Donald Trump was defeated earlier this month in the 2020 US presidential election. He is still yet to formally concede, but at present – in these bleak times – progressives everywhere have cause for celebration. This is especially the case on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Let us recognise the significance of a man who uttered the words “grab ‘em by the pussy, you can do anything” being voted out of the White House. Let us celebrate that the man who defended “some very fine people” amongst the white supremacists, nationalists, and neo-Nazis who attended the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville will be evicted. Let us acknowledge that the man known for inciting violence and hatred through misinformation on Twitter – not least through his public broadcast for militia group, the Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by” – is set to pack his bags.
Work to be done
But for social justice activists around the world, there is much work still to be done.
There may only be one Donald Trump, yet he still received over 70 million votes.
Moreover, populist iterations of homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, racism and ethnonationalism continue to be waged across the globe by the likes of India’s Modi, Brazil’s Bolsanaro, Hungary’s Orban and the Philippine’s Duterte, among others.
The latter of whom enjoyed an 84 per cent popularity rating a year into his presidency, despite likening himself to Hitler, declaring that he was “happy to slaughter” millions living with drug addictions, and ‘joking’ that Filipino troops could rape up to three women at the height of a war against ISIS in Southern Philippines. He also suggested that they shoot female rebels in the vagina because “they are nothing without it.”
Misogynistic, racist and ethnonationalist messaging, posturing and politics are not confined to the U.S., nor to Trump.
The possibilities of transformative gender and social justice have been stifled and squashed through the rise of the far-right globally, and the reign and popularity of populist demagogues in the increasing number of illiberal democracies worldwide.
Patriarchal backlash is manifesting violently and viscerally the world over, and analysis of both its global and context-specific manifestations is necessary if we are to counter it.
Many faces of backlash
In examining patriarchal backlash – indeed any form of violence – it is essential that one does not only focus on the exceptional and the spectacular, but also the subtle and insidious.
That which lies beneath the waterline or even that which masquerades as ‘progress’ while reinforcing problematic binaries can be equally as damaging to gender and social justice.
The problems posed by the Dutertes and the Trumps of this world in this regard are clear; less clear is the more subtle co-optation of feminist and other gender justice agendas, the erosion of their radical potential through depoliticisation and the hollowing out of their transformative core.
Countering Backlash is a programme that seeks to untangle these strands and render visible the many ways in which backlash operates, so that we may effectively resist its many faces.
Celebrate, recharge, but then, resist
Donald Trump’s defeat is a blow to the populists and the right-wing worldwide. His presidency offered legitimacy to those publicly and violently proclaiming hate – whether gendered, racial, ethnonationalist or class-based – and being voted into office regardless.
But we cannot let his defeat be a distraction. Populists peddling hate remain in power elsewhere, and Trump’s voter base has not been deterred by his loss in the election.
These figureheads represent the continued, even growing, normalisation of violence (in its many forms and manifestations) against anyone considered the ‘Other’, whether women, migrants, LGBTQIA+ individuals, or those racially, ethnically or religiously marginalised.
Both overt and insidious backlash against struggles for gender and social justice live on; from remarkable and episodic forms of violence, to the hidden and everyday dynamics of oppression, backlash rages to put the ‘Other’ back into their proverbial place.
In order to contest backlash, we must work and listen across diversity and all the intersections of identity. This means decolonising theory and practice and shifting our focus to all sites in which backlash operates.
Countering Backlash works in partnership with scholars and activists across the world so we can build the solidarity and understanding necessary to counter violent pushbacks and hidden co-options. Collaboration and co-creation are the greatest tools in the box to mutually resist coordinated and global attacks on gender and social justice.
For now, celebrate and recharge, but then, resist.