By Niamh Kelleher
Image of 2017 #MeToo protest in California
There’s something about the thundering of a thousand footsteps - the sound of a thousand voices, shouting, chanting. The buzz in the air is palpable. The force of thousands of people, pushing for change is what initiates progress. It’s like a car crash; you can’t tear your eyes away. Throughout history, when the letters don’t get a response, when the policies are made without a second thought when voices are silenced, humans do as humans always have. They take to the streets. In mass numbers, they march. Ignoring the outrage of others, for there is no outrage louder than their own that has drawn them to march together. If change was a fire, protest is the spark.
These are 5 mass protests that shaped feminist history:
1. Women’s suffrage parade in Washington DC - 1913
One of the most recognisable beginnings of feminist history; the suffragette movement. Decades before in 1848, the Declaration of Sentiments was read at the first woman's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York - the declaration was a foundational document for women’s right to vote. Since then, there had been some semblance of movement for the matter at the government state level. On the 3rd of March, 1913, thousands of women took part in a parade in Washington DC which sought an amendment to the constitution. It was reported that at least 100 were hospitalised from injuries as a result of the spectators. 7 years later, women were - finally - granted the right to vote in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
2. Women’s Strike for Equality - 1970
The women’s strike for equality in 1970 is regarded as a nationwide demonstration of women’s rights on the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Held on the 26th of August, 1970, the strike was organised by the National Organisation for Women, in which, its then-president Betty Friedan, called for a Strike for Equality. She asked women to stop working for a day to draw attention to the continued inequalities that women face. Most notably, the prevalent issue of unequal pay for women’s work. The strike spread through the US, from New York where tens of thousands marched down Fifth Avenue, to LA as women held a vigil for women’s rights, whilst in Washington DC women held banners proclaiming “We Demand Equality '' and lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment. Women in the New Orleans newspaper ran pictures of grooms instead of brides in engagement announcements whilst internationally, Dutch women marched in the US embassy in Amsterdam.
3. Women with Feminist Disabilities Collective - 1981
Lesley Hall, a prominent disability rights activist from the ‘Women with Feminist Disabilities Collective’ bought tickets to the 1981 Miss Australia Quest beauty pageant - a charitable event which sought to raise funds for Scope Australia. However, instead of admiring the pageant, she and other members smuggled in placards and stormed the stage to protest the misogynistic and sexist depiction of women, and contradicting nature of the pageant through their promotion of specific beauty standards - which restricted women with disabilities from entering the pageant. This protest, regrettably not as well known as others, shed light on the importance of intersectional feminism.
3. #NiUnaMenos - 2016
In October 2016, tens of thousands gathered in Buenos Aires, rallying around the #NiUnaMenos - which means “not one less” - to protest against gender-based violence. The protest began following devastating recorded losses of women and girls dying due to gender-based violence. According to Hinde Pomeraniec, a journalist, a woman dies from gender-based violence every 30 hours in Argentina. Since the protest, supreme court justice member Elena Highton announced a registry of femicides, whilst activists still fight to end the culture surrounding gender-based violence.
4. #MeToo March - 2017
Possibly one of the most renowned feminist marches in history; the #MeToo Women’s March of 2017. The #MeToo tag spread like wildfire all over social media, and the world. The initiator of this hashtag; Tarana Burke, whose mission was to support survivors of sexual assault so that they too were heard, unknowingly created a movement in which an estimated 7 million people marched peacefully all over the world. Thousands marched over the Hollywood Walk of Fame, holding signs proudly in the air, fists up, tears glistening. Their voices chanting “Rise for the women of the world, for the women of the world rise” echoed all around the world so that every survivor could be comforted;
Image of Tarana Burke leading the #MeToo March in California