What’s the Big Deal About Harriet Tubman’s Pussyhat?
In case you missed it, someone stuck a pussyhat on a Harriet Tubman statue in Harlem on Saturday, on the day of the 2018 Women’s March.
Is your reaction “Oh, that’s so cool!” or “How cute”? According to a lot of women, it shouldn’t be.
That’s because many have deemed the Women’s March – and particularly the pussyhat – non-inclusive and willfully blind to the values and concerns of women of color (and also to those of LGBTQ+ women). And putting a pussyhat on Harriet Tubman is just the latest example of that.
Doreen St. Felix writes in The New Yorker: “The branding of the Women’s March has unified millions and, as would any phenomenon of its size, has also left many feeling disaffected. ‘Harriet Tubman with Pink Pussyhat’ feels like an accidental effigy that has bred that skepticism. It’s a question of politics and of taste.”
As Demetria Irwin puts it for The Grio:
Tubman was a true freedom fighter. Her objective was to get Black people free and she dedicated her life and her own liberty to that singular goal. The pink pussy hat brigade is a feminist lite reaction to real problems. Donning a stupid hat, retweeting a clever quip, and marching once a year does not make one a freedom fighter.
To put that piece of zeitgeist garbage on the head of a legend is profoundly disrespectful and shows a lack of understanding about intersectionality. Putting a hat on Tubman does not link these movements. It does not bring Black women into this fight.
Now, it is true, as many of these women point out, that 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump. It is true that, as S.T. Holloway writes in HuffPost, it is predominantly black and brown faces at the rallies which protest police brutality against black and brown people, and that amounts to a feeling of being ignored and neglected by white people.
However, the assertion that white women, under the guise of the Women’s March, are deliberately looking to silence or sideline WOC strikes as heavy-handed.
Be aware: I don’t mean it is incorrect. But it is something I am failing to see, and I think many share that failure.
Let’s back up for a second. I am a white, straight, cisgender, Jewish woman who voted for Hillary Clinton both in the primaries and in the general election. I attended the Women’s March in D.C. in 2017, and the one in New York this past Saturday. It is fair – even perhaps necessary – to assert that I am hardly in a position to say what is or is not inclusive vis-à-vis a movement which is meant to be widely intersectional and which is meant to host myriad minority identities, the vast majority of which I am not a part.
Bearing that in mind: After reading the testimonies of women who feel marginalized by the symbols and chants that define the march, and seeing it is incumbent upon me and others to actively make WOC feel comfortable in the movement, how do I and other women accomplish this?
As Holloway writes: “When feminists proclaim ‘women’s rights are human rights’ it feels more like they mean ‘white women’s rights are human rights.’ I am a black woman, and I will not be made to choose between my womanhood and blackness. So while white women can choose to ignore racism and systemic oppression, I cannot.”
I think most women would say that when they declare that “women’s rights are human rights,” they feel it is the opposite of exclusionary. Do we need to add “Black women’s rights are human rights” to make the movement intersectional? How about “Trans women’s rights are human rights?” Is it not implicit in the sentiment expressed that “women” means “all women”? What extra steps must we, as white women, take to compensate for those who are less fortunate? It’s not a rhetorical question.
Additionally, I feel it merits noting that I don’t feel as though men are not allies to women when I see a sea of female faces in the crowds of these marches. It is perhaps a tragic fact of human nature that if a sphere of influence does not touch your life, you are very unlikely, unless you are of extraordinary empathy, to care. But this is a truth that applies to all people and does not exclude any one group. Because the Women’s March includes all women, it will be widely attended; other causes, though no less valiant, will by nature be less well-attended because the sphere of influence does not directly comprise as many people.
I am truly sorry that many women feel excluded by the march and by the pussyhat. The Women’s March was organized by a largely intersectional and very diverse group of women, and in my experience of the march, I’ve seen a lot of people of all colors and creeds coming out to condemn Donald Trump and everything he represents. If there’s more work to be done, let’s do it, but let’s also acknowledge that this is a strong movement that is getting people out of their homes and into the streets, and working towards equality and love more successfully than many have before it.
[featured image via Instagram]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.