• Naomi Ages

Want to Help Dismantle the Patriarchy? Vote for Democratic Women in 2020

One of the most chilling realizations about The Handmaid’s Tale is that Margaret Atwood didn’t have to imagine any of it - “there’s a precedent in real life for everything in the book”, Atwood has explained. She decided that she wouldn’t put anything in the book “that somebody somewhere hadn’t already done.” While she doesn’t say “done to women” explicitly, women are the ultimate victims of The Republic of Gilead, which is an oppressive, patriarchal, religio-authoritarian regime. A regime run by men with the ultimate power to control every aspect of women’s lives.

Thinking about the United States in 2020, your natural reaction may be, “but, we don’t have that here”. We live in a democracy, where women can vote for their leaders, choose whether or not to have a child, and choose their careers. That’s true, but for women in the United States, these freedoms are relatively recent. For many, these freedoms are dependent on laws made and enforced by men. And, regardless of these laws, in practice, women’s lives and bodies are still controlled by men: partners, fathers, doctors, supervisors at work. The patriarchal regime in the United States might not be The Republic of Gilead, but its roots are deep and it has exerted control over women for too long.

It plays out from the mundane to the incendiary; from sexist dress codes to laws that deny rape can occur within marriage; from not being able to apply for an individual credit card as a non-married woman until the mid-1970’s to the increasingly draconian abortion bans. You probably haven’t heard of “The American Plan”, but for almost 40 years, starting around World War I, women could be surveilled and imprisoned for alleged promiscuity, or for being suspected of having a sexually transmitted disease. Meanwhile, the first women to offer birth control were prosecuted and jailed, and it wasn’t until 1972 that birth control was fully legalized for unmarried women. We are often so inured to the myriad ways that the patriarchy subjugates women that we don’t reflect on the absurdity of needing a court to “decide” that women can or cannot make decisions about their own health. Instead, we are grateful that we have access to birth control at all.

Nowhere is this obsession with controlling women more strident than through the guise of abortion. In 2017, Mike Pence tweeted an almost comically ironic image of Donald Trump, surrounded by twenty-five men, discussing a bill aimed at pregnancy and maternity care. It might as well have been The Republic of Gilead.

Since Donald Trump got elected, states have pushed through a new wave of anti-abortion bills, attempting to put “female sexuality under strict and brutal state control.” Some bills proposed the death penalty for anyone who gets an abortion. In another state, all of the votes supporting an extremely restrictive law came from white Republican men. This systemic oppression has disproportionately negative impacts on women of color and immigrant women. Indeed, the anti-abortion movement has roots, disturbingly, in white supremacist fears over American culture being replaced. Historically, Black women were subjected to forced sterilizations by the state, and women of color face even stricter barriers to abortion than their white counterparts due to the compounding factors of economics, class, and geography. At its core, “banning abortion takes away women’s autonomy. That is the point of banning abortion. That’s the whole point.”

Even at the country’s founding, women recognized the danger to their autonomy inherent in an all-male government. “Remember all men would be tyrants if they could,” Abigail Adams warned John Adams in 1776, while he was serving in the 2nd Continental Congress (which would declare independence from Britain and form the United States). Abigail’s letter proved prophetic. Women were excluded from the freedoms that the new government enumerated and that inequality has reverberated until the present day. But, while the first part of Adams’s warning is the most well-known, she wasn’t done. She also wrote, “if particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

That rebellion should take place in part at the ballot box in 2020. We must elect women at all levels to protect our rights and our autonomy. We must demand that our government reflect our experiences and our values, and that its policies advance rather than deny equality. In 2020, our voices must be heard by voting for women who continue to dismantle the patriarchal structures that have inhibited, excluded, and discriminated against women for too long. We should demand immediate, intersectional equality, and we must elect leaders who are dedicated to that effort.

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