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.

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