In a warmly received speech, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the rolling cultural conversation in the West on harassment in the workplace and entrenched gender inequities. “MeToo, TimesUp, the Women’s March — these movements tell us that we need to have a critical discussion on women’s rights, equality and power dynamics of gender,” he said. “Sexual harassment, for example, in business and in government, is a systemic problem and it is unacceptable. As leaders we need to recognize and to act to show that truly time is up.”
Trudeau, of course, happily identifies as a feminist. He assembled a half-female cabinet when he took office, a move he said was an overdue reflection of the times. But there are plenty of other world leaders who don't quite seem to agree.
But Trump's suggestion that he's “for everyone” is not as benign as he makes it sound. “Trump and many of his supporters ... have reduced feminism to an ideology rooted in hostility toward men,” my colleague Eugene Scott wrote. "In telling Morgan that he is not a feminist because he is 'for men,' the president reinforces the belief prevalent among critics of feminism that to be 'for women' means to be 'against men.' "
As Scott goes on to explain, this is not a narrative unique to Trump. On the American right, myriad women invoke the “anti-men” argument when pushing back against “left-wing” feminism. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said last year that she was “neither anti-male or pro-abortion,” and hence not a “classical” feminist. “Trump's steadfast rejection of feminism will continue to endear him to his base — something he appears deeply mindful of when formulating policies on cultural issues,” Scott observed.
Like clockwork, far-right British gadfly Nigel Farage echoed the president's line, saying he was not a feminist and didn't even understand “what it means” to be one.
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shepherded his own nationalist project with appeals to a mystical idea of womanhood. “Our religion [Islam] has defined a position for women: motherhood,” Erdogan said in 2014, in a speech where he insisted women could not be placed on an “equal footing” with men. “Some people can understand this, while others can’t. You cannot explain this to feminists because they don’t accept the concept of motherhood.”
This may seem a world away from Trump’s America, but it’s a reflection of a broader phenomenon: right-wing governments all wielding anti-feminism as a political cudgel. The enduring reality of the moment is that it remains a profoundly effective tactic.
But, in the United States at least, there’s a brewing backlash. A historic number of female candidates are competing for major office in the 2018 midterm elections. As of last week, 325 women were non-incumbent candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, along with 72 female members seeking reelection, according to NBC News. The vast majority of them are Democrats, moved to enter politics in the wake of Trump’s rise to power. Whether they succeed in bringing a new wave of American women to power, however, they may find themselves confronted by an all-too- familiar opponent.