Positionalities

WMS3 from Laura Tetreault on Vimeo.

A recording I took while in the crowds of the Women's March in Washington, DC. I encourage readers to press play and let the video loop while reading this section, or you may focus first on the video and then the text.

My participation in the Women's March as both an in-person presence at the march in D.C. as well as a digital observer offers an opportunity to consider the complexity of my positionalities, as called for in feminist research and expanded in technofeminist scholarship focusing on positionality in digital spaces (see Blair & Tulley, 2007). Especially as a white, cis, queer woman participant, starting from my positionality while also interrogating its limits further allows me to analyze the multiple layers of privilege and marginalization at play in the Women's March as a material event and a digital phenomenon.

 

The photograph of Peoples resonated so widely in part because women of color were already rightfully pointing out the potential exclusions of the Women's March in light of the failure of white women to advocate enough for women of color in the 2016 presidential election. Much of the discussion stemming from this image involved white women being oblivious to our failed responsibility to work to improve conditions for all women, especially women of color, not only for women "like us." Many progressive white women did not see ourselves as implicated in Trump's election even though 53% of us nationally voted for him (Beckett et al., 2016)--a response captured by the responses from white women at the march that Peoples described, such as "Not this white woman," or "No one I know!"

 

Liberal white women saw ourselves as a distinct demographic from the other white women who voted for Trump--those white women over there, not in any way connected to us. And, indeed, many progressive white women have escaped antifeminist communities and purposely distanced ourselves from any conservative roots or connections--a distancing often especially necessary for women who are also queer. For instance, before the 2016 election, I saw white women who supported Trump in my Facebook feed, women from previous eras in my life, and I unfriended them. In my mind, it was evidence that ties needed to be cut, that we no longer had any connection worth sustaining if they could vote for him. I know many women who did the same, and in a certain way it was a self-protective measure, which I perceive as intimately connected to my queerness as well.

 

However, this impulse to deny association with white women Trump voters--and by extension to deny implication in the ways in which white women historically and contemporaneously perpetuate white supremacy--is exactly what Peoples' sign calls us white women out for. The issue, in the end, is not whether I could or should have reached out on Facebook to a woman I hadn't spoken to face-to-face in 15 years and asked why she supported Trump. That is impossible to answer and a pointless exercise. The issue is instead why being told that there are any similarities between myself and her makes me deeply uncomfortable.

 

Before I move on in my analysis, I first want to describe part of my own experience at the Women's March on Washington. Even though we did not meet, I shared the city that day with Peoples and with the white women in the photograph. This is how I looked at the march on DC: a white, cisgender, femme lesbian woman, wearing a pink pussy hat, one hand locked with my partner's--also a femme lesbian, and crocheter of the hats--and the other hand holding up a sign saying "Respect Women of Color." I was dressed for the chill: a fleece-lined orange rain jacket over a striped shirt and workout zip-up, black skinny jeans cuffed over lace-up ankle boots. All I had carried with me on an overnight bus from Bloomington, Indiana, to D.C. was stuffed into the march-regulated 7"-by-4" crossbody purse that I had dutifully purchased at a Goodwill the day before leaving. This is how I moved through D.C. during the Women's March, the body that was pressed against other bodies down the streets. There were selfies. I probably could have been one of the white women in the background of the photo of Peoples, with only a slight shift in timing and our trajectories through the march that day. I could be a stand-in for any number of white women at the march. People might notice my queerness, my main signifier of difference, or not. (The white woman in the middle of the photo is wearing rainbow accessories, too.) My femininity is that of a queer femme, deliberately, and I performed my queerness at the march; my feminist outrage was for all, but focused on my queer and trans family who suffer under heteropatriarchy. Either way, I move through the world in a privileged body: white, able, cisgender. I also know the privilege my body gives me, as someone whose gender is not questioned or denied, whose whiteness makes people assume I am not threatening. I felt joyful at the march, in many ways a form of white privilege in itself.

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