Feminism, dignity and tyranny

Someone in Iran has poisoned hundreds of schoolgirls with toxic gas, probably to drive girls away from schools.

In Tennessee forced-birthers are outraged that the legislature is considering a bill to make a clear abortion-ban exemption for life-of-the-mother cases (currently the doctor has to prove in court they were justified).A woman in Texas needed an abortion because one of her twins had fetal deformities and continuing the pregnancy would kill the other fetus. She had to leave the state to abort.

One college under Ron DeSantis’ thumb has closed its diversity, equity and inclusion office. DeSantis wants state colleges to drop the women’s studies major.

As Jamelle Bouie says: “The attacks on transgender people and L.G.B.T.Q. rights are of a piece with the attack on abortion and reproductive rights. It is a singular assault on the bodily autonomy of all Americans, meant to uphold and reinforce traditional hierarchies of sex and gender.

Politicians and those of us in the media tend to frame these conflicts as part of a “culture war,” which downplays their significance to our lives — not just as people living in the world, but as presumably equal citizens in a democracy. Democracy, remember, is not just a set of rules and institutions, but a way of life. In the democratic ideal, we meet one another in the public sphere as political and social equals, imbued with dignity and entitled to the same rights and privileges.”

I think that nails it. As another article put it, authoritarians everywhere crack down on feminism and gender equality because “gender is a way to express and promulgate core notions of identity and power at individual and structural levels.” Asserting that women (or gays, trans, POC, etc.) have equal rights, equal dignity with men, challenges the power of the hierarchy to decide who has worth. It undercuts the pride and arrogance of those who think they’re entitled to more dignity, more standing than anyone else.

Consider the deep right-wing conviction that women shouldn’t vote (another example here). As Frederick Douglass put it (quoted in the Bouie article), to “deny women her vote is to abridge her natural and social power, and to deprive her of a certain measure of respect.” A woman “loses in her own estimation by her enforced exclusion from the elective franchise just as slaves doubted their own fitness for freedom, from the fact of being looked down upon as fit only for slaves.” Conversely granting women the vote implies they’re equal citizens with men; misogynists would sooner drink rat poison.

The same applies to the ongoing outrage over women getting an education. Our misogynists aren’t as openly vicious as in Iran or Afghanistan but that’s more because society still restrains them than because they’re any better. It also applies to the view that it shouldn’t be women’s choice whether they become pregnant. Granting women dignity means they’re not means to men’s ends — and sexists and misogynists hate that.

Sexists began freaking out about feminist tyranny when second-wave feminism launched and they haven’t stopped. While women certainly have the capacity to be authoritarians — there’s no group that isn’t capable of it — feminists have never made an effort to strip men of their rights or dignity the way society, the right-wing in particular, has been trying to take away women’s since the anti-feminist backlash started in the 1980s. And the rights of everyone else who isn’t a straight, white, Christian male as well.

Misogyny is part and parcel of 21st century authoritarianism.

You can read more of my work about misogyny in Undead Sexist Cliches, available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers. Cover by Kemp Ward.

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Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

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