Last night I watched two documentaries. One was about the organising of women office workers in the early 70s (9to5); the other was a documentary called The Martha Mitchell Effect, about the psych-op style silencing of Martha Mitchell in the aftermath of Watergate.
Annie Spratt on Unsplash
I was a child in the 70s. I was old enough to notice these events but too young to form a meaningful insight into what they meant or how, in time, they might affect my life. Even as women’s mistreatment in the workplace and the hysterical woman trope affected my mother, step-mother and myself, it took some heavy-duty and deliberate consciousness raising before I connected the dots.
Sexism was the norm and the iconography of ‘high-strung’ hysterical women echoed everywhere within popular culture and media. It permeated our own living room, where my dad slapped my mother across the face because he felt her reaction (silence and withdrawal) to her own father’s death was somehow pathological. He credited himself with ‘snapping her out of it’ and inducing her requisite tears. Looking back, it seems astonishing, but at the time, it was Normal with a big ‘N’.
Feminists in my white, suburban world were hairy arm-pitted hags who spent their days liberally menstruating all over the place. In those days our white male leaders warned of the ‘Women’s Lib’ scourge. Feminists, they warned us, hated men, femininity and babies. They acted against God, nature and the rule of law. They were simultaneously frigid and promiscuous. They had no sense of humour or decency and were all on a mission to destroy men and masculinity with their incessant nagging and accusations of abuse and sexual assault. Feminists were the disfigured poster children for maintaining the status quo by force or finesse. Feminism was a dangerous disease poised to destroy everyone, every norm, and everything in its path.
I became one as quickly as I could. As I grew older, had children and did grown-up stuff, the general tone of the times suggested the days of casual sexism, hateful rantings and systemic racism were of a distant past. We overcame all that unpleasantness and rightly consigned it to our unenlightened, ugly histories. But that never really happened.
The bad old days have not made a comeback; they never left. They barely even slept. For a tantalizing moment, though, the very worst impulses of the mainstreamed racists and misogynists were held at bay. They were still as horrible as ever, but they remained reticent about saying the quiet parts out loud. Time passed by while the gains of the civil rights and feminist movements lulled (mostly white) women and everyday liberals into a false sense of security. They quickly forgot the fight that got them there in the first place. But no right is safe. They can be taken away. June 24th showed us that.
In the distance, the drums of angry white men and their mad-eyed enablers grew louder. Mouthpieces multiplied throughout the airwaves until the day when the cacophony of cruel, bitter man-babies became normalised — until fist-pumping and teeth gritted, they screamed the quiet parts at every opportunity, louder and louder, competing for the prize for the most offensive and tyrannical rhetoric.
This brings me to Matt Gaetz, the quintessential Florida man of meme lore. Mika Baumeister on Unsplash
Matt Gaetz, who is currently under investigation for the alleged sex trafficking of an underaged girl, decided to share his thoughts on the women protesters in the aftermath of SCOTUS’s ruling on Roe. Appearing at the recent Turning Point, USA conference, Matt opined that most of these women were too unfuckable ever to need an abortion. His audience, populated by young right-wingers and aspiring fascists, roared with approval — because the cruelty and the outrage sell tickets and recruit voters.
Katie Moum on Unsplash
Matt Gaetz, who allegedly pays for sex via Venmo, considers himself a qualified arbitrator on what makes a woman attractive enough to fuck. Matt Gaetz, who could rent out his forehead for advertising space, has since doubled down on his argument by publicly fat shaming a nineteen-year-old woman on his Twitter feed. The young woman in question, by no means a shrinking violet, has spectacularly dragged Gaetz over Twitter. She also launched the @Genforchange abortion fund and quickly raised a tidy sum of money to help support abortion access to women in crisis. (You can click here to donate to this worthy cause) So, kudos to @0liviajulianna, for speaking truth to power and skillfully handing Congressman Gaetz’s sad, sexist ass back to him. But she should not have had to defend herself against a sitting US Congressman.
None of us should be here. We should not be in a place where a loathsome pile of excrement can spit and shout his misogynistic drivel while serving on the US Congress. We should not be in a place where racist, antisemitic and misogynistic rantings count as ‘political speech’, or where the popularity of this POS rises the more divisive, sexist and bullying his rantings are. We should not be in a place that allows a grown-ass man, sitting in the US Congress, to use his visibility to target, harass and endanger a private citizen.
All of which brings me back to the activism of the 1970s and Martha Mitchell’s legacy. I doubt I’m the only person out there told to take it down a notch. I am surely not the only person accused of going over the top, getting wound up and exaggerating the dystopic state of the current political landscape. I’m not the only person saying: It’s not all in our heads. They really are against us. I fucking wish I were just paranoid.
The fascists are real and they really do represent the most dangerous and antidemocratic manifestation of the Republican Party in living memory, and their spread is not only contained to America. We need to take this moment seriously. We need to power through the weariness and call them out at every step. We need to use scary and accurate words like ‘racist’ and ‘fascist’ when speaking about their actions and objectives. We also need to demand the same fearlessness from those we elect to represent us. That a nineteen-year-old activist on Twitter can do more to call out Matt Gaetz than his congressional colleagues should enrage all of us.
Meaningful change and justice never sprang up out of politeness and timidity.
Previously published on my Substack