They came from all over to express their fear, their anger, their solidarity and their resolve. It was epic. It was the greatest women's march of all time. It was, at any rate, the greatest group therapy session.
By the numbers, the Women's March on Washington was not the greatest. It was probably surpassed by the 2004 March for Women's Lives, when George W. Bush was in office. Organizers estimated that turnout at more than a million. It's debatable if that march changed a thing. Yet both marches were important. Both served to remind Americans – and the world – that peaceful protest is a hallmark of democracy. Hundreds of thousands of citizens turned out to demonstrate at the country's seat of power, and nothing bad happened. That is something to celebrate, and also something we should never take for granted.
But will this weekend's march change history? Not a chance. Women's solidarity is a mirage. Forty-two per cent of U.S. women voted for Donald Trump. Among white women, it was 53 per cent. The people we saw on Saturday simply reflected the Democratic base: big-city urban and suburban professionals, overwhelmingly white, along with people from minority groups. I liked the festive air – the pink "pussy hats," the cheeky signs, the people dressed up as vaginas. But the keynote speakers – Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, and Madonna – were relics from another age. Let's face it. The heady, glorious days of feminism are far behind us.
Today, feminism is not so much a movement as a grab bag for the usual assortment of progressive causes. "Free birth control and Palestine," one popular sign said, which about sums it up. If you believe in one, then you're assumed to automatically believe in the other one. Feminism used to be a big tent. Today, admission is restricted to those who are willing to beg forgiveness for their intersectional privilege and deplore Israel.
The main purpose of the march, of course, was to protest Mr. Trump, who, like George W., wants to roll back women's reproductive rights and everything else that's good. To make it worse, Mr. Trump is also a self-confessed serial harasser and sexist pig. Some women seem to fear that his personal behaviour could infect the general population. As one protest sign read, "I Will Not Go Back Quietly To The 1950s."
But that's not going to happen. Cultural norms have changed too much. The laws have changed too much. Women's gains are too entrenched. Women are no more likely to go back to the kitchen than gay people are to go back in the closet.
Nor is it likely that abortion rights will be repealed. Legal experts say Roe v. Wade is probably safe for quite a while to come, no matter how many anti-abortion judges Mr. Trump appoints to the Supreme Court. He could try to pass a law that would limit those rights, say, by banning abortion after 20 weeks. Or he could allow the states to impose their own restrictions, as is the case now. But it's very hard to envisage a world where women will be searching for abortions in back alleys.
To be clear, I don't like Mr. Trump either. He is a nasty piece of work. But I do not think his threat to women's rights is as great as the threat he poses to the Republic, or to world stability and peace. Not even close.
So what about the women missing from the march – the millions who voted for Mr. Trump? Perhaps, as Michael Moore explained on MSNBC, they are victims of ingrained misogyny and sexism and don't know any better. Or perhaps, as Michelle Cottle pointed out in Atlantic magazine, they always vote Republican and were willing to overlook the candidate's obvious flaws in hopes that he would drain the swamp. Many of these women live in smaller cities and towns. There are more of them than you think. Some are pro-life. Most don't care much about free birth control, or Palestine, or intersectionality, or the scarcity of female CEOs. They care about the quality of the local schools, and jobs, and whether they can afford to stay home until their kids reach school age.
The real lesson of the Women's March on Washington is that women are as divided as the country. Gender is not a voting bloc. And the secret of defeating Mr. Trump is not more identity politics, but less. Progressives who want to win must make room for women they despise. That could be hard.