Has feminism failed? This is a question we are forced to consider after the election of a blatantly misogynistic and serial sexual predator to the office of the president of the United States. Has the feminist movement progressed ahead of its time by assuming that basic things like respect for women and condemnation of sexual assault should be universal?
For all of the shock concerning how an overt sexist could possibly have won the election, we must begin to acknowledge that there is a sizable portion of the country that simply does not care about women’s issues. No political explanation concerning backlash to Obama’s presidency, the rural bubble, etc. can excuse Trump’s grossly sexist actions. Trump’s victory has made Americans’ apathy about misogyny all too plain. The modern-day feminist movement must now accept that basic building blocks of equality are not firmly set in place if a man such as Donald Trump can ascend to the White House. If none of his previous actions or comments proved to be deal-breakers, then how can it be argued that feminism is truly making meaningful strides?
As feminists, we must radically rethink our basic mission. Modern feminists have taken for granted that most Americans believe in the importance of basic gender equality, and many have moved on to more progressive feminist issues such as transgender rights, fighting against sexual objectification, etc. However important such issues may be, modern-day feminists will be unsuccessful if we focus primarily on these more progressive issues. We will not only fail to accomplish any gains in those more particular arenas, but will also continue to lose ground in the battle for some of the most basic components of feminism. If equal rights are not universally acknowledged and defended, how can feminism hope to successfully push for the end to catcalling, let alone of sexual objectification? If women cannot feel safe reporting instances of sexual assault, if they can be referred to as “dogs” or “bimbos” without any substantial backlash, how can we claim that feminism should be principally working to expand its list of causes?
With a hostile new president, the feminist movement must re-strategize in preparation for future political battles. We must work tirelessly to defend the importance of upholding Roe v. Wade, to condemn the normalization of sexual assault, to point out the fact that seventeen of Trump’s twenty cabinet picks were straight, white men, and so on. Moreover, modern feminists must reconcile any progress that has been made, and the value of that progress, with the realization that a large part of the country willingly relegates women to secondary status to men.
Already, Trump is ignoring the women he was elected to serve. The day after the historic Women’s March, an event that reverberated around the world and that supported a pro-choice position, Trump restored the Mexico City “gag” rule. With this rule, Trump ensured that international organizations that offer abortions or even advocate for pro-choice movements are no longer able to get federal funding. The House of Representatives, mimicking this action, moved to bar the use of taxpayer money for abortions permanently, a worrying anti-choice precedent to set so early on in the presidency.
The risk of losing hard-won reproductive rights aside, the general societal impacts of Trump’s presidency are almost as nerve-wracking as the fact that there exists such apathy regarding the place of women in our society. After all, Trump was elected after a variety of well-substantiated charges of sexual assault which collectively reveal his attitudes and actions towards women. Unfortunately, sixty million people did not find these abhorrent actions to be deal-breakers.
Which is more concerning: Trump’s past and potential actions, or the fact that we as a nation have decided to award such behavior by bestowing the title of president of the United States upon such a man? Our votes condoned his comments and his alleged past actions (affirmed by the audio tape), as well as the general attitude that women are not deserving of equality, by electing such a figure, whose exploits are well-documented, to arguably the most symbolically important office within our government.
What lessons are we teaching our sons, our daughters, about how women ought to be treated? The #ItsOnUs movement, which highlights the importance of victims of sexual assault coming forward and seeking justice, seems to have been replaced with a more negative, and probably more damaging, set of attitudes regarding the place of women within society, and the treatment of sexual violence. Do we want our daughters to grow up with that same terrifying statistic we live with today—that one in four women will be sexually assaulted? Do we want our sons to believe that sexual assault is normal, and can go unpunished?
We must not allow ourselves to be silenced in the face of the worrying behavior of our president. Rather, we must come to understand that the responsibility to peacefully assert and defend our values as a nation is more than ever on us. When Trump neglects to appoint a reasonable number of women to positions of importance within the government, we must make our voices heard. When he inevitably calls a female newscaster or celebrity whatever degrading comment comes to mind, we should make our outrage known. When the new administration begins to move against Planned Parenthood, or to limit the accessibility of women’s health care, we must call our senators and representatives and pressure them to defend the common cause of equality within our society. We refuse to remain quiet, refuse to accept anything less than fairness and decency within our government. The electorate has the power to uphold the principles of equality, justice, and dignity within our government, as well as within our democracy. We must refuse to accept anything less than fair and respectful behavior towards any given subgroup of our nation.
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