K A T I E   H O L M E S :
The Girl Next Door

Uzo Aduba, Katie Holmes & Ieshia Evans Reenact Iconic Images of Social Change

We revisited three moments of defiant activism over the past century, and then asked three prominent thinkers to discuss how far we’ve come—and how far we still have to go.

Harper's Bazaar
By Cassie Anderson

Roxane Gay reflects on the current resistance and its roots in the women’s liberation movement, as re-created here by Katie Holmes.

Politicians often call for civility and decorum in protest, as if challenging the status quo is supposed to be a well-mannered affair. Such people imagine that change requires politely asking those in power to cede the control they have wielded with impunity. Such is not the case. Now, as we approach the third year of the Trump presidency, it’s a useful time to think about feminist protest and women’s liberation, a movement that was complicated, messy, and unruly, but perhaps too well mannered.

Katie Holmes pays homage to the demonstrator’s bravado.

In the 1960s and ’70s, women entered the workplace in unprecedented numbers while still managing their households. They were constrained by sexism in nearly every aspect of their lives. Something had to change. And so, in the wake of the civil rights movement, women’s liberation was born. These activists fought for many of the same things feminists today are still fighting for: reproductive freedom, equal pay, subsidized child care, and eradicating misogyny. The most prominent feature of women’s liberation was the idea of sisterhood, that women throughout the world were intrinsically connected by virtue of their womanhood. The movement’s structure tried to reflect this sisterhood. Power could be shared. Many voices could contribute to change. And some change was indeed accomplished: At the National Women’s Conference, in 1977, thousands of women gathered in Houston to formalize a plan for realizing women’s liberation to be presented to the White House and Congress. By the end of the conference, a National Plan of Action had been created, featuring 26 planks covering sexual and domestic violence, disability, reproductive freedom, and other issues. Women were part of a national conversation that they’d had a direct hand in shaping.

A protester outside a San Francisco department store, 1969.

But that conversation did not create much structural change. Sisterhood was a nice idea, but as inclusive as the movement tried to be, it was dominated by middle- and upper-class women. Mainstream women’s liberation did not seek to reimagine the world and its capitalist underpinnings. If it had, the feminist agenda might have expanded beyond the basic human rights we are still fighting for. If it had, we might have already elected the first woman president of the United States, and the second or third.

After Donald Trump became president, women came together once more, with the Women’s March on Washington, on January 21, 2017. After a few missteps, the organizers formed a national leadership team, coordinated hundreds of sister marches around the world, and developed “unity principles” to codify what and who the movement stood for. The influence of women’s liberation was readily apparent. They marched to make clear that women would not be silent. Like the women’s liberation movement before it, this march and many of the feminist actions since—commonly called acts of resistance—have centered women in a national conversation.

The other unfortunate common ground is that this resistance has been mostly well mannered, and we haven’t seen a great deal of structural change. But we are not necessarily fated to continue this pattern: History repeats itself until people decide not to let it. Change requires more than resistance. It requires more than marching or compromise or civility. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and to make others uncomfortable, whether through uncivil protest, comprehensive boycotts, or a bold reimagining of what the world could look like if liberated from the patriarchy. We are well past the time for resistance. Now we must revolt, by any means necessary.