In the midst of the #MeToo movement, it's easy to think that we've arrived at a turning point. So many stories are coming to light, and for once—finally!—it seems like abusers are actually being punished. Louis C.K.'s movie was pulled by its distributor, (opens in new tab) Kevin Spacey is being blackballed from projects (opens in new tab), and men across industries are resigning in disgrace. But we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves.
As much as this reckoning is the catharsis women have been waiting for, we can't let its dominance in the news cycle distract us from the truth: Since Trump took office, America's misogyny problem has only gotten worse.
[pullquote align='left']“This is exactly what sexists want: to be treated as if they are simply the flip-side of feminism—a normal part of cultural debate.”[/pullquote]
It's not that misogyny itself has increased—hatred of women never went away—but before Trump, sexists at least felt like they were on the margins of acceptable society. Now they're unashamed and emboldened. In a New York Times story (opens in new tab) about men in tech who are threatened by women merely wanting to work in the same field, "men's rights activists" with well-known histories of harassment (opens in new tab) were quoted as if they were experts instead of dangerous zealots (opens in new tab). This is exactly what sexists want: to be treated as if they are simply the flip-side of feminism—a normal part of cultural debate—rather than regressive bigots.
Even the outing of numerous sexual abusers has sparked additional sly forms of sexism—limp defenses of the men accused, insistences that their harassment wasn't "that bad, (opens in new tab)" and arguments that their actions happened a long time ago. (opens in new tab) Let's not forget that despite the attention famous abusers are getting right now, the most well-known alleged abuser of them all—our president—has not answered for the many accusations against him.
Experts in violence against women (opens in new tab) don't shy away from voicing concern that normalizing a president who bragged about assaulting women will mean an uptick in harassment and sexual violence. Indeed, researchers at Wharton say that there's been an increase in sexist male aggression (opens in new tab) since the presidential election.
The Trump administration itself is adding fuel to the fire. One of Betsy DeVos' first moves as education secretary was rolling back the Obama-era protections for campus victims of sexual violence. Her (supposed) reasoning? A lot of scaremongering about "PC culture" run amok—the very talking points supplied by misogynists and anti-feminist organizations she'd consulted with beforehand (opens in new tab).
Women's healthcare continues to be attacked, whether the target is Planned Parenthood at large or maternity care in specific Obamacare repeal efforts. Oh, and the Trump administration's obsession with mostly white male appointees (opens in new tab) means that decisions about women's lives will continue to be determined mainly by men.
No matter how good the sexual harassment reckoning feels or how overwhelming the current political climate gets, we can't afford to dismiss the president's well-known disdain for women (opens in new tab) as a simple character flaw independent of everything else happening around it. Trump's misogyny—past and present—matters. His sexism becomes the country's sexism. And the cycle carries on.
Jessica Valenti is a contributing editor to MarieClaire.com—read her weekly column here.
Jessica Valenti is a columnist and author of five books on feminism, politics, and culture. Her latest book, Sex Object: A Memoir, was a New York Times bestseller. Valenti is also editor of the ground-breaking anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape and the founder of Feministing.com, which Columbia Journalism Review called “head and shoulders above almost any writing on women’s issues in mainstream media.” She has a Master’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.
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