Are the Sister Marches reclaiming feminism? Reflections on International Women’s Day

Miriam E. David, author of Reclaiming feminism, looks at how Donald Trump’s election has contributed to the recent surge of global feminist protest and how International Woman’s Day provides an important focal point for change.  


Miriam E. David

“New waves of women rising up in protest against misogyny, male violence, abuse and harassment of women and girls, both nationally and internationally, is a particular feature of 2017.

The spark for this spontaneous international movement of feminists was the election of Donald Trump as US President on November 8, 2016.

Not only was it his platform of vulgarity, misogyny and the particular use of the term ‘grabbing women by the pussy’, that provoked women’s outrage but also the fact that his rival, the liberal feminist Hillary Clinton won 3 million more of the popular vote.

Whilst predicted to be a close run competition between the Republican billionaire and his Democrat opponent, most pollsters expected Hillary Clinton to win. Celebrations were in hand for the most powerful political office in the world to be taken by a woman. This was to send an important signal to new generations of women and girls: fourth and fifth wave feminists.

“Everyday misogyny: the casual and flippant comments about women as sexual objects, not worthy of respect.”

Few expected that Trump’s frankness about his misogyny and abject treatment of women, which went viral a couple of weeks before the election, would swing the electoral college vote his way. Yet this was a very clear example of what is known as everyday misogyny: the casual and flippant comments about women as sexual objects, not worthy of respect.

‘Sisters’ in protest


Women’s March 2017

Social media contributed to the fact that women were quickly able to organise marches and rallies around the world to demonstrate their disgust and horror at Trump’s inauguration on January 20th.

Within a few short weeks, there were coordinated demonstrations in all the major cities of the US, led by women, with ‘sister’ rallies in most major cities of the world, including all the big cities in the UK.

All were held on the Saturday, the day after the inauguration. Ideas for banners and posters circulated, and women knitted the emblematic bright pink pussy hats (with ears) to wear.

This spectacle of women’s marches and rallies across the globe on January 21st was truly amazing.

Whilst no-one has hazarded a guess at the global numbers, it is likely to be akin to Eve Ensler’s ‘One Billion Rising’.

This latter global movement was founded five years ago. It extended US playwright Ensler’s creative dance movements, created in 1998 in the wake of her success with her play ‘The Vagina Monologues’. The V-day movement was fixed for Valentine’s Day as a protest against violence against women and girls (VAWG) and in favour of gender equality, social and sexual justice, and women’s rights. It continues to take place on February 14th.

“New waves of feminists are on the rise.”

The international marches and rallies on January 21st were evidence of women’s abilities to organise and protest against VAWG and for women’s equalities and civic rights. Led entirely by women, although supportive men were also in attendance, these illustrated that new waves of feminists are on the rise. There are new ways of organising but old ideas about women’s rights and equality remain the core values.

Marches and rallies for women, and women’s rights, are now over 100 years old, with the earliest known ones in the US, and various countries of Europe, immediately before the First World War.

Suffragettes, England, 1908

Suffragettes, England, 1908

International Women’s Day (IWD) was fixed for March 8th annually around this time.

In their origins these were mainly about women’s rights about work and political and social equality, including women’s suffrage, which was rare. The notion of first-wave feminists was coined for women at the forefront of the campaigns.

With the relative international success with women’s suffrage by the beginning of the Second World War, there was a period of quiescence, until the rise of second-wave feminists in the 1960s and 1970s.

Such women, and I count myself as one, began campaigns and activism, for a wider set of demands such as around abortion and contraception, childcare, sexuality, education, including higher education, legal and employment rights.

In Reclaiming Feminism: challenging everyday misogyny I present one narrative about how second-wave feminists developed campaigns.

I focus upon the stories of women who grew up and were educated in the post-war era, and how opportunities were extended through higher education. I assess how successful we have been, given that we often referred to ourselves as ‘sisters’.

Reflecting on International Women’s Day

By some curious quirk of fate, many of the feminist evaluations have taken place on IWD.

For example, as a starting point, the British Library celebrated its new online learning project with a party about ‘Sisterhood and after’ on IWD 2013. This project contained interviews with fifty second-wave feminists, whose records were stored online.

A year later, the Library held a debate entitled ‘Sisterhood: Greenham in Common’ on IWD 2014. This was a debate about the extent to which feminists in favour of peace and justice had been able to stem in the American military threat posed by the siting of a US army base at Greenham Common.

I also consider the rise of new waves of feminists through the Women of the World (WOW) festival inaugurated in London some 7 years ago, on IWD, and is now extended to a week of celebration and events across the country.


The Million Women Rise rally at London on Saturday 8 March 2014

In 2015, the comedian, Sandi Toksvig, initiated a new British political party – the Women’s Equality party – at the WOW festival on IWD. Subsequently, it became official in the Autumn 2015 having garnered massive support of young feisty but lipstick feminists.

Linked to all this has been a particularly British feminist movement, entitled a ‘Million Women Rise’ against VAWG and domestic violence. Founded now 10 years ago, this demonstration also takes place annually on IWD.

Yet, although feminism has been on the rise in the twenty-first century, and is now on the public agenda, and part of the current zeitgeist, quite clearly we live in a very contradictory neo-liberal world. The rise of corporate capitalism, and particularly the success of Donald Trump, as a clear exemplar of that, means that feminism remains nowhere significant and powerful. However, perhaps we should take comfort from the fact that, as feminists, we are able to stem the tide of everyday misogyny and not be engulfed by it, as recent events demonstrate.

reclaiming-feminism-fc-4webReclaiming feminism by Miriam E. David can be ordered here for £11.99.

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1 Response to “Are the Sister Marches reclaiming feminism? Reflections on International Women’s Day”

  1. 1 Rachel Pierce March 8, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    Dear Miriam,



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