Monthly Archives: December 2017

Feminism’s Roy Moore problem

Dear Feminism,
We have a Roy Moore problem. It’s not the same one that David Brooks said the GOP has, though it’s related. It is that 6 in 10 white women in Alabama support Roy Moore. (15 years ago, I was telling vaguely disbelieving folks that polls told us that US Black and Latinx women supported feminism more than white women. No, they’d say. The problem is that feminism is full of white women. No, I’d say. The bigger problem is white women’s anti-feminism. After the Trump election, that ought to be easier to explain.) It’s the same problem we had with Phyllis Schlafly, who was also more popular than feminists.

We need to look beyond our Atwoodian notion of Wives, econowives, Marthas, and Handmaids to understand this. White female Moore-voters in Alabama are not stupid, hopelessly oppressed, or duped. They may not want particularly to be married to a 30-year old Roy Moore at 14, but they know which side their bread is buttered on. Bethany Moreton has it right in To Serve God and Wal-Mart. They know a lot about what feminism has to offer–about lower wages, endemic sexual harassment and assault, the difficulty of not being pregnant when birth control and abortion are hard to get, and the gendered division of labor at home. They just look at us gender traitors and un-women (Atwood again) and think we got a worse deal–low wages, exposure to all that sexual threat in public, housework and paid labor, scrambling to gather up what’s needed to keep households together. And they at least can hold out the hope of a women-at-home, elders and children supported kind of existence if they marry right. Or, barring that, maybe the double day and poverty wages and the whole thing, but at least what my mother’s generation called the pedestal. A reverence for female softness and vulnerability, their love and self-sacrifice for the children. And this whole #MeToo thing is actually feeding this sense that they are right.

We need a movement against sexual harassment that actually imagines a workplace–a world–where the shaming and blaming aren’t just shifted from the women being harassed to the men doing the harassing. (Although don’t get me wrong, this is, without a doubt, a huge improvement.) But actual procedures in workplaces (universities, colleges, the wider world) where it is possible to get accountability for making public space free from sexist sexual predation. I’m concerned that the mass resignations are feeding a “bad apples” narrative that is basically wrong. (Not unlike imprisonment’s account of criminality.) As long as their are power imbalances, sexism, and opportunity, these guys are going to be replaced with other sexual harassers. We need a better, clearer vision of what we’re demanding, including a way to real process to report (and hence potentially also to refute) sexual harassment allegations. Because after Emmett Till, we can’t just believe women.

Feminism, the Right, and #MeToo

Question: are Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein proxies for a war against Trump?

This is the question I’m increasingly fascinated by, in relation to the role of feminism in national politics. On the one hand, feminism appeared for a moment last year to have failed in more or less exactly the way the ERA failed: Serena Joy, oops, I mean Phyllis Schlafly split most women away from even the most trivial notion of feminism by calling on the notion of (white) “privilege,” especially women-only bathrooms. This was almost precisely replayed in 2016: 53% of white women voted for Trump over and against a pretty godawful version of feminism in the figure of Hillary Clinton (nb: there were good feminist arguments against the ERA, just as there were good feminist arguments against Clinton, which don’t bear repeating here but which I elaborate with some care in my new book, How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics). So an anti-queer, anti-trans, pro-“family” conservative politics got mobilized in relationship to white women’s fear of sexual violence outside the walls of the nuclear family.

But the evangelical Christian right, which has never been stronger than it is now, with Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Neil Gorsuch, and a host of people at HHS all defending Christianity, heteronormativity, anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-abortion, birth control, maternity care, and anti-(poor) kid policies, can’t keep the genie in the bottle. Mobilizing women around fear of sexual harassment and violence brought down Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes on the right, and now threatens the darling of the Christian far-right, Roy “10 commandments” Moore, who really does advocate a Handmaid’s Tale-style Gilead. They’ve tried to weaponize accusations against Al Franken, by having Roger Stone get out ahead of the Lee Ann Tweeden accusation and then have an army of right-wing bots push the story. Accusations by media are incredibly vulnerable to political manipulation, and don’t actually put in place any mechanisms that enable women to report or demand a workplace free of sexual harassment or assault. Meanwhile, feminists have suggested that the hordes of enablers and procurers around people like Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer need to step aside.

But a lot of this seems to me to be a proxy war aimed at Donald “grab them by pussy,” with more than 14 accusers, including a teenager he allegedly raped. If we can hang on to the notion that sexual misconduct is (a) incredibly common and generally unprosecuted, and (b) that allegations have to be refutable (because they are also frequently weaponized against queer folks–I have my own harrowing stories), feminist #MeToo politics may yet be the most potent weapon there is against the Trumpian right-wing coalition.