Women’s March 2019: Same Photos, Different Story

On Saturday 9th March, 15,000 people attended the Women’s March in Amsterdam. They braved icy bullets of rain and gusts of furious winds to take to the streets. Despite the grim weather, the atmosphere was electric.

Women, men and children from all walks of life joined in the songs of solidarity. Their voices echoed off the facades of old Amsterdam houses. The inclusivity of the march was bolstered by slogans such as ‘2019 is not just about women’ and  ‘all oppression is connected’.

Messages ranged from #BlackLivesMatter to #TransLivesMatter, and from welcoming refugees to questioning the ethics of male circumcision at birth. There were signs about closing both the wage gap and the orgasm gap. People called out the need to change perspectives on gender and to tackle climate change.

It was a beautiful blur of colour, intersectionality and communal cheer.

And yet, when I Google ‘Women’s March 2019’, hits from popular websites portray the march in a very specific way. Much can be said about the language used in the most negative articles. I am particularly interested, however, in the merit of using sensationalized images in coverage of events like the Women’s March.

It becomes immediately apparent when browsing through articles that the diversity of photographs is not extensive. In many cases, the same handful of images are being used. The Dutch photo service ANP appears to be the source of these continually reused images.

The photos carry important messages for the feminist movement. They share a common focus on the female body and, possibly, on criticism of the Madonna-whore Complex. Three of the most-used pictures show women with barely concealed or totally exposed breasts. In one, a woman refers to herself as a ‘slut’. Another warns Rutte, the current Prime Minister of the Netherlands, not to ‘f*ck with these c*nts’.

The messages put forth by these women are important. They are about our right to agency over our bodies – to do what we want, wear what we want, and own our sexuality. They’re also about our right not to be constantly sexualised simply because we exist in female bodies.

The repeated use of a few specific images have caused them to become sensationalized as the collective face of the 2019 Women’s March.

What does this collective face portray? It could lead many to conclude that the march was attended primarily by ‘free the nipple’ type feminists. But this is only one of the many components of the feminist movement as a whole, and of this event in particular. It’s a far cry from the intersectional ideology of the march.

Diverse use of images in the media is important.

Falling into the trap of using the same mass-circulated pictures is easily done. It’s often the easiest, quickest option. But in the spirit of the 2019 Women’s March, and of intersectionality and diversity, here are some photos from the march which I think are more representative:

One of the organizers of the Netherlands Women’s March 2019.
A young man challenges the now infamous phrase ‘boys will be boys’.
A woman holds a sign showing balled fists of all colours – a visual indication of intersectional feminism.
The rainbow flag, a symbol for the LGBTQ community, was donned by many attendees.
‘I am a sick feminist’. Many people with illnesses and disabilities were in attendance too.

When covering actions for equality in the media, whether in major publications or on personal blogs, it’s important to use the diversity and choice available to us. Sensationalised images are tempting to re-use because of their recognisable quality and virality. However, every face in the crowd on 9 March mattered, and so did every photograph taken.

We have to ask ourselves: what is the story we want to tell?

Photos by Scarlett Bohemian photography

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Women in Glasgow are Striking for Equal Pay

Thousands of people marched through Glasgow, Scotland this week in the largest equal pay strike the UK has seen since the seventies.

Around 8,000 city council workers – most of them women – walked out of jobs and picked up placards to demand equal pay for carers, cleaners, caterers and support workers.

The strike marked a culmination of a dispute that began more than a decade ago, in 2006, after a newly introduced pay scheme enforced existing inequalities within the system. Female–dominated roles within the council, such as cleaning and caring, were penalized through complicated methods of measuring a job’s value in ways that male-dominated roles, like gardening and refuse collection, were not. 

The Politics

Back in 2006, Glasgow City Council was run by the Labour Party. Over the ten years that followed, Labour reportedly spent £2.5 million on legal fees and staff costs so that they could challenge women who were claiming wage discrimination.

In 2017, The Scottish National Party (SNP) took control of the council, with a promise to “end Glasgow’s years of pay injustice”. However, in the months since, workers became increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress and voted to take strike action, despite the council’s claims that industrial action was unnecessary as progress had not stalled.

Photo by Public Services International

How We Value Women’s Work

Amanda Green, a care worker, explained that the women taking part in the strike carry out some of the city’s “toughest and most valuable jobs.” “The value of these jobs,” she continued, “is just not recognised – that’s the problem Glasgow has.”

