They all want to subordinate women

Peter Beinart says the authoritarian nationalist wave has one commonality:

[B]esides their hostility to liberal democracy, the right-wing autocrats taking power across the world share one big thing, which often goes unrecognized in the U.S.: They all want to subordinate women.

To understand global Trumpism, argues Valerie M. Hudson, a political scientist at Texas A&M, it’s vital to remember that for most of human history, leaders and their male subjects forged a social contract: “Men agreed to be ruled by other men in return for all men ruling over women.” This political hierarchy appeared natural—as natural as adults ruling children—because it mirrored the hierarchy of the home. Thus, for millennia, men, and many women, have associated male dominance with political legitimacy. Women’s empowerment ruptures this order.

But then you pause to ask why “the hierarchy of the home” seemed natural. Maybe it’s just because of the dimorphism: male humans dominate female humans just as male gorillas dominate female gorillas. Then again humans aren’t gorillas, and bonobos do things somewhat differently, so maybe it’s not that simple.

Because male dominance is deeply linked to political legitimacy, many revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries have used the specter of women’s power to discredit the regime they sought to overthrow. Then, once in power themselves, they have validated their authority by reducing women’s rights. In a 1995 paper, Arthur Gilbert and James Cole of the University of Denver observed that French revolutionaries made Marie Antoinette a symbol of the immorality of the ancien régime and that Iranian revolutionaries did the same to Princess Ashraf, the “unveiled and powerful” sister of the shah. After toppling the monarchy, the French revolutionaries banned women from holding senior teaching positions and inheriting property. Ayatollah Khamenei made it a crime for women to speak on the radio or appear unveiled in public.

And the Arab spring “revolutions” went the same way.

In their book, The Hillary Doctrine, Valerie Hudson and Patricia Leidl note that when the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi replaced the longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Morsi quickly announced that he would abolish the quota guaranteeing women’s seats in parliament, overturn a ban on female circumcision, and make it harder for women to divorce an abusive husband. After Muammar Qaddafi’s ouster, the first law that Libya’s new government repealed was the one banning polygamy.

On the one hand women must be kept away from any kind of power, on the other hand their fathers and husbands must be empowered to treat them like shit. No to seats in parliament, yes to female genital mutilation.

Commentators sometimes describe Trump’s alliance with the Christian right as incongruous given his libertine history. But whatever their differences when it comes to the proper behavior of men, Trump and his evangelical backers are united by a common desire to constrain the behavior of women.

To be honest, that’s putting it too mildly. Trump doesn’t want to just constrain the behavior of women, he wants to degrade them, grind them into the dirt, monster them, put targets on them. His contempt for women is visceral and intense.

Beinart concludes that to break this pattern it’s necessary to start with the hierarchy at home.

Compare the United States, the Philippines, Brazil, Hungary, and Poland with the countries of northern Europe, where women’s political power has become more normal. In 2017, women made up 48 percent of Iceland’s parliament. In Sweden, the share was 44 percent; in Finland, 42 percent; and in Norway, 40 percent. In the countries that have recently elected gender-backlash authoritarians, the rates are lower, ranging from Italy’s 31 percent to Hungary’s 10 percent. This doesn’t mean a Nordic Orbán or Bolsonaro is impossible: Northern Europe has its own far-right parties. But it’s harder for those parties to use gender to delegitimize the existing political order, because women’s political empowerment no longer appears illegitimate.

It no longer appears illegitimate, in large measure, because gender equality has become more normalized in the home. In 2018, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published the amount of time per day that women and men spent doing unpaid household chores such as cleaning, shopping, and child care. If you calculate the gender gap in each country, a pattern emerges. There is a striking correlation between countries where women and men behave more equally in the home and countries where women are more equally represented in government.

Feminists have always known that.

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