During the invasion of Afghanistan in 1990, Laura Bush tried to drum up support by proclaiming, The Taliban are not nice to women. The purpose of the war was not to rethink gender imbalance in the East or the West. The atrocities meted out to women within Islamic fundamentalist religions and regimes were well known and documented. It is a GOOD THING for whatever reasons that attention was paid in even the most cautious form to the terrible misogyny and sexism in Afghan culture. Should that same attention have been directed at all religions and sexist societies? Yes. Did it happen? No. It would have been great if that had happened. Instead the press and opponents of feminism and lots of women who considered themselves feminists focused their attention on how feminism was co-opted by the Bush administration and the oil-hungry corporations financing the government. It surely would have been possible to name Laura Bush’s ploy and also seize the opportunity, as some women did in this period, to go head to head with the Taliban on the issues of mutilating, murdering, raping and forcing into marriage girls and older females. That the emphasis was on the co-optation of feminism and not on the insights and activism of feminists is part of sexist culture. That is how sexism works. Always make something more important than the insights feminists bring to gender inequality, and always find a way to tar feminism as a movement because of the ways it can be cynically invoked.
Here we are again with the “Me-too” movement. The “Me-too” movement is A GOOD THING. It is an outpouring from hundreds of thousands of women desperately frustrated by the cultural turn in our moment, where sexual predators and Nazis and white supremacists have seized power in the US and other parts of the world, regimes that mock and jail as in the case of Putin and Pussy Riot opponents of even the most blatant forms of male supremacy. The “Me-too” movement is not looking at the roots of sexism and male privilege in a systematic way. It can’t. It’s a spontaneous uprising, and the focus is on sexual harassment and sexual predation and sexual misconduct because women have been deeply injured by these practices, because they do not want to collaborate any longer, and because sex will sell any public conversation.
In five minutes the dumbest and least subtle factions of women who consider themselves feminists are making no distinctions between rapists and clodish losers who have power and cop feels. They are advancing sexual shittiness as the most important shittiness in the culture when there are so many other really bad shittiness attached to male supremacy that do not directly involve sex. They are re-inscribing the image of feminism as sex panicky. They are making it easy, as it has always been easy, to turn people off feminism by saying it will take away your orgasms. And they have, alas and surely unwittingly, made the “Me-too” movement a tool of the most reactionary and sexist forces in Congress.
HERE IS WHERE WE NEED TO THINK ABOUT COMPLEXITY. The revelations emerging from women about how the world treats women are good, important, necessary, and a great legacy of the work of the women’s movement for the past 50 or so years. Right on, sisters! It’s not an accident that dumb feminism has attracted the most attention. It is the way sexism works. Find a way to tar feminism as a movement because of the ways it is being cynically invoked. We need to allow ethics reviews to take place. We need to allow due process in situations where laws have been broken. We need to strengthen the legal system in regard to sexual harassment and sexual violence to make sure these crimes are tried seriously and fairly and not as has often been the case dismissed because of, wait for it, sexism.
So, in review, all public outing of sexism, misogyny, and the religious and cultural practices that engender and re-enforce sexual and other forms of violence against women IS A GOOD THING. Victimy, girly forms of feminism are popular with men and mainstream media because they are So what else is new. They don’t rock the traditional gender boat. They are manifestations of yes, sexism. The work remains as it has always been to insert a more radical understanding of feminism into the public conversation. To keep sex sexy. To oppose violence in all of its forms and name their gendered component. To remake the world so female humans and male humans are happier, freer, and not fighting all the time for the right to food, health care, housing, sovereignty over what their bodies wear, and fearless movement in public space.