But it’s not just Glasgow. The view that work carried out by women holds lower economic value than work carried out by men is a global problem. Our perception of jobs that have traditionally been more female-dominated – cleaning, cooking, looking after children and the elderly – is tightly interwoven with cultural norms of a woman’s ‘natural’ role in families, communities and wider society.

Ensuring everyone else is fed, watered, warm, safe, educated and comfortable – these are things we continue to expect women to bear responsibility for, and do for free, in their personal lives. It’s therefore not hugely surprising that we don’t take it seriously when women carry out similar roles in a professional capacity.

And yet, despite being undervalued, under-acknowledged and underpaid, society would grind to a halt if women stopped doing this work professionally. “We’re the ones that make this city come alive in the morning: we get children fed, we get elderly vulnerable people up and out of their beds so that other people can go to work. We go into schools at 5AM to clean them so that children can get an education,” says Shona Thompson, an at-home carer.

This week, after years of being dismissed and diminished, women across Glasgow withdrew their labour for 48 hours and suddenly, as if by magic, there was a newfound mass-recognition of their worth. “Schools and home care disrupted by Glasgow equal pay strike,” said BBC News. “Thousands of women bring city ‘to standstill’,” announced the Independent. Women spoke of the immense guilt they were being made to feel, as though “because of the job we do…we don’t really have the right to strike.”

Photo by Public Services International

Gender, Class & Equal Pay

Equal pay is rarely far from UK headlines at the moment. The BBC came under intense scrutiny over pay inequalities at the end of 2017, and over the summer the pay gap among professional tennis players received widespread media attention. We learnt that female actors earn thousands and sometimes millions of dollars less than their male co-stars, and Ryanair’s pay gap report led to intensely infuriating debates about whether men are perhaps just naturally more suited to being pilots than women are.

The salaries in the stories at the forefront of the equal pay conversation have tended to share two common threads – a disparity linked to gender, yes, but also a multi-figured nature. The equal pay debate seems to interest us a little less, and make fewer headlines, when discrimination affects women whose annual salary falls below the national average.

And so Glasgow’s working women haven’t, up until now, received the coverage or the solidarity I think they deserve. As one Scottish journalist commented: “Compared with the rightfully extensive coverage of Birmingham’s refuse strikers or Hollywood’s abuse scandal, is it that they are too female to be a proper workers’ rights story, and too working class to be a proper feminist one?”

If this week’s strike has proven anything, it’s that the jobs most of us want neither to do nor to talk about are the ones holding our communities and cities together. It’s that equality and fairness are for everyone, regardless of hourly wage. It’s that equal pay is a very present issue facing women in Scotland today. It’s that if a job is so essential that a city will cease to function without it, we should pay the person doing it fairly.

Raising Black Girls: an interview with Vanessa Stair

New York native Vanessa Stair’s experience as a woman of color, raising a child of color, in a non-traditional family is one not documented in the largely white, heterosexual context of the mommy blogger sphere. So she created her own space – www.ChocoLACTmilk.com is a testimony to the roses and thorns of colored parenting, being a feminist mother of a young girl, and raising our girls right.

Grace Wong: What inspired you to start chocoLACTmilk?

Vanessa Stair: My senior year I was pregnant with Peyton and wrote my senior thesis on breastfeeding in the black community. Since I was invested in the topic and was myself breastfeeding Peyton, I started inviting a small group of moms to come over once or twice a month to talk about their experiences of being black and breastfeeding. It naturally evolved to talking about other issues: how we felt as moms, some of us young mothers, our blackness, how we navigated our race and care for our children.

Life got in the way and some moms went back to work or moved, but I really held onto that space where women of color could talk about the intersectionality of being a mother of color to a child of color, and creating a space where we can talk about issues that uniquely affect us.

GW: You just mentioned that mothers of color face unique issues, what are some of the most challenging aspects of colored parenting?

VS:  I want to be unapologetic in my parenting. I want to live true to myself. But certain times navigating that space and respecting that can be very, very hard. I want Peyton to be a carefree black girl: do the things she wants, act the way she wants, and find her own voice, but often I find myself hesitant to do certain things because of the perceptions around children of color.

There are different life lessons that come with being a girl of color. I have to be very intentional about the kind of things I bring into her space so she sees positive representations of herself in various forms – not always the civil rights leader but a superhero or an astronaut. 

