Why I participated in the women’s march?

This question can only be answered from a reflective standpoint where I first situate myself within the intersecting relations of power that shape my existence. So, that begs the question- Who am I? I am ‘two persons’ in my life in two locations: my current country of residence- UK and my country of origin- India. In the UK- I am a doctoral researcher and a migrant woman of colour. In India- I hail from the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent, where I grew up in the homogenous cultural landscape of Kerala, which is known for its high female literacy, favourable sex ratio and a strong work culture among women. Notwithstanding these social indicators of human development, the women I look up to in my family (be it my grandmother who was an engineer or my aunt who is an official in the education department), largely abided by patriarchal gendered norms. These unsaid rules and regulations later became the pillar of my continued academic interest in feminist traditions of enquiry and practice.

So, why did I march?

All the identities that ‘make me’ demanded I do it. First, it was problematic for me to justify my decision to participate in the march. It made me question my own standpoint-what is my political stand? The march was organised against the manifest portrayal of misogyny and racism that preceded and succeeded the US presidential elections. Does my participation in the march mean that I choose to show outrage when Western liberal values are affected? Am I playing into a false sense of belonging to a common civic order based firmly in the West? These are difficult questions and I could either show support or not. Well, to put it simply, I participated because I identify as a woman above all differences that separate the cause of women. As a migrant woman, I also related with the system of fear against minorities, refugees and immigrants. It was also vital to realise that abstaining from the march would mean that there is no conversation, resulting in a pattern of complacency, which is worse. I also believe I have every reason to stand up for women and oppressed minorities and take every opportunity to express my solidarity against the rising normalisation of misogyny and racism.

Do I pretend things will change with a one-off march?

No. I don’t. But that certainly does not preclude the need for practices of resistance. They must be undertaken despite the triviality or lack of immediate outcome. As one of my well-meaning friends who did not believe anything could actually come out of the march (because of his inherent cynicism in a generation that looks for instant gratification) asked me about my participation in the march- ‘You had fun. Didn’t you?’. Yes, I certainly enjoyed being part of the march, the sense of solidarity and hope it provided me. This question also triggered my interest in a writing which used the sociological concept of collective effervescence in the context of women’s’ march. It made me wonder if the act of solidarity and standing up for a cause can indeed be explained through Durkheim’s concept of collective effervescence, which he used to explain the basis of religions in his treatise The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1995 [1912]). Here, Durkheim argued that activities which centred around the ‘sacred’ (rituals including totems or symbolically revered figures in the form of dead ancestors or collective representation of god) brought about ‘collective effervescence’- a feeling of togetherness or commonality despite the possible differences. Later, Robert Merton used a distinction between manifest function and latent function in his work Social Theory and Social Structure (1968 [1957]) to showcase the latent functions that sustained group activities. For example, in the context of women’s march, one could argue that the latent function that was getting served is group cohesion or perhaps women’s need to express solidarity, or even a reason to have ‘fun’. However, the context of the march does not adequately explain the reductive lens of feeling good or feeling connection. At the root of it are genuine concerns about loss of hard won rights and freedoms. As a woman who marched on the day, I can certainly tell that it was not a sense of coming together for an abstract idea. It was living the fears and marching in solidarity with women and minorities in the USA and all over the world. I wish that we continue to resist and find ways to cultivate joy in a world that is seemingly in the throes of violence, bigotry, racism and misogyny.

References:

  • Durkheim, E. (1995 [1912]) The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. New York: The Free Press.
  • Merton, R.K. (1968 [1957]) Social theory and social structure. New York: The Free Press.