in 2016, feminism is as relevant as ever
We talk a good game about sexism, but still aren't comfortable with women stepping out of traditional gender roles.
Patriarchy - so last century, am I right? It's 2016! Women are no longer chattel, they have equal access to all the pole-dancing classes they can stomach, and woke brogressives on Twitter tell me feminism is now about "people," not "women," because, I presume, women don't need liberating anymore.
At the same time, celebrities are taking on the feminist label more than ever before, the coolest girls Instagrammed photos of themselves in "The Future is Female" sweatshirts all year, and the #notokay hashtag (spurred by Kelly Oxford's request for sexual assault stories) exploded, with millions of women tweeting their own "grab them by the pussy" experiences.
Despite the apparent popularity of the word "feminism," ongoing conversations about things like rape culture, and the ever-popular claim that women are now "privileged," not oppressed, sexism doesn't seem to have gone anywhere.
The biggest story of Donald Trump's Presidential campaign should tell us as much. The recording of the Republican nominee bragging about sexually assaulting women to Billy Bush was met with mass revulsion, but to what end?
While women responded by sharing stories of trauma, men distanced themselves from Trump-like behaviour - we don't speak like that, they said collectively. When Trump defended himself by claiming his words were simply "locker room talk," men asked, "What locker rooms have you been hanging out in?" Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, responded by pointing out that "There is a big difference between saying dirty words and glorifying non-consensual sexual contact." Howard Stern, who gained recognition as a shock jock -- inviting strippers and Playboy bunnies onto his radio show to spank or engage him in porny chit chat, making rape jokes, mocking the appearances of various women and talking about giving "hot beef injections" to the rest (supposedly he's redeemed himself since) -- said of Trump's comments, "All the times I've been around guys — and believe me when I'm around guys 85 percent of the time you're talking about pussy but I have never been in the room when someone has said 'grab them by the pussy.'" Even Hustler's Larry Flynt, who once put an image of a woman in a meat grinder on the cover of his magazine, claimed to be "disgusted" by Trump's comments, and put up a $1 million reward for more "scandalous" recordings.
By the sounds of it, not only women, but men are fed up with misogyny. Right?
While the public very much enjoys paying lip service to things like sexual assault, women's empowerment, and what they call "gender equality," most people are unwilling to do the dirty work of addressing the root cause of sexism.
I mean, what is the purpose of these mass expressions of anger at Trump's behaviour when men like Flynt continue to produce and profit from degrading, objectifying imagery of women? As much as I agree with Noah that "sexual assault talk" should not be the same thing as "sex talk," the truth is that they are not as separate as we like to think. By this I mean that rape culture is part of our culture - it is something we, as a society, are responsible for. While it surely men would prefer to see themselves as "good men" who would never disrespect women -- inside or outside a locker room -- that is simply not true. Most men learn to objectify women and are socialised to believe women's bodies, on some level, exist for their pleasure. Most men continue to buy into the notion that women are inherently "feminine" and, therefore, subordinate, whether or not they understand or acknowledge this. It is these ideas that allow rape culture to thrive. Donald Trump didn't come up with this all on his own…
Though Stern distanced himself from Trump's comments, it's not as though he's innocent either. In an appearance on Stern's radio show in September 2004, he asked Trump if he could call the real estate mogul's daughter, Ivanka, a "piece of ass." (Trump approved.) When Trump came on the show in October 2006, Stern commented that Ivanka "looks more voluptuous than ever." (Trump agreed.) While Trump's responses to these kinds of comments are repulsive, Stern's comments aren't any better. "Locker room talk," indeed.
The recent response to singer Lily Allen's visit to the refugee camp at Calais known as the Jungle shows that sexist gender stereotypes have a hold on the public in yet another way. After Allen met a 13-year-old boy from Afghanistan who risked his life trying to get into the UK, she apologised "on behalf of my country" for having put him and others like him in danger. "We've bombed your country, put you in the hands of the Taliban and now put you in danger of risking your life to get into our country," she said, breaking into tears. Allen, who has not shied away from speaking out against objectification, harassment, and other forms of misogyny, was widely mocked, called ignorant and treated as though she were a silly little girl, faking emotion for attention. The Sun portrayed Allen as an immoral drunk, labelling her an "attention-seeking mum" who should "say sorry for her own mistakes" before apologising on behalf of Britain.
The message is the same one women have received for centuries: we are too emotional and stupid to have opinions about important things like politics and human rights. We should sit down and shut up, because the public sphere is no place for a lady.
Women in the public eye are routinely eviscerated, not only by right wing men, but by self-proclaimed progressives as well. You can look to the misogynist treatment women like Hillary Clinton, Lena Dunham, and Leslie Jones have been subjected to, all of whom broke the rules by stepping out of line, into spaces and roles historically reserved for men. They are still supposed to be for men - which means either fuckable sex objects or wives and mothers. Men still won't accept women who dare to exist, be seen, and speak in public without catering to the male gaze.
No matter how much society distances itself from men like Donald Trump, we are all culpable, still very much stuck in our ways and unwilling to direct our anger at the real enemy: patriarchy, and the gender hierarchy that says women should be seen and not heard, only allowed to exist in public in very limited ways.
Meghan Murphy is a writer from Vancouver, B.C. Her website is Feminist Current.
Text Meghan Murphy
Image via Twitter