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After four years of misogyny, we must stand up for women

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, to be celebrated on March 8, is “Choose to Challenge.”

Women taking part in a protest to mark the International Women's Day in Barcelona, Spain, on March 8, 2020.
Women taking part in a protest to mark the International Women's Day in Barcelona, Spain, on March 8, 2020.
REUTERS/Nacho Doce

I read a disturbing story in The New York Times on Feb. 18. It began like this:

Last fall, the Pentagon’s most senior leaders agreed that two top generals should be promoted to elite, four-star commands.

For the defense secretary at the time, Mark T. Esper, and Gen. Mark A. Milley, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the tricky part was that both of the accomplished officers were women. In 2020 America under President Donald J. Trump, the two Pentagon leaders feared that any candidates other than white men for jobs mostly held by white men might run into turmoil once their nominations reached the White House.

Mr. Esper and General Milley worried that if they even raised their names — Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost of the Air Force and Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson of the Army — the Trump White House would replace them with its own candidates before leaving office.

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The decision was made to delay the recommendations until after President Joe Biden was in office. The Pentagon is expected to send them to the White House soon.

What is the legacy of four years of misogyny from the most powerful person in the most powerful country on the planet?

Many of us thought that Trump’s political career had crashed with the October 2016 release of Trump’s “pussy-grabbing” remark on the Access Hollywood tapes. But the opposite happened: It cemented his image of masculine power demonstrated through sexual assault and male aggrandizement. This image is almost cartoonlike in its grandiose depiction of male supremacy. The extent to which it resonated deeply with men throughout the country, however, was frightening. They latched onto white Christian masculinity and supremacy to attack diversity, pluralism, and above all, women’s power.

Emily Gray and Emma Peck reflected in HuffPost (Jan. 14) after the Jan. 6 mob stormed the Capitol:

A misogynist in chief, fighting back against the perceived threat of a world populated by increasingly powerful women ― like Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi ― was incredibly appealing to the aggrieved white men we saw Wednesday rampaging through the Capitol.

The image of Richard Barnett sitting at a desk in Nancy Pelosi’s office with his feet up makes perfect sense ― that’s a guy showing a woman who’s really in charge. Elevating his masculinity by taking down a powerful woman. …

Another man, 36-year-old Adam Johnson, stole Pelosi’s lectern — in other words, an attempt to silence her. Both Barnett and Johnson have since been arrested.

What we saw Wednesday was sort of like Toxic Masculinity’s last stand; a reassertion of male power, of the entitlement to violence, to being outside of the rules.

In considering violence, the Southern Poverty Law Center distinguishes between white supremacy and white nationalism. White nationalism, according to the SPLC, is essentially supremacy run amok, seeking the eradication of all nonwhites. Not the oppression of them, the SPLC notes, but the eradication.

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Can we extend misogyny beyond oppression? The data below for women in the U.S. suggests that we are far beyond oppression.

  • 1 in 4 college women will be sexually assaulted.
  • There are 3 million incidents of intimate partner violence each year. 1 in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner.
  • A woman is assaulted or beaten every 9 seconds.
  • Women constitute 65% of the victims of murder-suicides.

In 1989, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women began compiling an annual “Femicide Report” to document gender-based violence resulting in deaths of Minnesota women and girls. The purpose was to honor the victims and to raise an alarm about this almost-invisible crime.

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The victims were from the cities, suburbs, and rural communities. They were wealthy, middle-class, and poor. They were white and nonwhite. They were young and old.

They were our neighbors, our community, our sisters, aunts, mothers, daughters, and friends.

photo of article author
Ellen Kennedy
They were silenced. That was also a goal of the insurrectionists: to silence people they perceived as their opposition. Steal Nancy Pelosi’s lectern.

According to The New York Times, Trump said to Mike Pence that fateful January day, “You can either go down in history as a patriot, or you can go down in history as a pussy.” The worst thing Trump could say to Pence: You are a female.

There is a direct link between women’s political representation and women’s safety, equality, and justice. What does representation look like in Washington and at the Minnesota Legislature?

  • The number of women in the U.S. Senate ever, since the Senate began convening in 1789: 58.
  • The number and proportion of women in the U.S. Senate today: 24, which is 24%.
  • The number of women in the U.S. House of Representatives, a body of 465 members: Women have held a total of 345 seats – in 232 years. Today: 119, or 27%.
  • In state legislatures throughout the country, women total 31%.
  • In Minnesota, there are 51 women in the House (38%) and 21 in the Senate (31%).

The majority of people in the U.S. are female, about 51%. The inference is clear: Women’s voices must get louder.

In 1975 the United Nations designated March 8 as International Women’s Day. But the origin goes back to New York City in 1908. Thousands of women garment workers went on strike against low wages and sexual harassment in their workplaces. Their protests went on for a year, and on Feb. 28, 1909, a year later, a National Women’s Day was organized. The following year this led to an international movement.

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This year’s theme is “Choose to Challenge.” We need to challenge misogyny, silence, fear, oppression, and eradication. The time is now. The time is always now – to appoint those four-star generals and to stand up.

***

On International Women’s Day, March 8, 7-9 p.m. CST, World Without Genocide will host a public webinar, “Ending Impunity for Femicide in Guatemala.” Speakers are Victoria Sanford, Ph.D,. and Ana Maria Mendez Dardon, J.D., international leaders in advocacy and justice for women. Registration is due by March 7. $10 general public, $5 students and seniors, $25 Minnesota lawyers for 2 Elimination of Bias CLE credits, free to Mitchell Hamline students. Information here. at admin@worldwithoutgenocide.org

Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D., is the executive director of World Without Genocide at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. 

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