Sisters and Cis-ters Against Genders Inequality
“I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit,” read one sign carried by an older woman at the Women’s March on January 21, 2017.
Though the sign is only ten words, it speaks volumes. Women in America and around the world have been fighting for decades for their basic rights and to be considered equal to men. With the election of Donald Trump as president, a man who has said numerous awful things about women and has been caught on tape boasting about being able to grab women’s pussies, over Hillary Clinton, one of the most qualified candidates to ever run and the first real potential woman president, it not only felt like a huge slap in the face but also a terrifying message of how little regard America has for women. And how little regard it has for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community or any race that wasn’t white, because Trump did not just spew dangerous rhetoric about women. So on January 21, 2017, the day after Trump’s inauguration, women took to the streets all over the world to send a message that they would not accept this and would be opposing Trump every step of the way.
The Women’s March was not just simply for women’s rights, instead it was more like an intersectional gumbo pot for a wide array of rights that were under attack. From Black Lives Matter, to disability rights, to indigenous land rights, to climate action, to immigrant rights, to gay rights, to transgender rights, there were people marching from a broad array of backgrounds to voice their concerns. It’s important to acknowledge all the different issues being marched for on that day, but the two I specifically want to look at are women’s rights and transgender rights and the differences and common ground both within the march and outside of it.
First we need to understand the structural gender inequality of America which these issues exist within. “Structural inequality” is defined as a condition where one category of people are attributed an unequal status in relation to other categories of people. In this case, women and any nonbinary genders are attributed an unequal status to men. This goes back to the founding of this country, with the Constitution being written entirely by white men. They did not include women’s right to vote in the document, which excluded them from being able to have a significant voice in politics. Women would have to fight for this right into the 20th century. A popular Broadway musical Hamilton, which focuses on the founding fathers and the writing of the U.S. constitution, includes the line “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, and when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m’a compel him to include women in the sequel.” This line is sung by one of the most prominent women roles in the musical and shows how the language of the founding fathers spoke of equality but left people out, and women are ready for their turn. The quote was also included on many signs in the 2017 Women’s March.
Structural inequality leads to sexism, where women are stereotyped and held back. Stereotypes include women being seen as too emotional, as submissive, as passive, as shy, and as weak, among other things. Many of these stereotypes feed into the construction of gender roles. Gender roles are “society’s concept of how men and women are expected to act and behave”. Pink is a girl’s color. Blue is a boy’s color. Women should be interested in English and the Arts, while men should be interested in Math and Sciences. Women should stay at home and raise babies, while the men go out and make a living. Not only are these ideas very heteronormative, but they also keep women and men in certain boxes. And while it might seem like the days of the stay-at-home wife being the assumed role placed on women and mothers are behind us, there are still many people who think the woman’s best place is at home. Recently Mindy Kaling’s television show The Mindy Project explored a storyline where, after her character gave birth to a son, her partner Danny wanted her to quit her job at the hospital where they both worked as OB/GYNs. Mindy had also just started up her own fertility clinic. Mindy loved being a mom, but she also loved the work she was doing and did not want to quit, leading Danny to call her a bad mom for not being there for their son. Danny never seemed to consider the fact that he could quit his job and be a stay-at-home dad with their son, because he was the man and he’s supposed to go out and make the money.
The same lens was applied to the media coverage of the Women’s March as well. The New York Times wrote an article titled “How Vital Are Women? This Town Found Out as They Left to March?”, which entirely focused on the dad’s of the town having to take care of the kids while the moms were away. It’s hard to imagine a similar piece being written if it were reversed and the dads left for a weekend and the moms stayed home to take care of the kids. That’s because staying at home and taking care of the kids is the assumed role of the woman, while it is seen as going above and beyond for the man. These harmful gender roles create toxic environments for both men and women, and disregard genderqueer individuals who do not fall into either of these gender boxes which have been socially constructed by society.
All women face forms of oppression in this country due to sexism and structural gender inequality. Not all women face the same problems though, which all depend on race, class, able-ness, and sexuality. Another important factor to consider is the additional hardship trans women face. Transgender is when “one’s biological sex does not align with their gender identity”, while the term cisgender describes “people whose biological body they were born into matches their personal gender identity.” Statistically, trans women face more instances of unemployment, homelessness, and violence than cisgender women, which is important to acknowledge. Trans women’s issues should always be women right’s issues, but there are differences between the larger goals of transgender rights and women’s rights. Transgender rights focuses on ending discrimination against transgender persons regarding “housing, employment, public accommodations, education and health care”, as well as seeking to eliminate violence against transgender persons. The focus of women’s rights, as listed on the Women’s March website, are ending violence against women, gaining reproductive freedom, expanding LGBTQIA rights, working on gaining worker’s rights in the way of equal pay and other concerns, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights and environmental justice.
From these lists, the women’s rights include more broad concerns, with transgender rights being one of them, while transgender rights are much more focused on the pressing dilemmas facing the transgender community. The Human Rights campaign reports that transgender workers have twice the unemployment rate of the whole population, and are 4 times more likely to have a household income of under $10,000. A report by the National Center for Transgender Equality reports 90% of transgender people experience harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination on the job. 72% of anti-LGBT homicide victims were transgender women in 2013.
These staggering statistics are important to know in order to understand the reality of what transgender people go through every day and what they are fighting for. The lived realities and concerns of trans people are not very well talked about in mainstream media. Mainly the transgender topics covered in media is the physical process of transitioning and how their families feel about it, such as the TV show I Am Cait. Most coverage does not explore the violence trans people face, particularly trans women of color, or the economic problems trans people go through with unemployment and homelessness.
The Women’s March in 2017 did promote the issues and concerns of trans women and the transgender community as a part of the platform of their march. There were signs at the march which read:
“Support your sisters, not just your cis-sters”, calling on cisgender women to realize they need to support trans women as well.
There was some concern raised by the transgender community over the exclusionary language of parts of the march which equated the vagina as a symbol of womanhood, with slogans such as “pussy power” and pussy hats. Clearly there is still work to be done, but I think it’s good that these two movements recognize the similar issues they face in a country with structural gender inequality and are working together to combat it and uplift each other while challenging gender roles.