Fighting back against anti-feminist backlash: Women can win the Trump era’s new culture war

By Amanda Marcotte, Salon,
29 December 2016. Anti-feminist backlash is all too real — but women are better
positioned than ever to fight for our rights

(Credit: Getty/Andrew Caballero)
Some things in life are
unfortunately inevitable: Pet lives are short, people get miffed too easily on
the internet, and you left someone off your holiday gift list and will be
scrambling to get them something at the last minute. In this category, we must
also include the inevitability of reactionary backlash to feminist progress.
History makes it clear that when women surge ahead towards equality,
conservative forces will rise up to slap them down, limiting and even, at times,
rolling back the progress that was made.
It happened in the
1950s, when shift towards women in the workforce in the 1940s was met with the
romanticization of housewifery and Marilyn Monroe-style female
submissiveness. It happened famously in the 1980s, when Phyllis Schlafly and the religious right were
able to stall a decade of feminist progress by killing off the Equal
Rights Amendment and getting Ronald Reagan elected president. It happened in
the early aughts, when third-wave feminism was met with an aggressive wave of
culture warfare fueled by evangelical Christianity that made “abstinence-only”
and “virginity pledges” into national
trends, supported by the deeply sexist Bush administration.
Now it’s happening again, with
the saucy feminism of the internet era giving way to a misogynistic Trumpian
“Before Nov. 8, it
looked as if the arc of history was bending toward women,”Michelle Goldberg of Slate recently wrote in a
 but persuasive article. “Trump’s victory has
obliterated this narrative.”
Goldberg predicts we are on the
precipice of an ’80s-style anti-feminist backlash, and reminds readers of how
dark those times were.
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Our Lives’
“In a time of backlash, women
will redouble their efforts to accommodate men, and the culture will celebrate
their choice in making that accommodation,” she writes. “[Feminists
will] try to maintain their morale, but living in total opposition to the
zeitgeist is hard.”
I wish it weren’t
so, but Goldberg is right. One of the surest signs that we’re about to enter a
period of serious anti-feminist backlash is watching so many left-leaning men
dig into feminism-shaming, writing self-serious bullshit about how the leftneeds
to end “identity politics” (which is code for feminism and anti-racism) anddismissing those who believe in equal
 in politics as “vagina voters.” I’ve personally
seen a bunch of supposedly liberal men harassing me online, claiming that my
feminism must mean that I’m sexually prudish. That’s especially fun for me,
since right-wingers are still fond of suggesting I’m a big ol’ slutty
abortion lover.
So that’s the bad news. The good
news is that the future has not yet been written, and feminists can do a lot
to fight back, mitigating the damage and even rolling the ball forward in
some areas.
It’s important to
remember that history is a complicated beast and that we’re rarely, if
ever, in a time of total backlash or total feminism. While women were
under a great deal of pressure in the ’80s to take a back seat to men, many
simply refused to play along. Women’s participation in the labor force steadily rose during that
. There was also a surge in the divorce rate, which,
while sad, also suggests that women felt free to end unhappy marriages rather
than put up with mistreatment from their husbands in that era of backlash.
Nowadays, feminists
have even more advantages. Women are getting college educations and
professional jobs at higher rates than ever before, and delaying marriage and childbirth at
even greater rates. It’s unlikely that those gains will be lost, even if a
bunch of loudmouth sexists feel empowered by Trump to tell women to get back in
the kitchen. Women simply aren’t going to start dropping out of school or
quitting their jobs en masse — and that matters, as the 80s and subsequent history
We also have the advantage of
social media. If there’s one thing the rise of the alt-right has shown, it’s
that social media can make it easy for a handful of opinionated people to
challenge hegemonic attitudes. In the past, backlashes were aided by a sudden
drop of interest from editors and TV producers in sharing feminist content, but
those gatekeepers have less power than ever before. They cannot unilaterally
decide to treat feminism like it’s out of style, if women continue to use
social media to promote it.
It is also true that a lot more
of those gatekeepers are women than used to be true, which should make it a lot
harder to shut feminist thought out of mainstream media.
The main thing for feminists to
learn from the ascendency of Trump and the anti-feminist backlash is not to be
afraid — and not to back down from a fight. The weapons that anti-feminists
will roll out against feminism — social policing and shaming, trying to make it
seem like it’s whiny or uncool to support women’s equality — can be used right
back, if backed with passion and forthrightness.