Donald Trump has re-energised the women’s movement in the United States and beyond – just as we were being told feminism had gone out of style.
For a while now, some Millennials have broadcast their relentless moans about feminism being a stale and tired idea that belongs to their mothers’ generation.
At the same time, men who feel victimised by modern-day feminism have portrayed it as a radical movement run by angry man-haters.
And because it’s the sewer of social media through which these messages are broadcasted unedited, unrefined and in real time, their impact has been significant.
Women, who either haven’t read much history or who simply want to reflect the zeitgeist, have vacuously swallowed much of the claptrap that masquerades as informed commentary.
All round, feminism has been getting an awful lot of bad PR.
But now there is Hillary Clinton: a woman who is not afraid to call herself a feminist. Long before Trump was calling women ‘pigs’ and boasting about assaulting them by grabbing their genitals, Clinton was busy recruiting and promoting women. Aided by Trump’s callous misogyny, her efforts might just pay off.
Whatever happens in the presidential election, women appear set to make history in the congressional poll. A Politici.com op-ed argues Democrat women are poised to win a record number of seats in the Trump backlash, taking them over the 20 per cent mark in the House for the first time and 25 per cent in the Senate.
Long before Trump was calling women ‘pigs’ and boasting about assaulting them by grabbing their genitals, Clinton was busy recruiting and promoting women.
It’s quite a different picture in Australia. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop won’t call herself a feminist because she didn’t find the term “useful” – even as she knows that misogynists like Tony Abbott in her own party think it’s folly to expect women will ever approach equal representation because of their genetic makeup.
Bishop wasn’t alone in 2014 when she distanced herself from the F word. Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said she had won her pre-selection for Parliament “fair and square” adding, “no feminist ever helped me,” (whatever that means).
West Australian Senator Linda Reynolds said the “emotionally charged language of the past had had its day”. Liberal MP Fiona Scott said she didn’t think of herself as a feminist and Minister for Women Michaelia Cash said she did not associate herself with the feminist movement. Yes, she’s the Minister for Women.
In Australia and the US, many women have turned their backs on feminism: Millennial girls argue they are already equal (on paper only), or that they have never suffered discrimination (wait till you get a proper job), or that second wave feminist ideas and behaviour are too extreme (unlike having a Brazilian or tottering around in Louboutin heels). Poor Millennials – they just swallowed the anti-feminist propaganda put about by angry old men.
Clinton’s fight against Trump is symbolic of where the real feminist debate currently sits: a second wave feminist versus an unconstructed, privileged, old man who thinks he owns the world.
But there’s no time to be distracted by this. Clinton’s fight against Trump is symbolic of where the real feminist debate currently sits: a second wave feminist versus an unconstructed, privileged, old man who thinks he owns the world. It was ever thus, of course, but this fight is being played out on the global stage now, not just at the office or in the home or in the bar on a Friday night.
Regardless of who wins the presidential race, feminism is back in vogue – because Trump pulled out his ugly and abusive chauvinism and slapped it on the table for all to see. He might be an extremist of the type that many women don’t usually encounter, but all over the world he undoubtedly triggered in women’s heads the memory of that man who treated them with disdain, who talked over them, who neglected them, who forced themselves on them, who leered at them, who degraded them.
Feminists, as well as those women who won’t call themselves feminists (even as they benefit from its incremental progress) know that feminism is an unfinished fight for equality between the sexes, not a ideology that has passed its use-by date, not a lifestyle choice, not a fad, not something you stop identifying with because it doesn’t sound fashionable.
Millennials who once spurned Clinton now see her differently. As the election draws closer, polls show record high support from them. Among Millennials support for Clinton stands at 68 per cent (20 per cent for Trump). Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, it’s not Millennial women who are powering her surge, but young men.
But it might not matter. Baby boomers in the US (aged 52-70) make up about 31 per cent of the electorate, according to Pew research. Millennials (aged18-35) make up just under 31 per cent. The growth in Millennials tells us about their potential electoral power but if history is anything to go by, they won’t carry electoral weight because they are less likely to vote than their older counterparts.
Feminism is an unfinished fight for equality between the sexes, not a ideology that has passed its use-by date, not a lifestyle choice, not a fad, not something you stop identifying with because it doesn’t sound fashionable.
When Trump childishly called Clinton a “nasty woman”, there must have been many women, perhaps around the same age as Clinton, who felt the sting. Could these older women be the nasty women of second wave feminism? The nasty women that Senator Elizabeth Warren referred to when she defiantly declared: “Get this Donald: Nasty women vote. We are going to march our nasty feet to cast our nasty votes to get you out of our lives forever.”
If Clinton wins it will be a victory for all feminists, but more poignantly for second wave feminists – the ones who are not afraid to call themselves feminists. They are the ones who have lived long enough to be convinced of the urgency to defeat men like Trump so that women can stop having their time wasted on tedious debates about why its wrong to grab a woman by the pussy, and get on with the important job of ending the great injustice that men have forced on women for far too long.
Sushi Das is a journalist and author. Twitter: @sushidas1