In the post-election, pre-holiday lull here at my liberal new media company, outrage and anxiety have swiftly shifted back to apathy.
The big, bad, republicans have done the unthinkable—they won. In the wake of that, it’s easy to believe that there’s nothing we can do, and to just plain give up trying. We can find other equally important things to worry about: The weather is really drying out our skin! We have to figure out what to get our parents for Christmas! Lilly met a cute boy and she really really likes him but simply doesn’t know what to do!
The threats of losing our access to birth control, abortion, and legitimate claims to rape and sexual assault that loomed over us during the election seem ever more likely and real. One effective defense mechanism is simply to dissociate completely, and pretend that these increasingly likely scenarios are too absurd to transpire. But this behavior simply doesn’t work: the sense of urgency surrounding women’s issues cannot dissipate due to defeat, and now one of the biggest obstacles to true progress for young women might just be our own complacency.
There are numerous problematic facets of a Donald Trump presidency, one of them of course being his attitudes towards and about women. Trump’s old school misogyny has been on display since his campaign began; he’s done everything from rate women on a scale from one to ten (and claim that it’s nearly impossible for a woman to be a “ten” unless she has large breasts); assert that the greatest asset a woman possesses is her sex appeal, and furthermore suggest that if a woman is not attractive her overall worth is deeply diminished; he even was notoriously caught on tape bragging about the impunity his wealth and power awards him when it comes to something like sexually assaulting women.
Not only have Trump’s endless stream of offensive platitudes towards women proved extremely offensive and anachronistic, they also have the potential to have wide reaching repercussions. Time and time again, Trump has insisted that “nobody respects women more than me,” yet he’s also spouted the rhetoric that old white dudes have employed for decades: that women are trophies, accessories, valued for their bodies over their brains. That you can treat women like shit, and moreover, that if you do so they’ll respect you more for it.
Trump’s timewarped views harken back to days in which a woman’s place was considered to be, simply, in the kitchen. So, as a young woman who actually fucking loves being in the kitchen, yet also aims to engage with the world as the self-actualized, valid, and egalitarian individual that I am, I am faced with a complicated conundrum; must I take it upon myself to fight back against the ways that I tacitly reinforce harmful stereotypes?
Many liberal, intelligent, young women around me occupy a strangely paradoxical position. Our studies have made us acutely aware of the marginalization of women, and the naturalization of the myths like, say, a woman’s inherent need to nurture, but at the same time we often buy into narratives of femininity wholeheartedly.
My friends and I have a running joke: that when it comes down to it, although we’re disgusted by the right-wing’s archaic view of a woman’s place, and we all want fruitful and mentally stimulating careers worthy of our intellect, at the end of the day we really want to pamper our boyfriends with elaborate meals, purchase exciting new home appliances, and have babies. We genuinely take pleasure in fulfilling some sort of maternal itch that dominant norms assure us is only natural.
This does not imply a disconnect between our ideologies and our actions, but it does raise the question of at what point it becomes my responsibility to reject my adherence to something like, say, beauty ideals–even if this ends up putting me at a disadvantage in a society which privileges good looks.
Should I fight back against urges which reify my longing for a white wedding and to become a homemaker? Not because these goals are frivolous, but because they are exactly what patriarchal norms would have me believe are my true callings as a member of the fairer sex.
Although it is not compulsory for me to reject the idea of having a family in order to be a “good feminist,” I must reckon with the possibility that atavistic expectations of women are so entrenched in my psyche that I continue to justify them as individual wants rather than interpolated impositions, and, in doing so, inadvertently perpetuate practices and familial structures that keep women in subservience.
Because it’s possible that that impulse is the insidious power of hegemony at play.
So where do we go from here? How do we satisfy both our intellectual selves, who want to shatter stereotypes and be recognized for our value outside the home, and our social selves, who genuinely love cooking and children and taking care of one another. I think the first step is realizing that these two selves mustn’t necessarily be at odds.
Though society would have us choose between high-powered careers and fulfilling family lives, we need to recognize that it is the very implied distinction between the two as somehow incompatible which is flawed. Donald Trump’s flippant comment that pregnancy is “certainly an inconvenience for a business.” is the perfect example.
A president, and by extension a nation, that views pregnancy as an inconvenience–to be discouraged, avoided, or regarded with sympathetic and reluctant accommodation– is not only putting women at a disadvantage, it’s shooting itself in the foot! Putting systems in place that would allow women in business to thrive during and after pregnancy is a surefire way to boost our economy as a whole.
A necessary step for doing so would be breaking down this dichotomy between care and career.
Throughout history, there have been all sorts of way that “women’s work” has been invalidated. Things like emotional labor, childcare, and homemaking are jobs fall in the informal sector nine times out of ten. And, therefore, historically the women who have undertaken them have not been compensated for their time or energy.
We need to legitimize caregiving as an integral part of our economy: without it, families cannot flourish, children cannot learn and grow, society as we know it would screech to a halt. And, furthermore, we need to extend the torch of caregiving so that it encompasses all members of society–men too!
In a 1994 interview with NBC News, Trump again revealed his thoughts on a woman’s place, unearthing outdated and offensive beliefs, the legitimacy of which have long since been eradicated. He said; “I have days where, if I come home — and I don’t want to sound too much like a chauvinist, but when I come home and dinner’s not ready, I go through the roof.”
Cooking dinner, or taking care of a child, or cleaning a home, or comforting a friend are not simply tasks for women.
The answer to the question this piece grapples with: it isn’t me who needs to change. I do not need to deny joys that I take in caregiving in order to be a career woman, or a feminist, or a goddamn artist if I feel like it: because these things are not mutually exclusive. Instead, it’s high time that America finds a way to integrate alternative stories about what it means to be masculine and feminine, and to legitimize the skills and contributions of each individual.