Why are so many women reluctant to call themselves feminists? It might be that widespread hostility toward men defines modern feminist movement.
Certainly that was the theme of Hillary Clinton’s remarks earlier this month, when she blamed her 2016 presidential loss on husbands pressuring white women to vote for Donald Trump. Clinton has since been widely criticized and apologized. But her comments suggest so much that is wrong with today’s feminist movement: it’s both anti-male and anti-woman at the same time.
Clinton said “all of a sudden white women, who were going to vote for me, and frankly standing up to the men in their lives and the men in their workplaces” were pushed to vote for Trump. These remarks certainly warranted loud criticism. But positioning men as bullies and women as suffering from political laryngitis is no surprise.
An anti-male drumbeat has carried the feminist movement for decades, intensifying in recent years with fears over a “rape culture” on college campuses, the clamor over “street harassment,” and last year’s “Day without Women” campaign, which sought to put a spotlight on the “economic injustices” set against women.
The modern feminist movement has advanced the narrative that most men, not just the Harvey Weinsteins of society, abuse women. Many of today’s feminists insist the preponderance of men harass, sexually assault, discriminate, and generally mistreat women. “A Day Without Women” suggested men wouldn’t care if women disappeared altogether.
Men Are Bad, Women Are Helpless
Of course, the #MeToo campaign demonstrates that a lot of women feel they have been treated badly, perhaps more than some of us may have wanted to recognize. That shouldn’t be ignored. In fact, I urge more conservative feminists to publicly accept some of these problems and not overlook real grievances.
But Clinton’s comments weren’t simply problematic because they cast men, once again, in a negative light. What was even more egregious but seemed to escape notice by some is that she also stripped women of any free will, a posture the modern feminist movement has increasingly adopted. Whether it’s a conversation about the so-called wage gap, the political gap between sexes, or sexual assault on college campuses, feminists more and more overlook how women make choices, and those decisions contribute to the realities of our society.
It’s hard to argue that women in America today don’t have more choices than ever before. But progressive feminists like Clinton frequently rob them of their free will by putting the problem—and the power—in the hands of men. One doesn’t have to be a Trump supporter, or even voter, to be bothered by Clinton’s willingness to refashion women as objects of their husbands’ political leanings rather than free agents of their own.
Women Are Free and Capable Beings
Some conservative women were deeply troubled by the Donald Trump they saw in the Access Hollywood video and on the campaign trail, and chose to vote for Clinton or a third-party candidate instead. Still other women chocked up his behavior to the way presidents have long talked and acted, and voted for him with the economy or health care or foreign policy as their guide. We can argue over the choices they made, but not the fact that women, not men, made them.
It’s encouraging to see how quickly and swiftly lawmakers criticized Clinton. Democrats like Sen. Dick Durbin, no doubt, worry less about the effects of her comments on feminism and more about the ripple effect they might have on the party as a whole. But beyond the politics, perhaps now is the time to change the conversation.
The reaction against Clinton suggests more Americans of all political stripes are ready to end the blanket hostility against men, and to remind women that despite the bad actors out there, they have more choices than ever before, and great sway over the kind of society they live in.
Progressive feminists like Clinton need to take a step back and realize that winning the game of sexual equality—or an election—doesn’t come from moving the goal posts. Feminists need to recognize that women will make choices at home, in the workplace, and in the voting booth, and they won’t always be the same choices. Feminists might not agree with a woman’s decision to study English, work part-time, or even vote for Trump, but these choices are the result of women’s free will, not the fault of men.
Of course, some might have thought Clinton couldn’t make any more bad choices. But she continues to, and for that, she has no one to blame but herself.