In 2017, 4 million people marched in women’s marches across America. The second-biggest march, in New York, was run by a first-time activist, Katherine Siemionko. Eventually, she quit her job at Goldman Sachs to run the non-profit she created, the Women’s March Alliance. This year, Siemionko had to worry about more than march logistics. She had to worry about a rival women’s event, run by the more-famous Women’s March Inc.
But what might superficially seem like a petty turf war is actually about a broader debate within progressive politics, over intersectionality, and what role race and ethnicity should play in the direction of the women’s movement.
Siemionko is relatively new to the women’s movement. She remembers being in business school at St. Louis University in Missouri and seeing a workshop called “Shattering the Glass Ceiling.” She didn’t get it.
“All my friends were like, ‘You have to go.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know what a glass ceiling is,’” Siemionko says. “I remember reading what a glass ceiling was and thinking, ‘That’s because women can’t negotiate.’ … Boy was I wrong.”
Her experience on Wall Street began to open her eyes. “I had men reporting to me making double my salary. And it was a hard journey for me to realize that women in this country don’t have equal rights.”
In a way, Siemionko embodies a debate within feminism over intersectional feminism, the idea that there’s no universal experience of being a woman, but that oppression based on class, race, disability, sexuality all interact. Siemionko doesn’t think that way. “The moment you say you’re white, therefore, you are racist… I can’t say ‘You’re black, therefore,’ ‘You are Latino, therefore’… we are all one. We have to stop looking at each other as skin colors.”
Even so she’s deeply aware of how her words are perceived.
“Your speech is inhibited by this concept that any words you say may offend somebody, and we have to get over that. We have to say look we’re doing the best that we can,” Siemionko says. “I have to be careful with my wording because it will get picked apart. That’s the society we live in. I cannot speak my thoughts. I have to filter them.”
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