I am not surprised that at a time when the United States could elect it’s first woman President, there is a massive backlash against women and that her opponent is the personification of misogyny. Susan Faludi talked about this phenomenon in her ovumnal 1991 book, Backlash. This is a book that’s worth rereading now or reading for the first time. This cover image is from the 2006 re-release of the book with a new forward by Faludi. In it, Faludi says the backlash is over and laments that while there have been gains for women since 1991, “We have used our gains to gild our shackles, but not break them.”(xvi)
But it’s not over. We’re living through it again now.
I’ve tried not to get caught up in the day to day debacles of election news. I’m trying to take the long view. In the long view, there is more at stake than simply who will be President, a Democrat or Republican. Americans have to ask themselves, will it be business as usual or will one more piece of the intersecting puzzle of oppression break? Will a woman, a qualified woman, a woman running against a uniquely unqualified man, a man so appalling he is a cartoon character, become President or will the cartoon character? If the cartoon character wins, so does the Backlash. Women will not have made a step forward, but will have taken innumerable steps back and with them will follow every other group seeking equity.
Faludi’s work tells us that the backlash is real, it can succeed and it does succeed. But it also shows us how desperately those who hold power will cling to their power, the measures they will go to, and how, as their desperation becomes increasingly apparent the more likely they are to lose. The backlash, in other words, is a good thing. It is evidence that we are winning.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world watches to see if the promise of America will hold or if we will be witness to another failure of the American experiment. Wouldn’t it be surprising if it were not unfettered capitalism or the open sore of racism, or even another expensive and failed military misadventure that brought America to its knees but if it were plain old sexism?
To be clear, I don’t want to see the US brought to its knees. I don’t want them to be made an international laughing stock. I’m quite fond of America and Americans and even lived there for a while. I want the American experiment to succeed. I’m cheering for the good guys. I want a US that says, “We’re working on it. Really. Here’s some proof. We elected a woman President. We didn’t let the most obviously misogynist (insert more adjectives here) man in the modern history of our country take charge. We strive to be better tomorrow than we are today.” After all, the American project is about the pursuit, isn’t it? It’s very nature is optimistic, and I want optimism to prevail.
So, rather than waste another second tracking the appalling antics of the man, why not go back to Susan Faludi’s book Backlash instead? It’s easy to apply her analysis to today’s events and gain some insight into why, exactly, the ground is shaking at this particular time in this particular way. I am convinced the revelations about the despicable man will continue so that even his most loyal backers are offered multiple opportunities to see clearly. If his race baiting didn’t open their eyes, then maybe his insults to people with disabilities might. Or veterans. If that doesn’t do it, then maybe his creepy sexual objectification of his own daughter will. If that doesn’t cut it, then maybe his business failures might. Something has to clear the film from their eyes. If that doesn’t flip the switch, maybe hearing him brag about sexual assault will. But rest assured, the opportunities for clarity are a gift and will be offered until they are no longer needed.
Or if you think Faludi is too old or too second wave or too (insert adjective here), spend your time reading more modern feminst analyses, those that are intersectional in nature. Here’s a list of blogs to get you started. It will do you a lot more good than watching another video of that man insulting someone and your intelligence.