The cumulative impact of political events in 2016 in the USA and the UK, specifically the UK EU referendum leading to the Brexit vote, and the election of Donald Trump as the 45th US President, has left those who suffered ‘defeat’ in those elections, not just feeling defeated but bereft: agonizingly bewildered and disempowered.
The fact that so many white women in the US saw Trump’s misogyny, racism and cavalier disregard for facts and evidence as no reason not to vote for him, punches a big hole in the feminist project and any idea of political ‘sisterhood’, not just in the US.
The fact that such a man could seduce large sections of the electorate by means of his unabashed misogyny, racism and lies (now called “alternative facts”); his concerted incitement of hatred and contempt for so may social constituencies; and his fostering of fear as a means to social control: this violent onslaught laid waste the grounds for mutuality, reciprocity and inter-cultural co-habitation.
The wall of misogyny and racism these political events have exposed, intensified and glorified, is not new, but has suddenly acquired an ‘official’ status and institutional power that aims to undo and bury the achievements that equality, environmental, and peace activists have worked for over so many years. The crude triumphalism delivering this hetero-patriarchal surge of testosterone adds to the misery of his diverse opponents/ victims.
In the wake of this biggest of political upheavals, and the second time in recent history that the clear winner of the popular vote has been prevented by the American Electoral College from claiming the presidency, neither screaming nor silence will serve us. American stand up Alec Baldwin screamed his protest and pain after Trump’s triumph, noting that we, the defeated, were expected to give up quietly. To shut up, roll over and accept defeat in silence. But in response to his call, it was clear his audience, like him, had other ideas.
Given the unseemly, ugly and deceitful campaigns waged, and the central roles played by racism and misogyny; given that all the signs are that under Trump’s administration, equality and social justice, healthcare, environmental protections and social care, and international collaboration, for example, will be relinquished as democratic values and goals, what is the evidence so far that the populations on both sides of the Atlantic, who reject the authority and legitimacy of these election results, will acquiesce and submit quietly?
Women take the lead.
Amidst the outrage and despair, the fear and uncertainty, Saturday 21 January 2017 offered us a sign of hope. The Million Women March in Washington DC, called at short notice to protest the Trump agenda, triggered a wave of solidarity rallies led by women in other US cities, as well as across the world, including London and Liverpool in the UK.
In DC many more people turned up than had attended Trump’s inauguration the previous day. The televised evidence is clear. The aerial filming of the gatherings in these cities provided stunning evidence of women’s power to initiate and lead, and of people power, as these events attracted (e.g. in Liverpool) the participation of men, babies and small dogs, and not just seasoned feminists, but adults (women and men) who have never attended a public demonstration in their lives, but had been moved by the seriousness of the situation to act (I’m drawing here on a conversation with a couple of strangers at the Liverpool rally of 1000 people outside St Georges Hall.)
In Chicago, the streets were so jam-packed with demonstrators, people couldn’t march as planned, but bore witness, shoulder to shoulder, in their great numbers. And to see so many people sporting bright pink knitted beanies with ‘pussy ears’ felt like feminist insurrection! Don’t think Trump could explain or dismiss that with his “alternative facts”. In Liverpool, one of the small placards read: “Pussies for Peace”. There were many other heartfelt, passionate, pointed and witty messages. All defiant. As ever, humour was wielded as powerful political ‘talkback’. We all felt better for it.
It was women of colour in the US who had initiated this wave of activism, allowing so many angry, despairing and frightened souls to take to the streets, to demonstrate that courage, hope, determination and collectivity were not in short supply, despite Trump’s ascendancy. As a start to 2017, this uprising will have saved many of us, and not just women, from feeling that the odds against truth and justice, equality and fairness, and global mutuality and responsibility had just become insurmountable. The joy of being present at one of these demonstrations, and/or witnessing them on TV or social media, cannot be underestimated as political and politicizing. Good news.
Meanwhile, we brace ourselves.
As Trump overreaches himself in his first week of office, pounding out one astounding edict after another at breakneck speed, he is leaving individuals, communities, organisations, politicians, journalists, diplomats and countries reeling in fear and disbelief. The enormity of what is being attempted by this peevish narcissist and braggart, who, like all bullies and dominators is used to thinking he is fireproof, untouchable, will surely trigger national and international efforts at defence and containment, hopefully short of war. Early impeachment would be an honourable start.
Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister, Teresa May, alone among national leaders, rushes over to the US to make friends and ‘do deals’ with Trump, as if it’s business as usual. Given May’s passion for fashion and ‘femininity’, I mused to a feminist friend in a text: “I wonder what she will decide to wear. . . and what shoes?!” She replied tartly: “May needs to remember that, whatever she wears, she’s just ‘pussy’ to him.” Will this fact assist or hinder the ‘special relationship’ May seeks?
Well she chose to turn up in a skirt, with bare legs, arriving in freezing weather. She obviously thinks her ‘femininity’ (her legs) will serve her in this political encounter. By talking to journalists on the plane, ‘flirtatiously’, about “opposites attracting each other” (referring to herself andTrump), she exposes her inadequacy as a responsible and competent political actor: she’s just a personally ambitious, rather conventional, middle class, heterosexual Tory woman, who lacks feminist antennae or motivation.
May appears to be approaching her meeting with Trump (a known sexual abuser and misogynist, who sees women as sexual targets and trophies, who can be “grabbed by the pussy” without complaint), as a heterosexual woman displaying her knees, thinking she can challenge or seduce his male dominance and emerge unscathed and victorious. She may be overestimating her prowess, and the power of clothes to seduce or intimidate (neither a ‘winner’). The press has already referred, delicately, to her “charm offensive”. Is she seriously going to try to flirt her way into this new special relationship? As opposed to raising, for example, the issue of women’s rights (including reproductive rights) as human rights, on behalf of her ‘sisters’ worldwide. Where’s a feminist when you need her?
May has also chosen Holocaust Memorial Day for this significant first visit to Trump. Not perhaps her most sensitive decision yet.
27 01 2017