As we lurch with uncertainty toward the US presidential elections next month, one topic just keeps resurfacing: women.
In fact, females, women’s rights, and femininity have not been used so focally in politics since British suffragette Emily Davison threw herself under King George V’s horse at Epsom Derby to draw attention to female suffrage in 1913.
The suffragettes gained notoriety in Britain for deploying militant tactics, including bombing, arson and chaining themselves to railings, to secure women’s rights, principally in the form of the right to vote.
A century later how far we have come, and yet, how many millions of miles we have left to trudge before the battle is fought and won?
The modern suffragette has changed form: she is largely preoccupied by responding to Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump’s remarks about women (more on that later). She speaks on social media, she commoditizes campaigns to raise awareness and she isn’t necessarily female.
Trump, of course, is no such suffragette. Quite the opposite. But his comments — dismissive at best, vicious, grotesque and predatory at worst — have ignited the movement. Women all over the world are coming together, in an unparalleled manner, to raise awareness of female rights, consent, and women’s roles in today’s world.
The most monstrous of Trump’s innumerate observations was revealed earlier this month, when a tape from 2005 was leaked to The Washington Post. In the recording, Trump is discussing women with entertainment host Billy Bush, before meeting actress Arianne Zucker. “I’ve gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait… And when you’re a star they just let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy, you can do anything.”
The revolting comments rightly received global damnation: Democrat Barabra Boxer tweeted that Trump was ‘beyond vile and disgusting.’ Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte released a statement saying that Trump’s comments are ‘totally inappropriate and offensive.’ Trump’s rival, Democratic Nominee Hillary Clinton said ‘this is horrific. We cannot allow this man to become president.’
Trump himself skirted around a ‘sorry,’ stating ‘anyone who knows me, knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize. I pledge to be a better man tomorrow.’ He similarly dismissed the conversation as ‘locker room’ banter.
One of the many problems with all this is — as the postmodern suffragette is quick to point out — that this incident is not isolated. In the same recording, Trump brags ‘I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.’ He has referred to women as ‘fat,’ ‘pig,’ ‘bimbo,’ ‘slob.’ He has stated that women who undergo abortions deserve ‘some form of punishment.’
Breast feeding, he told new mother and lawyer Elizabeth Beck, is ‘disgusting.’ He has made crass remarks about menstruation. On female journalists, he said ‘it doesn’t really matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.’ A dossier entitled Women According to Donald Trump would make a desperate, depressing, demeaning and delusional read.
My grandmother was a suffragette; she would be voting for Trump today. https://t.co/Rp7QoDS22I
— Grammy (@DeannaChristia9) October 14, 2016
But women are rising up. Trump, who to all intents and purposes thinks very little of women and their value in society, has sparked a movement — that of the social media suffragette.
You could say that First Lady Michelle Obama is the figurehead of the movement. Unlike her husband, Michelle Obama goes out of her way to be politically apathetic. Now she has spoken out. Apoplectic with passion, Obama delivered a speech responding to Trump’s so-called banter, calling his comments ‘cruel’ and ‘frightening,’ and further telling her transfixed audience ‘this is not normal. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. And it doesn’t matter what party you belong to… no woman deserves to be treated this way, none of us deserves this kind of abuse… To dismiss this as every day locker room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere.’
She’s by far not the only powerful political female joining the movement. Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke out after Trump referred to Clinton as a ‘nasty woman.’ Warren said ‘nasty women have really had it with guys like you. And on November 8th, we nasty women are going to march our nasty feet to cast our nasty votes to get you out of our lives forever.”
The suffragettes are making music, too. Russian punk group Pussy Riot have released a song, Straight Outta Vagina. Lyrics include ‘don’t play stupid/ don’t play dumb/ vagina’s where you’re really from!’ Band member Nadya Tolokonnikova confirmed that the song is ‘an answer to Trump,’ telling the British press that ‘sexuality is much bigger than any populist megalomaniac man … Vagina is bigger than Trump.’
Canadian singer Kim Boekbinder has released a song entitled Pussy Grabs Back, with the lyrics ‘we’re not daughters, not wives/ we’re humans, with lives on November 9th/ we’re gonna rock it,’ the proceeds of which are going to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
The producers of the historical movie drama Suffragette, starring Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep, which was released a year ago, must be kicking themselves the film wasn’t coming out now as it would have chimed with the times far more than anything else currently on release.
#PussyGrabsBack has been trending on social media, with t-shirts and baseball caps being churned out by factories across the globe. Athletes too have spoken out. Oaklands Athletics baseball pitcher Sean Doolittle tweeted, ‘As an athlete, I’ve been in locker rooms my entire adult life and, uh, that’s not locker room talk.’ Countless other household names on the social media site joined him in rejecting Trump’s heinous remarks.
It’s an especially ‘modern world’ irony. The postmodern suffragette has been born. But born of Trump: the irrational misogynist who in a fortnight’s time might just be the new leader of the free world.