a half-white Jew?
At one point, all Jews — even the pale white Jews of Eastern and Northern Europe — were once considered as racially “Other.” Yet Jewish identity today does not gain identity points, as others do. The issue of anti-Semitism is rarely included in modern academic textbooks or in the curriculum dealing with oppression and social justice. It is not en vogue.
The third Jewish member is Yavilah McCoy, described as a “Jew of colour” whose focus is the generational journey of “an African-American Jewish family.” The civil rights struggle in America in the 1960s was composed of African-American activists joined by “white” Jewish activists. Like their African-American comrades, some of these “white” folks were beaten, jailed, and even murdered in their pursuit of justice for black people. (Remember Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and Viola Liuzzo?) Jews of colour were too few in number in America to have participated visibly in this legendary struggle.
Who exactly is McCoy representing historically and currently?
With one exception (someone who has been involved with the issue of rape on campus) most of these 32 eminently colourful and attractive women and trans-identified people represent their communities proudly. But there is no explanation in terms of how they represent or work for the feminist movements. And we don’t know how they are dealing with misogyny within or beyond their communities –and if they are doing so at all.
One trans-identified Jew and two Jews of colour may be seen as politically correct but they do not necessarily represent more than a minority of Jews in America. They have mainly been chosen as window dressing and as proof of “intersectionality.”
Those who know anything about Israel know that nearly half the country is populated by Jews of color who fled the most profound persecution at the hands of Muslim mobs and governments in Arab, Asian, South Asian, and North African countries. The point: The March leadership only chose Jews who have either left Judaism and are trans men or are Jews of color whose politics are more concerned with racial justice, immigration, and prison reform, rather than with sexism in general or with sexism within Judaism. Jews of color are in the minority in the United States–but ironically, Jews of color are plentiful in Israel where the March leadership believes that everyone is a white Jew.
The Leadership is so uber-trendy that they have invited two men (trans men) to join their new and expanded steering committee. Again, I am not sure what being trans has to do with the fight for women’s reproductive rights or against male sexual violence towards women and children.
Despite the March leadership’s obsession with virtue signalling and identity politics, hundreds of corporate and progressive sponsors of the March have quietly dropped out. According to an article in today’s National Review, while the March “racked up nearly 550 partners (in 2017), this year, the number of partners has dropped significantly, to just over 200 — and those partners are much smaller in stature.” The NAACP, the National Democratic Committee, the National Organization for Women, and Emily’s List are no longer sponsors.
Perhaps they finally understand that this leadership is ersatz, treading water, and not the real deal. Perhaps they fear being associated with an event that has become a toxic mess. Perhaps they, too, see that this empress has no clothes.
I am in mourning for a vibrant and radical women’s movement. But this is not it.
Originally published in the Arutz Sheva.
Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies and the author of eighteen books, including the landmark classic “Women and Madness” (1972); “Mothers on Trial (1986); Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman” (2002), “An American Bride in Kabul (2013) and “A Politically Incorrect Feminist.”(2018). She is a co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology (1969), the National Women’s Health Network (1974) and the International Committee for Women of the Wall (1989).
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