International Women’s Day is a culmination of all that Women’s History Month aims to celebrate: womanhood in its diverse forms. This year, especially on American college campuses, the global holiday comes just as students seem to be facing a reckoning with regard to feminism’s greater direction.
This reckoning traces its origins to a predictable source: history.
History is ridden with cases of gendered barriers being ignored — but it’s also ridden with activism and social consciousness being confined to gendered barriers, without acknowledgement of oppression’s intersectionality. Now, in our second year under an Education Department that is actively targeting or neglecting to protect widely targeted groups, today’s campus feminists must be proactive about expanding the dimensions of their advocacy. In conjunction with other forms of intolerance, sexism is often savagely exacerbated along the lines of race, ability, sexual orientation and other identity-based facets. In treating misogyny as an isolated issue, we continue the long-standing historical record of sidelining diverse women.
In the last year, the Education Department under President Donald Trump has rescinded previous guidelines that called upon schools to allow students to use the restroom coinciding with their gender identity. Additionally, the department announced last month that it will no longer investigate complaints regarding trans and non binary students’ experiences with harassment and assault in restrooms. This demographic is notably more likely to be the victims of assault or harassment in restrooms, rather than the perpetrators.
Additionally, this presidential administration’s repeated threats to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy has placed innumerable students in a state of fear and confusion that undoubtedly interferes with their academic experiences. On the national level, shifting immigration policies can have the effect of sending immigrant and refugee women back to abusive or dangerous households.
And affecting all women, the Education Department, seeming to collude with groups recognized by Southern Poverty Law Center as male supremacist groups, has rescinded guidelines that lowered the evidentiary standards for students who report assault. In doing so, the department not only advances but also codifies into policy the age-old, baseless suggestion that sexual assault is something survivors would be motivated to lie about. Notably, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 44 percent of lesbian women compared with 35 percent of heterosexual women experience rape or physical sexual violence in their lifetimes. Forty-seven percent of trans people are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, and black and Native American women are more likely than women of any other racial group to experience sexual violence.
Yet another example of intersectional misogyny affecting college students comes in the form of the Trump administration’s repeal of the contraceptive mandate, a policy that acknowledged cost-free birth control coverage as a right regardless of the personal views of employers or insurers. Since taking effect in 2012, the contraceptive mandate enabled more than 55 million women to access copay-free birth control, and saved women $1.4 billion annually. According to a survey published last week by Small Business Majority, 74 percent of black women said the availability of contraceptives helped them pursue higher education.
In other words, there is work to be done, and this work extends beyond isolated understandings of gender. International Women’s Day must be more than a holiday of celebration, but a day of acknowledging past and present struggles.
In the United States, we may never be able to quantify how many women were stripped of economic opportunity, injured or even killed due to the federal illegality of abortion prior to 1973. We may never know how many women were victimized by insufficient sexual violence laws that resulted — and continue to result — in unspeakable atrocities. Within the past year, we repeatedly find ourselves faced with the question of how many women sexism has denied political office and representation. And just within the past months, we repeatedly find ourselves asking how many women have beeen denied advancement by exploitative and abusive men in positions of power.
Despite some progress in lawmaking, stagnation in the implementation of these laws as well as violent backlash have rendered many of the aforementioned issues dire to this day. And in the vein of intersectionality, both history and modern scholarship tell us these struggles were and remain disproportionately shouldered by women of color, women with disabilities and LGBTQ people, all of whom suffer from higher rates of sexual violence, economic disenfranchisement and inability to access adequate health care.
Intersectional feminism must become normalized when we think of feminism. This International Women’s Day, we can celebrate how society is ultimately moving toward greater consciousness of forms of intolerance that have always existed, but seldom been recognized before. From this consciousness, we must move to recognize the inextricable interactions between every form of intolerance, and in addition to this recognition, engage in solidarity and action while being inclusive of everyone.
Kylie Cheung is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You Do Uterus,” runs Thursdays.