Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Putting "Jeanie" back in the bottle
This probably will not be of much interest to most people but this piece by Michelle Goldberg at Slate about how feminism has been set back is quite insightful. Like her, I was cautiously hopeful that this election would be a ratification, at least in some ways, of the idea that social justice and women's equality in particular were national voting issues of importance. I thought the contrast with the sexist pig Donald Trump especially might lead a majority of Americans to reject what he stands for once and for all.
Well, we know how that went. Anyway, here's Goldberg:
Instead of the year that the highest glass ceiling shattered, 2016 might go down as the year the feminist bubble burst. In America, men have always ruled, and right now I wonder if they always will...
I never wore one of those T-shirts proclaiming “The Future is Female,” but I came close to believing it. Certainly, I’ve always known that many women don’t identify as feminists, and don’t see their interests as being bound up with those of womankind. But in 2016, the polls foretold a history-making gender gap. Donald Trump’s bombastic campaign seemed like the terminal stage of aggrieved American machismo rather than simply the terminal stage of America.
In the days before election, I kept returning to a 4,000-word essay by Christopher Caldwell that the Weekly Standard ran 20 years ago. Titled “The Feminization of America,” it was meant to be apocalyptic, but it gave me a giddy hope. “Women are now thought to have more in common with other women than they do with men of similar ethnicity, religion, or income level, their interests coinciding more with those of other women than with those of their own fathers and brothers and husbands and sons,” Caldwell wrote with palpable alarm. “Women now constitute a class -- a dominant class.” It wasn’t true in 1996, but in 2016 the world that Caldwell warned of was just visible on the horizon. It seemed significant that his piece both began and ended by griping about Hillary Clinton.
For 25 years, after all, Clinton was reviled as a synecdoche for unseemly female ambition. That’s part of what made her candidacy so fraught. If she’d become president, it would have been in the teeth of widespread male opposition; even the models that showed her winning had her losing the majority of men. She proposed policies that would have increased women’s power and autonomy at every level of society: equal pay, paid family leave, subsidized child care, abortion rights. For all her manifold faults, her election would have both signified progress toward gender equality and made more such progress possible. 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.
We might well lose Roe v. Wade in the next four years. Trump has said the issue would then go back to the states, but there’s no reason to think that Republicans would settle for anything less than a national ban. 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.
There's more and I agree with it as depressing as it is. Some genies you can't put back in the bottle but it's amazing how "Jeanie" can slide right back in. It won't happen all at once. But think about how independent and liberated all those women in WWII were and how quickly they all retired to to the kitchen to start making sandwiches and babies. That won't happen now, of course. Women are too intrinsic to the workforce. But feminism as an explicit cause has taken a serious hit.
Controlling the course of our own lives is going to get harder in many different ways. We can say goodbye to Department of Education pressure on colleges to address campus rape. We can expect the end of federal aid for Planned Parenthood and of federal government action to promote equal pay and fight sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. The Women’s Bureau, the one department in the federal government tasked with responding to the needs of women in the workforce, will now fall under the aegis of former Carl’s Jr. honcho Andrew Puzder, whose company is known for commercials featuring near-naked women in orgasmic communion with sandwiches. “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis,” he said. “I think it’s very American.” Like top Trump adviser Steve Bannon, Puzder has also been accused of assaulting his now-ex wife.
In Achieving Our Country, a 1998 book much discussed since Trump’s election, Richard Rorty discussed how culture would change after the ascension of an American strongman. “Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion,” he wrote, adding, “All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back.” This will likely prove prescient. Under an administration hostile to women’s equality and contemptuous of modern political norms, the way we live will slowly start to change.
Sure, there will be token women advanced to high profile positions on both sides of the political aisle. It's useful PR. But the eagerness (desperation actually) with which we've seen the entire political world dismiss the idea that misogyny played a role in the campaign or the lack of interest in the tens of millions of women who enthusiastically voted for the first female nominee tells a story just as much as the race to seek out the deepest feelings of the white non-college educated men (and the women who love them) who voted for Trump.The relief at going back to that familiar ground is palpable.
Anyway, I know many will respond with the old "just not this woman" line and I'm sure they believe it's true. All the bosses I had for many years certainly believed that.
I'd love to hire a woman for the job, you know I would. It's just that the women who come in aren't qualified and all the women who already work here are too valuable where they are. And I just had a bad feeling about that last one. But it'll happen when the right one comes along, I promise you that. I'm committed to equality.
FYI: Here's where we are today, it just a few random sectors.
Happy Hollandaise everyone.
digby 12/27/2016 03:00:00 PM