Hundreds of thousands of activists from across the US and abroad in the "Women's March" following the inauguration of Donald Trump, January 21, 2017, Washington DC. Albin Lohr-Jones SIPA USA/Press Association. All rights reserved.The march of ‘pussyhats’ against Trump signals the dangerous turn of genuine grassroots feminism into social-media engineered groupthink and mass hysteria. The throngs of women that painted towns pink across the globe in protest of the Presidential inauguration did a hard U-turn on the longstanding women’s liberation movement. They came out in record-breaking numbers, but in unwitting defense of something altogether contrary to the fearless feminist project. Too many downed the pink koolaid and donned pink hats and too few stopped to ask about the real purpose behind these demonstrations, which culminated into a collective man-hating, Trump-bashing orgy.
Little did they know, when they set off in their respective city centres, that they would end up reinforcing the status quo they believed they were challenging. Rather than forming a critical mass to push for a clear agenda of reform, the march hurled recycled clichés at a sitting target, and as a result, missed the mark completely. This remarkable pooling of oestrogen, which could have been harnessed to demand actual accountability and change, was instead squandered on political scapegoating. This has had the effect of releasing the outgoing leadership of any accountability and imbuing it almost nostalgically with an ex post facto halo, and its successor with horns, in a collective defensive act of psycho-social ‘splitting’.
The Women’s March conceived of itself as a natural continuation of the Million Man and Million Women Marches of the Nineties. And while it was reportedly five million strong worldwide, forging false analogies with past movements merely rewrites history rather than making it. It also serves to induce amnesia about the actual legacy of the Obama years, which is its actual cause for tears. The net effect of the Women’s March was to let off steam, and to diffuse the righteous rage steadily building amongst progressives still awaiting the change they were long promised. This temporary catharsis has replaced the effort to build an organic and sustainable movement with sweat and tears, even if not with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters.
For all its outward appearance of unity and solidarity, the divisiveness of the Women’s March cannot be overstated. As a few women of colour awkwardly noted from the sidelines, it mainly included a majority of white, privileged women, and their supportive male friends. It was far from representative of women in the US or globally, and its uniting force was little more than shared disappointment over election results, and a refusal to face the harsh music. The march may have been criticised as often as it has been praised, but ‘white privilege’ was perhaps its most innocuous feature. Its inherent flaw was not so much the lack of diversity or devotion, but a lack of self-awareness and widespread co-option by systemic as well as ego-shielding psychological forces.
It is telling that the march was promoted and praised by the very political establishment that let people down, as a way to scapegoat the new Commander in Chief for the shortcomings of the last, and subsume a more menacing societal malaise under the mantle of feminism.
In some ways it could be viewed as a sort of vindication for Hillary Clinton and those who stood with her, lamenting an imagined matriarchy that could have been. Despite proclamations of self-love, the demonstrations represented women at their least Venus-like and most disconnected from their higher feminine selves, making a show of faux female empowerment in the new millennium. Material Girl, Madonna herself, who publicly relayed to the crowds her fantasy of blowing up the White House, far from inciting violence, was only aiding in the exercise of psychic dissociation of the locus of power – namely, the Executive – from its aesthetic casings, the White House. To seek to ‘disappear’ the symbol but not the source of grief is a subconscious disavowal of the revolutionary spark.
Far from ‘taking back the vagina’ from the jaws of a patriarchal society, the self-proclaimed pussyhats were dipping into the very ego-based, testosterone-fuelled instincts they shunned, and giving away more of their power than they were supposedly reclaiming. Finger-painted placards proclaiming an almost infantile genital fixation on the part of today’s supposedly liberated woman were just some of the many unimaginative variants of hipsteria on display. At times it resembled a female-only offshoot of gay pride, with the proverbial pussy as its furry mascot, reducing women yet again to their bits and pieces.
This was not the stuff of bra-burning, fierce feminism of the sisters of yesteryear. It reflected the mass reproduction of cleverly curated consumer content on the level of hashtags and regrammables, which tug at the heartstrings but only for the sake of a reciprocal ‘like’ or a ‘share’ – all of which trivialises the real struggles that rage on, behind closed doors, which cannot be sugarcoated in candyfloss knits.
The march did a lot, but it did not do justice to the sacrifices of the women before them who fought for universal suffrage and free speech, and railed against frivolity. It merely diverted attention from other substantive and urgent issues that could have been raised at this critical juncture – systems-level injustices, which short-lived movements such as ‘Occupy Wall Street’ recognised as undergirding inequality in all forms. Above all, the march showcased the displaced anger that many were unable to feel or direct toward those elements in which they were heavily invested. The Principle of Commitment – a form of cognitive dissonance – or post-purchase rationalisation as applied to election behaviour, is in full effect. For instance, those who voted for Hope in 2008 must rationalise their decision eight years on, even when all hope is lost. Sunk Cost Theory also dictates that once someone is far invested in something, they are more likely to ‘stay the course’ than to admit defeat, even if the costs of remaining invested are higher and unbeneficial, and much is being lost.
The last eight years of deception and ‘gaslighting’ is finally taking its toll, and the loss is being felt. Rather than accept defeat, the ego readily deflects the blame. And there is now a perfect target for that latent frustration. But think again, ladies. You have the wrong guy. This is taking daddy issues to the next level. Misogyny is not one man with a comb-over and crass tongue. Misogyny did not get said man elected. Misogyny is a parade of women knowingly staging a spectacle and asking to be ogled en masse.