The term “feminism” is one that often has a polarizing effect, even among women. However, those who practice exclusive brands of feminism diminish the credibility of the movement as a whole, and actively hinder its progress.
As more positions of power are occupied by women, we can see that this is not always to the complete benefit of women’s rights and social equality.
A fairly recent example is the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court in 2020 when the death of trailblazing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg left an empty seat for a candidate chosen by former President Donald Trump.
The symbolism behind these two women is stark. While Ginsburg famously tackled issues of sex-based discrimination and argued for gender equality before and during her time as the second female Supreme Court Justice, Barrett was appointed by Trump after he vowed to select pro-life nominees who were dedicated to overturning (Roe v. Wade).
Barrett’s nomination and confirmation reflect how oppressive patriarchal values are reproduced within our society. Progress for women does not come about simply because one woman achieves a position of power, especially when they use their power to further deny equality for marginalized groups.
Recently, Texas passed a restrictive abortion law that bans abortions after fetal cardiac activity is detected, which typically occurs after about six weeks of pregnancy. This ban is ultimately an attack on women’s reproductive rights and freedoms and seeks to limit the power and control women have over their own bodies.
When asked to block the law, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against this request, with all three of Trump’s appointees voting against the block. It is unfortunate that on a Court that has historically been dominated by men, one of the women with the opportunity to create positive change for women’s reproductive rights was involved in the decision to allow a blatantly unconstitutional and dangerous law to stand.
This particular law poses a grave threat to women because they are unable to receive proper medical treatment due to the severity of the restrictions on abortion. Forcing women to carry pregnancies to full term can have consequences on both their physical and mental health, and these detrimental effects also impact Black indigenous women of color at a disproportionate rate.
This highlights the dangers of complicity and the very real repercussions of putting anti-women figures into positions of power, regardless of whether they are women themselves.
Oftentimes, certain women are afforded power when they perpetuate systems of inequality at the expense of other women and marginalized groups. In Barrett’s case, she was nominated by a brazenly misogynistic and sexist president in the hopes that she could carry out his harmful agenda while also existing as a counterargument to any claims that either he or his policies were anti-woman.
In a society that already works against the interests of women, it is very harmful when women in power contribute to efforts against the interests of their gender as a way to maintain the privileges that they have been allowed by the patriarchy.
True feminism does not consist of supporting all women because not all women want to dismantle oppressive structures that they may benefit from. We cannot support female political figures simply because of their gender. We would be ignoring how some women rise to the top by refusing to challenge existing societal conditions.
However, when addressing the issue of women in politics who effectively reinforce systems of inequality, it is important to criticize their principles without falling into sexist and misogynistic rhetoric ourselves.