By Shannon Watkins
I am a female millennial from California, but you won’t find me at the Women’s March this year—or any year for that matter. Why? Am I not in favor of women’s rights? Don’t I want women to be treated with equal dignity and respect?
Of course – and that’s precisely why I will not be marching.
At first glance, many of the goals of the Women’s March seem noble: Protection from sexual violence, reliable healthcare, and fair treatment in the workplace.
However, while these policies might be appealing in slogan form, what they actually amount to — for those organizing the Women’s March — is an increase in government-mandated intervention, and demonization of those who disagree.
Take, for instance, how organizers of the Women’s March accuse Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos of being pro-rape. In September, DeVos’s announced her intention to rescind the Education Department’s intrusive guidelines regarding the handling of sexual assault, she said, “We must do better because the current approach isn’t working.” On its Twitter feed, the Women’s March responded by saying Betsy DeVos “just made campuses safer for rapists” with the hashtag “#stopBetsy.” The implication is clear: If you think that the current strategy to combat sexual misconduct is not working, then you are pro-rape.
Fighting against sexual abuse is unquestionably laudable. However, in practice, the anti-“rape culture” movement has not empowered women very much, but rather has made women fall into a vicious cycle of victimization, while simultaneously discouraging women from taking precautions in circumstances which are in their control.
However, paradoxically, and at the same time, the anti-“rape culture” movement in some cases actively discourages women from learning how to avoid unwanted sexual encounters, and the mere suggestion that women should take precautions such as monitoring the amount of alcohol they drink or taking a class in self-defense sometimes elicits angry push back.
For example, this Huffington Post article says “more time should be spent educating men to be more mindful of possibly violating women’s bodies rather than cautioning women to avoid such possible scenarios. Translation: stop victim blaming.”
In an ideal world, women should be able to safely walk the streets in the middle of the night. But encouraging women to be mindful of their surroundings or to deal with the reality of potential dangers is not “victim blaming.”
Rather than empowering women to defend themselves if necessary, women activists instead insist that the government—in particular, the federal government—resolve the issue from the top down. However, in many of the cases where the federal government has intervened, this has resulted in numerous miscarriages of justice.
After the Department of Education released its 2011 guidelines concerning sexual assault on college campuses, the standard of evidence required to find someone guilty was lowered. That meant that a campus investigator only had to prove that it is “more likely than not” that the alleged offense occurred in order to find the accused guilty. This is vastly different from the “clear and convincing” or “beyond a reasonable doubt” standards typically used in courts of law.
Furthermore, students often do not have the right to know the identity of their accusers or the specific allegations brought against them—and often lack the right to legal counsel or representation. As a result, countless individuals subjected to one-sided investigations have been unjustly disciplined, suspended, and even expelled.
Nonetheless, those who advocate for students’ right to due process, such as Secretary DeVos, continue to be accused by partner and sponsor organizations of the Women’s March of being indifferent towards sexual abuse, or of “enshrining rape culture.”
Moreover, to be “pro-woman” also apparently means favoring “reproductive freedom.” However, according to the Women’s March Unity Principles, “reproductive freedom” cannot be achieved without “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education.” “Open access” means that such services should be made unconditionally free and funded by taxpayers. This not only infringes on the rights of taxpayers who may object to funding these services on moral grounds, but it also rests on the assumption that women cannot be free unless they have access to abortion (paid out of the government’s pocket).
And there is no room in the debate over women’s rights for pro-life feminists. For example, last year’s Women’s March permitted a pro-life organization, New Wave Feminists, to have “partnership status” with the march. One of the event’s co-chairs, Bob Bland explained the inclusion of the pro-life group by saying that “we must not just talk about feminism as one issue, like access to reproductive care.”
Nevertheless, a few days later, the organizers of the march removed New Wave Feminists from its website and from its list of partner organizations, saying: “the anti-choice organization in question is not a partner of the Women’s March on Washington. We apologize for this error.” This is despite the fact that, according a 2016 Marist Poll, the majority of women in America do not want to fund abortion with tax dollars and think that abortion “causes more harm than good to women in the long run.”
The pressure to conform to the narrowly defined ideology of the Women’s March movement is strong. You are either pro-woman and you join the march, or you are not. It’s frustrating to constantly be lectured to by political figures and activists that tell women like me that we don’t know how to stand up for ourselves because we refuse to accept the terms we’ve been offered. Maybe we just don’t believe that our fundamental freedom is dependent on large-scale governmental intervention in our lives.
It is clear that the Women’s March only includes women who identify with a particular set of political beliefs. And that’s fine. But, consequently, the organizers and participants of the protest should not claim to speak for all women – because they do not.
Shannon Watkins is a Young Voices Advocate and writes on higher education policy in Raleigh, North Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @Swatkins_17