Feminism has an image problem. That is not news. The news is that Trump may single-handedly force a meaningful discussion on fixing that.
“And just remember, there is a special place in hell for women who do not help each other out.”
I was not shocked when Madeleine Albright made that remark in February 2016 — it is a line she has being using for years. Irrespective of whether or not the statement was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, it backfired — badly. Why? Partly because many viewed the remark as a radical attempt to constitute women as a “sex class”. Aside from common biology, millions of American women did not feel they had enough in common with Hillary to vote for her, and were under no obligation to suppress their political convictions in the name of gender.
Women and the feminist movement were not Hillary’s firewall.
Across the US, millions of Americans are outraged by Trump’s continued rhetoric with regards to women, and anxious about what actions he and his political allies may take during his tenure as the 45th President.
Politicians and Justices may very well send Roe v. Wade to the “ash heap of history”, to quote Mike Pence. Planned Parenthood could be defunded — an institution that provides services and information to an estimated 2.5 million men and women on an annual basis. Planned Parenthood is not perfect and is in need of some reform, but it is a lifeline for many. Let us not forget that Donald Trump has a sexual misconduct problem, and that goes beyond the infamous “grab them by the p____” moment.
In recent years, I started to critically examine my own longstanding affiliation with feminism, and question where I fit in. In spite of the fact that a woman nearly won the Presidency, much of what Trump stood for emboldened my own advocacy for more gender equality and respect for women in society. It also led to me to question why feminism is not a popular badge to wear.
I believe that powerful campaigns for gender equality and against discrimination work best when narratives are promoted that at least attempt to be inclusive. Perhaps one of the reasons why swathes of Americans are distancing themselves from the term is not because they are opposed to gender equality, but because certain rhetorical strategies of feminist groups have made the movement as a whole look petty. Misplaced anger can end up creating all the wrong headlines, distracting from the everyday lives of people genuinely battling discrimination. When Ryan Gosling mentioned in his Golden Globes speech that his wife stayed at home while he worked on La La Land, the Internet erupted with commentators making a thinly veiled assumption that she did so by virtue of unequal power relations in society. The real ‘la la’ was people making irresponsible statements about people they do not know personally — individuals whose lives are just as complex as our own.
Alienation is counter-productive, and it is a turn off to people who could be potential supporters. Gender equality to me is more about expanding opportunities and breaking down arbitrary barriers. The rise of the portmanteau ‘mansplaining’ is yet another failed attempt to highlight systematic behaviors and attitudes that lead to discrimination. The problem I have with the term is that it is wholly exclusionary. I have spent a fair amount of time dealing with condescension from men, but my reason for rejecting the term is because not all male-female interactions are based on subservience. Another publicity faux pas was the controversial “I Had An Abortion” t-shirts launched by Planned Parenthood over a decade ago. Despite myself being pro choice, the message was tone deaf to the actual conversation and provided pro-life groups with enough reasons to criticize the organization. The campaign was lacking in tact.
There is also a great deal of hypocrisy in action. When the actress Kaley Cuoco stated that she does not identify as a feminist, she was subjected to a vicious backlash by many social media users asserting that she was ‘dumb’ and needed to be educated. So much for freedom and choices. The decision to not identify as a feminist is a right and a freedom; it has nothing to do with ignorance or being indifferent to misogyny. Then we had Gloria Steinem, a longstanding feminist icon, making a statement during a TV interview last year that young women were supporting Bernie Sanders in order to meet ‘boys’. That didn’t go down well. To put it bluntly, feminism does have a publicity problem and it is sending mixed messages.
I still believe there is a place for feminism in today’s climate. There is a lot to be angry about, but misplaced anger and toxicity does not contribute to healthy civil discourse and clouds rational judgment. I am still wearing the feminist badge (my choice, not imposed), but I won’t defend the indefensible.