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June 4, 2023

The Women’s March’s problematic vagina rhetoric

By JACOB TOOK | March 2, 2017


Mobilus In Mobili/CC-by-SA-2.0 Hundreds of thousands gathered for the Women’s March on Jan. 21.

There is no doubt that the Women’s March was an incredible moment that has already been immortalized as the largest single-day protest in United States history. It was incredibly empowering to see such a diverse range of people come together to make their voices heard.

The demonstration was proudly intersectional, standing for not just women’s rights but LGBT+ rights and racial equality as well as current issues like healthcare reform and environmental protection. Protesters explored various creative avenues to make themselves seen and heard, leading to some ingenious signs, slogans and other symbols like the now-iconic p*ssyhats.

That’s great. After all, under an administration that has so far done its best to discredit or outright squash artistic expression, it is now more important than ever for Americans to foster safe environments for creativity.

And I know that our new Supreme Leader gives us a lot of material to work with, having risen to his position by making bigoted and exclusionary statements. Often, what he says is easy to turn on its head to use against him, some notable examples being “bad hombres,” “nasty woman,” and, of course, “grab them by the p*ssy.”

Now, readers be warned, as I’m about to say something that has proved to be controversial in the weeks following the women’s march, although it shouldn’t be: P*ssy rhetoric can be exclusionary to transgender women.

To be clear, this is not an attack on anyone’s personal experience with the Women’s March. I understand that it meant different things to different people, and I understand that some trans people may not share this view.

As a cisgender person, I recognize that I don’t have the authority to say definitively how the March affected the trans community (although I don’t think there is one definitive answer to this). But why is it a radical concept to say that if a trans woman felt excluded because of the p*ssy rhetoric, then her voice deserves to be heard and validated?

I don’t think the intent was to exclude trans women. It was truly inspiring to see the seas of pink hats, to see women creating these symbols of resistance to counter the disgusting red baseball caps that herald Trump supporters.

According to the creators of the p*ssyhat, the pink color just stems from the traditional association of pink with femininity and isn’t meant to invoke female anatomy. In fact, many people offer the explanation that, in the recent wave of resistance, the p*ssy rhetoric no longer refers directly to female anatomy but has instead become a symbol of womanhood.

If that’s the case, then slogans like “p*ssy grabs back” become an intersectional rallying cry that all women can embrace.

Well, there’s a couple of problems with this. For one, it’s not up to cis people to tell trans women how to feel about the rhetoric. In fact, it’s not even up to other trans women, because there is no universal experience for trans women, and there was no universal experience for demonstrators in the Women’s March.

Secondly, it all goes beyond the direct exclusion of trans women. Even the most well-intentioned p*ssy rhetoric normalizes the advent of the trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF). Like the sickening cancer of the alt-right neo-Nazis, the population of TERFs has been steadily growing for the last several years and has become ever-more publicly visible since Trump’s candidacy.

TERFs claim that trans women aren’t really women but effeminate men who have been forced into a female gender binary by society, while trans men are just women trying to claim male privilege (if you’re a TERF and believe I have improperly defined your beliefs, please direct your concerns to @RichardBSpencer on Twitter to find an understanding ear).

Now, am I saying that everyone who marched with a pussy slogan is a TERF? Of course not, in the same way that I wouldn’t directly accuse every Trump supporter of being a neo-Nazi.

And yet, in the same way that the tolerance of every Trump supporter validates the extreme voices of white supremacists, the normalization of pussy rhetoric lends TERFs a platform through which to espouse their blatantly exclusionary ideology.

Despite the massive volume of wholesome, clever and provocative anti-Trump content that came out of the Women’s March, in the last few weeks it has been all but forgotten in the debate about trans-inclusion. Going forward, we need more of this inspiring creativity from women all around the world, and we can’t afford to be bogged down by divisive rhetoric.

It is in our best interest to be mindful of trans inclusivity in the future to address Trump with a united opposition. The voices of trans women deserve to be validated equally with all women. Silencing should be directed at the TERFs who are fighting against intersectional feminism.

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