GW: You have been able to convey quite complex lessons like consent to Peyton. I feel like my peers, and even those older than me, don’t understand all of the nuances of consent. How have you been able to teach that to a five-year-old?

VS: To a three- or four-year-old consent can be taught very simply: no means no. When you say no I don’t currently want to be touched, that means no.

What has been more difficult for my partner and I is navigating Peyton’s ownership over her own body while also having the task of keeping her safe. For example, one thing we struggle with is crossing the street. Sometimes she does not want to hold our hand, and we have to say to her, “I understand that, but in this instance because there is a safety concern we need to hold your hand, and when we finish crossing the street and you don’t want to hold my hand anymore that is fine.”

As a four-year-old, Peyton has more awareness of her body than most kids and great at saying no to people. Peyton has an afro, and a lot of times people just want to touch it, and for us we say, every part of your body is your own – that includes your hair, your shoulders, your fingers – that is your body and the moment you feel uncomfortable you have right to say “no thank you.

Recently, we are walking down the street and this older woman puts her hand on Peyton’s hair and I am just about to go off at her and Peyton just goes, “Do not touch my hair” and the woman goes “Oh but I just wanted touch it,” and Peyton replies, “You wouldn’t touch my vagina, so don’t touch my hair.” This woman was mortified, but for me I was proud that Peyton recognized that every part of her body she has ownership. I think another part of the struggle is that it applies to everyone.

What is your hope for the chocoLACTmilk?

VS: Reaching a larger audience and creating a space where I can cathartically journal my experiences and create an outlet for other parents, with similar experiences, to have a dialogue. The dialogue is already out there so it is about harnessing that and bringing it to another, larger space, and creating community and support.

India, Thank You for Re-energizing Me!

In front of me stands a woman in a blue saree. She is sharing her experiences as a female farmer in rural Tamil Nadu, India. We have gathered under a couple of trees to shield ourselves from the broiling sun and while we are talking, the cows standing in the yard are dipping their whole heads while drinking water from a bucket, trying to cool down in the summer heat.

As the woman in the blue saree tells me how old she was when she got married, I can only stare at her in disbelief. Of course I knew that child marriage exists in India, but this is the first time I’ve actually met a woman who got married when she was only thirteen years old. Although it has been prohibited in India since 2006, child marriage is still practiced regularly and India has the highest number of child brides in the world. According to Girls Not Brides, in 2016, 47% of all girls under 18 years old were already married. As I try to regain my composure and wrap my head around the fact that this woman was married when she was only thirteen, she just smiles and carries on talking.

The women I have met during my four months in India are some of the strongest women I have ever come across. Can you imagine being married at thirteen and having three children at the age of eighteen? For me, it is an unimaginable scenario – showing just how privileged I am to have the possibility to choose for myself what my (love)life will look like. However, for many women in India, choice is an impossibility. Furthermore, to speak about sex and reproductive health is still taboo and many girls do not know how their bodies actually work.

My time in India has made me realize, even more than before, how lucky I am to have grown up in a country where sex and reproductive health are relatively easy topics to bring up (even though improvements could still be made). It has also made me more convinced than ever before of how important the feminist struggle has been, and will continue to be for many years to come. It has reminded me that, as a feminist, I need to be responsive and listen in order to be able to choose my battles, without trying to impose my beliefs on others.

Intersectional feminism has taught me to be aware of my privilege, to listen and to understand that there are many different feminist struggles going on side by side. It has also taught me to realize when it is my place to speak and when it is not.

There are already a lot of initiatives in India working towards the abolition of child marriage (and other institutional inequalities), and sometimes the best thing to do is to show support and solidarity. As the world becomes ever more globalized and intertwined this will be important to remember as we go forward with the feminist movement. Because we must go forward!

Being in India has thought me a lot of things but most of all it has made me angrier than I ever was before. How can it be that I get to choose how to live my life when so many women and girls around the world can not choose how to live theirs? Of course, imperialism, colonialism, racism and capitalism can answer that question and explain why the world is so unfair. However, a theoretical answer is not enough. Action is needed. And it is needed now.

So, India, you mesmerizing, colorful, but oh-so-patriarchal country, thank you for all you taught me and all you made me realize about the world. But most of all, India, thank you for re-energizing me!