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Feminism after Donald Trump’s election needs a new discourse

analysis Updated: Nov 10, 2016 19:00 IST
Donald Trump

Demonstrators gather to protest a day after president-elect Donald Trump's victory, at a rally outside Los Angeles City Hall in Los Angeles.(AFP)

With the news of Donald Trump winning the 45th US presidency, the mood in many universities and Women’s Studies departments seems somber. Are we witnessing a resounding triumph of institutional misogyny, where grabbing women by their p****, body-shaming them and hurling invectives is par for the course--and does this mean America is still not ready for a female President?

Did racism and homophobia compound the sexism such that the victory of a KKK-endorsed candidate reflects a largely white, working (and even middle) class heterosexual male backlash against the increased visibility of women, racial and sexual minorities in the public sphere? (Clinton won more counties where less than 50% of the population is white.)

Was the backlash also against legislation like the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, that had faced staunch opposition from ultra-conservative quarters right from its inception, including for its free reproductive health services? The president-elect has indicated that he will repeal the law, and may have the required votes to overcome any potential Democratic filibuster in the Senate, but the point to note is that even smaller legislative changes could weaken the Act in a way that has damaging consequences, especially for economically underprivileged women.

Does the electoral verdict then signal a monumental failure of President Obama’s hopeful message of diversity and equity against a backdrop of unemployment, social uncertainty, terrorism, and the excesses of partisan politics, as several commentators in the United States and India suggest? Finally, along with low voter turnout in many instances, were vast numbers of undecided voters, unencumbered by ideology and unattached to either candidate, voting against an elite establishment and for change? The answers may well be yes, but there is more.

At the farmers’ market in Kerry Town, an old white woman selling me artichokes says Trump is “authentic.” She does not have fancy degrees from Oxford and Harvard like many of us, but her remark is intriguing. Authenticity implies working through choices, the layers of existential angst that keep us in “bad faith,” and bring actions in line with stated values. Sexually predatory behavior by entitled males was critiqued frequently in this election; the unfortunate truth, however, is that while the Obamas appeared authentic in this regard, the Clintons did not.

Nor do affirmations of women’s rights and human rights ring authentic when it comes to American governments condoning the rights abuses of ally-nations and their funding of Wahhabi-Salafi terrorism (a model for others.) This is also true in India where, caught between various religious brotherhoods and their brocialist counterparts, issues such as the abolition of triple talaq end up being opposed in-toto, even by those who support women’s rights. Those interested in a gender analysis might also want to re-examine past and present faultlines within feminist thought. There are multiple feminisms, including liberal, socialist, postmodern, postcolonial, feminisms of faith (such as the work of Margaret Farley, a Catholic feminist who taught at Yale Divinity School, and suffered backlash from the Vatican for her book ‘Just Love’), their intersections. When to emphasize difference and when to pull together is an important lesson in the real world. That lovely line from a ghazal ‘Dil bhi ik zid pe adaa hai kisi bachche ki tarah, ya toh sab kuch hi ise chahiye ya kuch bhi nahin’ rarely works in a deliberative democracy. Speaking of which, the democratic mandate must be respected. While political pundits may be more cynical, educators will always speak of hope.

(The writer is a lecturer in Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan and also a visiting fellow at the university’s Center for the Education of Women. The views expressed are personal.)