Patriarchal Backlash

IN the US, President Trump is attempting to mobilise and channel a patriarchal backlash against the #MeToo movement. Several women made credible complaints of sexual assault against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. One of them, Dr Christine Blasey Ford, testified before the US Senate about an assault by Kavanaugh and is friend when both Dr Ford and Kavanaugh were school students. Dr Ford’s moving testimony galvanised a huge movement against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. But Trump and the Republican Party went ahead and confirmed Kavanaugh, knowing this could be their last chance to change the balance of forces on the US Supreme Court by appointing a conservative nominee known to be willing to overturn historic verdicts like the Roe vs Wade verdict allowing women the right to abortion. It is also widely known that Kavanaugh is against criminal prosecution of a sitting President - and Trump may need a Supreme Court to shield him from prosecution as a result of several investigations that are underway about his Administration.

Kavanaugh himself, during his testimony before the Senate, openly displayed his partisan bias, branding Dr Ford’s allegations a Democratic conspiracy against the Trump Government.

Kavanaugh’s hearing reminded many of a similar Senate hearing that took place before the confirmation of President George HW Bush’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Clarence Thomas in 1991. Professor Anita Hill had testified before the US Senate about how Thomas had sexually harassed her. That 1991 Senate hearing notoriously subjected Professor Hill to slut-shaming. Thomas, an African American man, skilfully played a race card to erase the fact that Professor Hill was an African American woman - he claimed that the hearing by a predominantly White Senate was a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks” - invoking the shameful history of the racist lynch mobs that killed African American men on false charges of raping White women. But this image erased the fact that his victim Anita Hill too was African American!

This time, Trump publicly mocked Dr Ford in rallies being held towards the upcoming mid-term elections to the Senate and House of Representatives. At Kavanaugh’s confirmation, he declared that Kavanaugh had been “found innocent” - this was far from the case, since the FBI had not investigated most of the witnesses who had offered testimony, and not even spoken to Dr Ford herself. Since then Trump has repeatedly said that “It is a very scary time for young men in America” because accusations of sexual harassment from long ago could destroy their image. Trump, in other words, is trying to build on patriarchal fears that project men as the real victims in the #MeToo era.

Nor is Trump alone in so doing - the entire Republican Party is backing him. Senate Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell called women and sexual assault survivors who protested Kavanaugh’s nomination in emotional confrontations with Republican Senators “the mob.” McConnell claimed that these protests have been “a great political gift for us.” Since then, Trump and the Republican campaign has adopted the slogan Jobs vs Mobs. This slogan, obviously does not refer to the racist White supremacist and fascist mobs that have repeatedly attacked people of colour and killed an anti-fascist woman protester at Charlottesville. They are referring to women protestors and sexual assault survivors as “the mob.”

In India, too, since the amendment to the rape law in 2013 following a massive anti-rape movement, there have been articles and campaigns written by apologists for rape-accused persons including liberals like Tarun Tejpal and Mahmood Farooqui as well as right-wingers like Asaram, describing the rape law as ‘draconian’ and a ‘black law’. Feminists campaigning for justice have been described as a ‘lynch mob’ by such rape apologists. And the entire system too is in backlash mode: Tejpal has successfully played the system to stall his trial indefinitely while Farooqui’s conviction was overturned the infamous ‘Feeble No’  Delhi HC verdict against which the Supreme Court refused to entertain a plea.

In India, too, while liberal voices too contribute to this patriarchal backlash, the BJP is at the forefront of political attempts to harness it. Laws enacted to protect women including the 498A (criminal law against dowry-related and domestic violence) and civil law against domestic violence (PWDVA) are being diluted under pressure from so-called ‘Men’s Rights Activists’ (who should more accurately be described as the Patriarchal Privilege Protection Squad). The media is awash with propaganda about women ‘misusing’ laws to frame innocent men. The Indian #MeToo storm has brought in fresh air that has swept away the stale air of the backlash. But the backlash will no doubt try to strike back and must be resisted.