Theresa May’s feminist gaffe.

 

In his first week in office, the new US President:

                  Trump has proclaimed war against the media, been accused of serial lying,      declared open season on environmentalists and undocumented migrants,                 outraged the Mexican president, begun stripping millions of Americans of healthcare coverage, removed funding to organisations that offer abortion advice or procedures, and revived the prospect of torturing terror suspects (Ed Pilkington, reporting from Michigan [28 01 2017] ‘Trump fans. ”I think he’s doing a phenomenal job”’, The Guardian).

Theresa May, UK Prime Minister, has shown haste in securing a meeting with Trump, at the head of the queue of other foreign leaders – except “all the others had thought better of it” (John Crace’s sketch [28 01 2017] ‘When the Donald met Theresa and not Teresa’, The Guardian). Given her increasingly hardline attitude to the UK’s Brexit process, this enthusiasm is disturbing.

Theresa May’s summit with Donald Trump conceals an ambitious, perhaps      desperate, British agenda: to enhance ties with strongman leaders in the US, Israel, Turkey and Poland as relations fray with key EU players, notably France and Germany (Simon Tisdall [28 01 2017] ‘Rights set aside as PM courts strongmen’, The  Guardian).

So is cosying up to leaders of countries with ultra-conservative and authoritarian domestic policies and rubbish human rights records going to replace established UK ties with, for example, EU social democracies? Do Trump’s claims that torture works and climate change is a hoax get to be sidelined in the building of the new ‘special relationship’ between the US and the UK?

The advent of Trump’s administration exemplifies hetero-patriarchal masculinity on parade: armed and dangerous, and coming to a life like yours. . . .

Inclusive, bold, feminist activism.
Ahead of Trump’s inauguration, women were on the move, planning a Women’s March in Washington DC, for 21 January 2017, his first day in office. As Kaylin Whittingham, president of the Association of Black Women Attorneys, announced:

A march of this magnitude, across this diversity of issues, has never happened        before. We all have to stand together as a force no one can ignore (cited Joanna Walters, reporting from New York [14 01 2017] ‘Inauguration of Trump is expected to be eclipsed by huge protest march of women’, The Guardian).

Beginning as a feminist rallying cry via social media, the call attracted more than 200 progressive groups and partners, representing issues including: the environment, abortion rights, prisoners’ rights, voting rights, a free press, affordable childcare, gun safety, racial and gender equality, and a higher minimum wage (cited Walters, ibid). Jessica Neuwirth, who heads the Equal Rights Amendment Coalition, called it “a comprehensive call for social justice and equal rights” (cited Walters, ibid.) And so it came to pass, and not just in Washington DC, but in other US cities and cities across the world. .) See ‘This looks like defeat. But all is not lost’ in Category ‘Comment 2017’ at togetherfornow.wordpress.com.

These worldwide demonstrations were not just protesting Trump’s social and political agenda as president. These demonstrations were feminist acts for all participants, as a stand against the man himself: the man who takes pleasure in threatening women’s rights (e.g. reproductive rights, going so far as to suggest that women who have abortions should be punished); the man “who mocks menstruation, and grabs vaginas’ (Hadley Freeman [28 012017] ‘No president cares more about size – let’s show Trump how many of us oppose him’, The Guardian Weekend).

 Misogyny and racism were key acknowledged triggers for these street uprisings in major cities worldwide. These were protests against the abuses perpetrated by hetero-patriarchal masculinity and sexualized male dominance. Widely described as narcissistic, Trump exemplifies the worst of this breed.

The problem isn’t men, but those men with narcissistic traits. Narcissists view their   needs, their entitlements, their ambitions, as far more real than anyone else’s. They brook no criticism, whether justified or not, and tolerate no humiliation. They will     punish those who try to thwart them . . . . to a narcissistic man such as this, no one               matters but himself. He is all-important. Because feeling superior is so essential to his being, and because his desire to have his superiority affirmed is bottomless, he is far more likely to casually indulge in misogyny, racism, class prejudice – you name it   – because the less like him you are, the less you could possibly matter (Deborah Orr [28 01    2017] ‘I grew up in a man’s world. I’ve seen the damage narcissistic men can do’, The Guardian).

Theresa May’s performance.
                  Their hands remained uneasily entwined as they walked down the colonnade                 towards the Palm Room. . . Trump started to creepily stroke and pat her hand. . . (John Crace, ibid).

The sight of May and Trump, hand-in-hand, in a ‘just-married’ pic, will have made a good few of the protesters on the Women’s Marches retch. She didn’t have to go that far; she chose to go that far, to display what she thought was her power as a woman prime minister. And in that display of heterosexual intimacy with this misogynist and racist, her ethical credibility was soiled; as a woman leader her efficacy was compromised; and any feminist awareness and commitment towards women as a diverse constituency, is dead in the water.

She chose to distance herself from the powerful feminist demonstrations of the 21 January, and the women and men who together bore witness to the importance of social justice issues, equality and human rights as central to democracies, and not mere ‘minority’ issues, optional extras. Her Tory individualism and personal ambition rule.

“Underpinning May’s approach was a kind of optimistic naivety tinged with arrogance” (Jonathan Freedland [28 01 2017] ‘Never mind the optics, May’s dash was mortifying’, The Guardian). Her deportment and body language, as well as her silence on key social justice and equality issues, made it clear she is prioritising the hard men of the extreme right (at home and abroad). She wants to be accepted as one of them, as equal: a populist and authoritarian leader. In a short skirt and heels.

29 01 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

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