The New Authoritarians Are Waging War on Women
Donald Trump’s ideological cousins around the world want to reverse the feminist gains of recent decades.
To understand global Trumpism, argues Valerie M. Hudson, a political scientist at Texas A&M, it’s vital to remember that for most of human history, leaders and their male subjects forged a social contract: “Men agreed to be ruled by other men in return for all men ruling over women.” This political hierarchy appeared natural—as natural as adults ruling children—because it mirrored the hierarchy of the home. Thus, for millennia, men, and many women, have associated male dominance with political legitimacy. Women’s empowerment ruptures this order. “Youths oppress My people, and women rule over them,” laments Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible. “My people, your leaders mislead you.”
Because male dominance is deeply linked to political legitimacy, many revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries have used the specter of women’s power to discredit the regime they sought to overthrow. Then, once in power themselves, they have validated their authority by reducing women’s rights. In a 1995 paper, Arthur Gilbert and James Cole of the University of Denver observed that French revolutionaries made Marie Antoinette a symbol of the immorality of the ancien régime and that Iranian revolutionaries did the same to Princess Ashraf, the “unveiled and powerful” sister of the shah. After toppling the monarchy, the French revolutionaries banned women from holding senior teaching positions and inheriting property. Ayatollah Khamenei made it a crime for women to speak on the radio or appear unveiled in public.
Some of the revolutions of the Arab Spring followed a similar course. In their book, The Hillary Doctrine, Valerie Hudson and Patricia Leidl note that when the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi replaced the longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Morsi quickly announced that he would abolish the quota guaranteeing women’s seats in parliament, overturn a ban on female circumcision, and make it harder for women to divorce an abusive husband. After Muammar Qaddafi’s ouster, the first law that Libya’s new government repealed was the one banning polygamy.
Trump, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Orbán, and their ilk aren’t revolutionaries. But they, too, use gender to discredit one political order and validate another. Each describes the regime that preceded him as illegitimate: Trump claimed that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States and thus wasn’t eligible to be president under the Constitution. Bolsonaro and Duterte accused previous governments of tolerating unacceptable levels of crime. Poland’s Law and Justice Party claimed that its predecessors were beholden to Russia and the European Union.
In each case, Trump and his ideological cousins tied their predecessor’s illegitimacy to women’s power. And in each case, their efforts to denigrate and subordinate women cemented—for their supporters—the belief that the nation, having been turned upside down, was being turned right-side up.
It’s easy to see how this worked for Trump. He made Hillary Clinton—the first woman ever nominated for president by a major party—the personification of America’s corrupt political system. But rather than credibly promise to cleanse America of corrupting financial interests, he promised his supporters—the majority of whom told pollsters that America had grown “too soft and feminine”—a government cleansed of the corruption of one particular villainess.
Outside Trump rallies, vendors sold T-shirts showing Trump as a bare-chested boxer towering over a suggestively posed Clinton. trump 2016. finally someone with balls read one pin. Declared another: don’t be a pussy. vote for trump in 2016. Inside the rallies, crowds chanted “Lock her up,” a taunt never directed at Trump’s male primary rivals. Again and again, Trump responded to women who challenged him politically—Fox News’s Megyn Kelly, his rival presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren—by calling them ugly. After his second debate with Clinton, he observed that she had “walked in front of me,” and “believe me, I wasn’t impressed.” The implication was clear: No matter how high a woman ascends, she’s ultimately just a body whose value is determined by men.
Commentators sometimes describe Trump’s alliance with the Christian right as incongruous given his libertine history. But whatever their differences when it comes to the proper behavior of men, Trump and his evangelical backers are united by a common desire to constrain the behavior of women. That alliance was consecrated during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, when Republicans raged against Judiciary Committee Democrats for supposedly degrading the Senate by orchestrating a public hearing for Christine Blasey Ford, who had accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault. At a rally, Trump took aim at Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, whom he called “another beauty”—at which point the crowd began chanting “Lock her up.”
More: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/ar ... te/576382/