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.

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