I’ve been working with a friend –a former academic colleague–on a book about the causes and consequences of what Americans call the women’s movement. He’s a quantitative guy (I think he sleeps in a bed of data…) while I am rather clearly not, but we are both interested in the history of women’s emancipation–not just questions like “To what extent did the invention and widespread use of the birth control pill allow women to enter the workforce?” or “How did the change from jobs requiring brute strength to those requiring skill benefit women?” but also things like “what changes in social and cultural attitudes were triggered by women’s suffrage, political activity and workforce participation?”
We most definitely aren’t planning an academic/scholarly book. Instead, we hope to provide a journey of sorts, an accessible trip through the last hundred years or so, focusing on the causes and consequences of American women’s change of legal and social status.
The incredibly important question we will not be able to answer is “Is that progress–and we do see it as progress–reversible?”
There are movements in today’s America absolutely committed to that reversal, and the current “abortion wars” are only one aspect of their agenda, which involves a wholesale retreat from numerous aspects of contemporary American life, not just the emergence of us “uppity” women.
Common Dreams recently had an essay by Mike Lofgren, describing the merger of some of the most retrograde of those movements and reporting on the danger posed by the recent “teaming up” of religious extremists with far-right fascist groups.
Here’s his lede:
The Supreme Court’s disastrous rulings on prayer on public school property and abortion rights have finally focused proper attention on the role of religious extremism in undermining democratic self-rule. For decades, not only has it been underestimated, most of the media has misunderstood Christian fundamentalism’s goals.
Make no mistake: the well-funded, well-armed alliance of motivated extremists that I have described constitutes the greatest domestic danger this nation has faced since the Civil War.
Katherine Stewart, who has written on the religious right for many years, has redressed this misunderstanding in a New York Times piece. She straightforwardly says that Christian fundamentalism’s goal is “breaking American democracy,” and that this is not an unintended byproduct of fundamentalism’s political activity. No, it “is the point of the project.”
You might think that church-going Christians, no matter how fundamentalist, have little in common with organizations like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, or with neo-Nazi groups like Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute, or the Aryan Nation. Yet Lofgren points out that there is substantial overlap in the membership of those groups. He says they “bury their extreme theological differences to ally against their common enemy: the Enlightenment, a tolerant society, and equal justice under law.”
Among their other motivating issues, these movements share a commitment to misogyny and to a cult of masculine toughness. (Paging Josh Hawley ...)
This is obvious among fundamentalists and white nationalists alike: Southern Baptists and other evangelical sects preach “submission” of women, and every nationalist movement of the past century has diminished women’s rights.
Lofgren notes that Peter Thiel, a billionaire funder of the movement, has expressed his belief that it is was a mistake to “give” women the vote…
Fundamentalists want a universally Christian America that
they insist existed at the time of the nation’s founding, objections from Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Mark Twain, or Ambrose Bierce notwithstanding. White nationalists pine for a traditional white America, regardless of the presence from the beginning of racial differences and tensions.
Lofgren quotes Umberto Eco, who described what he termed “ur-fascist” tendencies: a faux-populism coupled with a railing against “elite” straw men; the habit of using a vocabulary similar to Newspeak in that it obscures rather than reveals meaning; contempt for the weak; and more. And he focuses upon the recent Supreme Court decisions undermining the right to personal autonomy and the separation of church and state.
Now that the Supreme Court has seen fit to read theocracy into the Constitution, Americans have begun to wake up to the political threat to their liberties and their way of life. But few have noticed how synergistic the rest of its rulings are with a religious-right campaign to wreck the constitutional order. Past campaign finance and congressional redistricting decisions have been a gift to a party that has given up on competitive electoral democracy in favor of Russian-style elections and public religion enforced by state diktat.
Obviously, women aren’t the only people threatened by this movement. Everyone whose fundamental right to self-determination has led them to live a life disapproved of by White Christian Nationalists is at risk.
Just think of us women as the canaries in the coal mine….