Progress on women’s rights has been enormous since I was a kid. Yet in recent years, there were some signs that progress might be stalling — and then Trump galvanized feminism again.
In Missouri, an acolyte of President Donald Trump is running for the U.S. Senate and denouncing “manophobic hellbent feminist she-devils.”
The candidate, Courtland Sykes, a conservative Republican, is seeking to oust a moderate Democrat, Claire McCaskill. That diatribe by Sykes is worth quoting as a window into the backlash against #MeToo and empowered women:
“I don’t buy into radical feminism’s crazy definition of modern womanhood and I never did,” Sykes wrote on his campaign’s Facebook page. “They made it up to suit their own nasty, snake-filled heads.”
“I don’t buy the nonstop feminization campaign against manhood,” he added. “I want to come home to a home cooked dinner at six every night, one that [my fiancée] fixes and one that I expect one day to have daughters learn to fix.”
Speaking of those daughters, Sykes clarifies: “I don’t want them [to] grow up into career obsessed banshees who … become nail-biting manophobic hellbent feminist she-devils.”
Sykes, who has not been endorsed by Trump and who seems unlikely to be elected, says that young women are turning against feminism because of distaste for Hillary Clinton: “They look at her personal life’s wreckage and didn’t want to become like her.”
Really? Sykes doesn’t seem to acknowledge the personal wreckage of his idol, our president, a serial adulterer who appears to have cheated on his three wives. Sykes is not alone in his myopia there: A new Quinnipiac poll finds that 72 percent of Republicans consider Trump a good role model for children.
(It’s tough to know whether Betrayed Wife No. 3 agrees; she wore to her hubby’s State of the Union address a white pantsuit of the kind that Clinton made a symbol of feminism.)
Progress on women’s rights has been enormous since I was a kid and Margaret Chase Smith was the only female senator (she had to line up with tourists for bathroom breaks, as there was then no restroom designated for female senators). As recently as 1987, only half of Americans said that it was always wrong for a man to beat his wife with a belt or stick.
Yet in recent years, there were some signs that progress might be stalling — and then Trump galvanized feminism again. Many women, and some men, were horrified that a man who boasted of sexual assault could be elected president. An astonishing 390 women are now running for Congress.
Men like Sykes reflect the other dimension, the powerful backlash fueled by a combination of male resentment, anxiety at social change and a newfound freedom in the Age of Trump to say things that were previously beyond the pale.
Backlashes go way back, of course. After Mary Wollstonecraft published her “Vindication of the Rights of Woman” in 1792, laying the groundwork for discussions of gender equity, Horace Walpole mocked her as a “hyena in petticoats,” and she was savaged for her “whoredoms.”
Flash forward, and Breitbart reflected the same ethos when it published an article declaring “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.” But this isn’t just a battle of the sexes, and one reason for hope is that youth and education are sometimes better predictors of attitudes toward women’s rights than gender is. Last year for the first time, Gallup found that a majority of Americans don’t care whether their boss is a man or a woman; Americans under 35 actually prefer a female boss over a male boss by 14 percentage points.
The most important trend in the world, I believe, is the empowerment of women. This is transforming society and the global economy (although researchers believe that the world would still be $28 trillion richer if gender gaps were bridged).
Why is a man writing this column? Frankly, because women’s rights aren’t “just a woman’s issue,” any more than civil rights were “just a black issue.” We all have an interest in a more fair society — and if only women speak up for gender equity, they may be dismissed as shrill “hyenas.”
What matters above all are policies. That means pushing for easier family leave, better child care, more women on boards, and cracking down on sex trafficking and domestic violence. It means helping teenage girls avoid pregnancy, providing locations at work for moms to express milk, and confronting the general tendency to defer to male self-confidence rather than female expertise. It means a determined effort to hold accountable sexual predators even when they’re not Hollywood figures but simply factory supervisors or shift managers at a McDonald’s.
Of course there will be disagreements about policies or about where to draw lines — about what to make of Aziz Ansari and how to distinguish between the Harvey Weinsteins and the Al Frankens. But those controversies are secondary.
The fundamental fault line today is between those working toward broader opportunity and those yearning for a mythic past before feminists developed “nasty, snake-filled heads.” To be on the right side of history, we should all, men and women alike, stand on the side of the she-devils.