Everybody’s worried about the men. Steve Bannon. Katie Roiphe. Donald J. Trump. Whether in response to the generalized fury of the #MeToo movement, or allegations of intimate-partner violence against a key White House official, the presumed vulnerability of men to charges of sexual harassment or outright violence has drawn the sympathies of a self-described pussy-grabber, an enabler of the racist alt-right, and the feminist movement’s foremost concern troll.
While the White House is having trouble getting its story straight about just when it learned that former staff secretary Rob Porter had been subject to a restraining order requested by one of his two ex-wives, or the claim of the other that he punched her in the face (including photographic evidence of a black eye), one thing is certain: The president’s sympathies lie with Porter, and perhaps all men accused of misdeeds done against women.
On February 10, three days after Porter resigned from the White House once the allegations became public, Trump tweeted that “Peoples [sic] lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. … There is no recovery for someone falsely accused. … Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”
Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused - life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018
It took another four days for the president to make clear that he “opposes” domestic violence. But he’s yet to express sympathy for a female survivor of such.
In an essay in Harper’s, Roiphe quotes an unnamed critic of the #MeToo movement who, she says, won’t go on the record with her critique because of how mean feminists would be to her should she dare to voice her trepidation. “What seems truly dangerous to me is the complete disregard the movement shows for a sacred principle of the American criminal justice system: the presumption of innocence,” the critic reportedly told Roiphe.
Elsewhere, while watching the Golden Globe Awards—at which Oprah Winfrey gave a spirited speech about women rising up against sexual violence—Steve Bannon fretted about the fate of Western civilization in general, and Donald J. Trump in particular, according to Joshua Green of Bloomberg Businessweek.
“The anti-patriarchy movement is going to undo 10,000 years of recorded history,” Bannon told Green. “You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch. This [the Golden Globe Awards] is a definitional moment in the culture. It’ll never be the same going forward.”
At the Globes, you’ll recall, many of the women in attendance wore black in solidarity with women who are telling stories of having been sexually harassed or assaulted at work. At Trump’s first State of the Union address, Democratic women did the same.
Though he might have overstated, Bannon is on to something. That Rob Porter’s ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, even dared to report the abuse to the FBI speaks to the empowerment women are feeling through the force of collective outrage at the election of a president who, himself, was once accused of sexual violence by his ex-wife, Ivana. (She later recanted.)
And still, Katie Roiphe, who says she is a feminist “exhilarated” by this moment in which women are speaking of their experience of sexual harassment and assault, is worried that the #MeToo movement has gone too far, presumably because people were mean to her on Twitter. (Welcome to Twitter, Katie Roiphe.)
What each of these people have is an investment in patriarchy: Trump and Bannon because of their commitment to white, male power; Roiphe because, in a patriarchal world, there’s always a payoff for a self-described feminist who targets other feminists for the sake of the men.
Particularly telling is Roiphe’s attack on Rebecca Traister of New York magazine, whose thoughtful writing about the importance of the #MeToo movement really gets under Roiphe’s skin. In her November 12 New York piece, Traister examines the nature of the rage propelling #MeToo, noting that now unleashed, it’s not always easy to differentiate degrees of offense once one’s repressed anger is granted expression. Implicit in Traister’s admission is the need to do so—to make those distinctions. But you wouldn’t know that from reading Roiphe.
“When Trump supporters let their anger run terrifyingly out of control, we are alarmed, and rightly so,” she writes. “Perhaps Traister should consider that ‘I am so angry I am not thinking straight’ is not the best mood in which to radically envision and engineer a new society.”
And with that, Katie Roiphe equates Traister and those in the #MeToo movement (of which I count myself) with the very fine people who descended on Charlottesville in August, some bearing Nazi flags and insignia. Steve Bannon’s people. Donald Trump’s people. See how that works?
Patriarchy is powerful, but wary of its weaknesses in the face of female fury. If the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States was the ultimate expression of backlash against a reordering of society long and slowly underway, it was also a galvanizing moment for women who are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Everybody’s a little uneasy, even those who are mad as hell. We know not everybody will exercise their newfound voices responsibly—because that’s human nature.
But where is the chorus demanding “due process” for all of the women pushed out of workplaces in highly gendered ways? Most workplaces allow dismissals at the will of the employer, for any reason—whether it be taking off a few days until your black eye heals, or reporting the boss for discrimination. #MeToo is as close as many of us will ever get to “due process,” so we’ll take it, thank you very much.
Fear of female power is the thing that prompted the creation of the patriarchy in the first place. As the historian Nancy Hatch Dupree explained to me during a discussion of the Taliban’s oppression of women, the need to control women stems from the fact that women are the transmitters of culture. Which means they can change society at a cultural level, if only they can manage to marshal collective power—no small task in a world run by men.
Should the patriarchy come to an end, Bannon and Trump will be toast, of course. And Katie Roiphe will be out of a gig, with no one left to serve.
Alas, we have a way to go before that happens.