Sarah Kendzior is a St. Louis, Mo.-based commentator who writes about politics, the economy and media
One year ago Sunday, the largest single-day protest in U.S. history took place. The Women's March, which followed the inauguration of Donald Trump, consisted of over 650 marches of roughly five million participants. The organizers were women, most protesters were women, and the targets were the misogynists of the Trump administration and their repressive policies. Protesters warned of the new government's autocratic tendencies and planned persecution of the marginalized. Their warnings were not heeded by pundits clinging to the illusion of "checks and balances" or the "presidential pivot," but they were right.
One year later, women remain the backbone of the opposition to President Trump, and those opposing him comprise the majority of the electorate. You would not know this from reading many U.S. media outlets, which focus disproportionately on Trump voters, with papers like the New York Times even surrendering an op-ed page to them. On Saturday, an enormously popular second women's march caught the country by surprise, as there was little media attention to it paid beforehand despite the massive amount of preparation and participants involved.
The media's attempt to propel the illusion of a Donald Trump mandate was always fatuous, given that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but is particularly inept today, with 56 per cent of Americans and every demographic of women now disapproving of the President. Even white middle-aged women without a college education – the group of women with whom he performed best in 2016 – increasingly shun the President, with his approval plunging from 61 per cent last year to 49 per cent now.
Throughout 2017, women's resistance was not limited to fighting for gender equality; women were at the forefront of political resistance in general. Women dominated other large protest marches – particularly those focusing on science and the environment – and, at last count, made 86 per cent of phone calls to Congress. A record number of women are now running for political office. This flurry of female activism should surprise no one, given that the policies of the Trump administration, whether economic or social, disproportionately hurt women. In Trump's America, women are literally running for their lives.
Yet in the midst of this burgeoning transformation lies a sense of weariness and wariness. The #MeToo movement brought forth a desperately needed reckoning, but it also highlighted how entrenched sexual assault and gender bias are in American life. As some high-profile men finally faced consequences after decades of brutal behaviour, the U.S. President remained immune, despite being accused of sexual assault by 19 women. As the #MeToo movement receives its backlash, it seems more likely that powerful men like Donald Trump – protected by ruthless lawyers, money and a society conditioned not to believe women – will remain the norm, and men who face actual consequences the aberrations.
"[Men] hate us," wrote novelist Gillian Flynn in December, as #MeToo hit its stride and accused pedophile Roy Moore nearly won office. "That's my immediate thought, with each new revelation: They hate us. And then, a more sick-making suspicion: They don't care about us enough to hate us. We are simply a form of livestock."
This is a harsh but accurate description of gender dynamics in the U.S., where women, when not considered objects of predatory desire, are mostly excluded from public life. Women are the minority in Congress, in business, in media, and in every other field of public influence – an imbalance that builds upon itself, as women who call out sexism are demonized and male predators are protected. One alarming revelation brought by the #MeToo movement is that at least seven prominent journalists who negatively covered the Hillary Clinton campaign have been exposed as sexual predators, with most losing their jobs in 2017.
To wonder what might have happened had #MeToo emerged in 2016 is tempting; but the fact is, it might not have changed anything. Voters already knew about Donald Trump's misogyny and anti-women policies. And current female presidential contenders, like Kamala Harris or Kirsten Gillibrand, are being treated in a similar manner to Ms. Clinton – deemed "hysterical" or "too transparently opportunistic," descriptors that are rarely applied to men. It is difficult to picture a female president when those who dominate discourse abhor the concept so viciously and senselessly.
While in one sense, seeing the depths of misogyny acknowledged is validating, but the structural impediments for women remain formidable. But American women knew that a year ago. The movement was never about marches, it was about a change in mentality – an insistence that our pain and our rights be recognized.