Michelle Goldberg is wondering if maybe men will always rule. Yeah same here.
For the last couple of years, feminism has been both ubiquitous and improbably glamorous, its pop culture currency symbolized by Beyoncé silhouetted before a giant glowing FEMINIST sign at the 2014 Video Music Awards. On television, women went from ornaments to protagonists, starring in a slew of raunchy comedies in which men were often afterthoughts.
Erm no. That’s overstating it. The fact (if it is a fact) that there are a number of such comedies doesn’t demonstrate that women have become protagonists across the board. They haven’t.
But that’s a detail. Her larger point is that it’s not looking good. She’s right about that.
Before Nov. 8, it looked as if the arc of history was bending toward women.
Trump’s victory has obliterated this narrative. In many ways it was a fluke; had a few thousand votes in a few Rust Belt states gone another way, we’d be talking about Clinton’s popular vote landslide and the decisive defeat of Trumpian reaction. However freakishly contingent his triumph, it forecloses the future feminists imagined at least for a long while. We’re going be blown backward so far that this irredeemably shitty year may someday look like a lost feminist golden age. The very idea that women are equal citizens, that barriers to their full human flourishing should be identified and removed, is now up for grabs. A pastor warming up the crowd at a post-election Trump rally in Louisiana promised that with Trump in office, the White House would be a place “where men know who men are, women know who women are.” The massive power of the American state is about to be marshaled to put women in their place.
And maybe that will result in a feminism that is more focused and ferocious than ever before. That would be good.
Or, abortion rights could be lost.
There is a particular insult at the thought of a sybarite like Trump, who still won’t say whether he’s ever paid for an abortion himself, imposing a regime of forced birth on American women. When and if Trump strips us of bodily autonomy, there won’t be any illusions that he’s doing it to protect life or the family or sexual morality. It will be because he has power, and women’s hopes and plans for their own lives don’t matter to him at all.
And more than that: it will be because he likes using his power to harm and damage and injure other people.
If a new backlash comes, some women will embrace it. The uphill struggle for freedom and equality can be enervating. Many women find comfort and consolation in being provided for by a man—or in the dream of being provided for by a man—and are sick of feminists making them feel guilty. Others know how to negotiate the male power structure without challenging it, like Ivanka Trump. In a time of backlash, women will redouble their efforts to accommodate men, and the culture will celebrate their choice in making that accommodation. The backlash, wrote Faludi, “manipulates a system of rewards and punishments, elevating women who follow its rules, isolating those who don’t.”
People who are committed to gender equality will try to salvage what they can of the last 40 years of progress. They’ll try to maintain their morale, but living in total opposition to the zeitgeist is hard. In the defining drama of our time, a woman who was the most qualified person ever to run for president lost to a man who was the least. That can’t help but reverberate through the culture, changing our sense of what is possible for women. My abiding fear is that the idea of women running the world will start to seem like an innocent, dated dream, akin to communes, lesbian separatism, and spelling “women” as “womyn.” Someday I’ll tell my daughter about the time we all thought the future was female. I hope she doesn’t laugh at our naïveté.
Well, maybe global warming will get there first.