On balance, the deterioration of women’s social position in the US over the last year alone is mind-numbing. This is a far cry from back when the reverberations of the Women’s Marches and #MeToo movement still echoed in public life and millions felt like real social change was taking shape. We’ve taken one step forward only to be flung miles backward by an avalanche of backlash and hate.
The constitutional right to an abortion, won 50 years ago with Roe v. Wade, vanished into thin air last June leaving tens of millions of women in the crosshairs of deranged state legislatures. 15 states, with Florida the most recent addition, now have full (6-week) bans on abortion.
Discipline & Punishment
What has followed has been a merciless stripping of women and girls’ basic rights to reproductive healthcare, criminalization, and callous apathy toward those suffering the worst effects.
The “pro-life” movement has so far succeeded in 7 states in passing abortion bans with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Within 3 months of the Dobbs decision, at least three minors in Ohio – one of many states whose “heartbeat” trigger laws went into immediate effect – who were impregnated through rape had to cross state lines to obtain abortions. One of them was a 10-year-old girl. Singularly focused on defending the state’s brutal ban in the face of its entirely predictable effects, the Ohio Attorney General went on Fox News to lambast the 10-year-old, dismissing her assault as “a fabrication.” (It wasn’t.)
The “life of the mother” exemptions that exist on paper, presumably to protect medically-necessary abortions, are a total farce in practice, with the letter of the law entangled in gray areas and gynecological science fiction. Doctors and nurses in states with harsh bans are petrified by the possibility of a lawsuit or criminal charge, some of which carry penalties of up to 15 years in prison. If the life-saving care needed poses any risk of being illegal, they often won’t intervene without first consulting hospital lawyers. Going to the emergency room for a medically-necessary abortion in states with harsh bans essentially gets the response: “if you’re not about to die, we can’t help. Come back when you’re about to die.”
This is not a joke: one Texas woman who was rapidly leaking amniotic fluid was told by providers that they couldn’t remove the fetal tissue until she went into sepsis. Another received instructions not to return until she was bleeding so much that “her blood filled a diaper more than once an hour.” Bans on abortion care have meant that women experiencing miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies are sentenced to bleeding out at home, alone and terrified as if it’s the Dark Ages and we don’t have safe, effective, and life-saving healthcare readily available.
Indeed, that’s the goal. OBGYNs have moved out of states altogether as they find themselves unable to do their jobs, creating even more reproductive and maternity care deserts. One Idaho hospital announced it will stop all labor and delivery services, citing the “current political climate” and a shortage of doctors. Naturally, maternal and infant mortality rates are now much higher in states that ban or restrict abortion.
Many remember Lizelle Herrera, who in April of 2022 was jailed for several days on murder charges for an alleged self-induced abortion. Herrera was just one example of how prosecutors can use laws on the books to dish out severe charges not only for abortion but for miscarriage and pregnancy loss. Manslaughter, conspiracy, aiding and abetting, and murder. Anything to make outlaws – if not corpses – of women who dare to make their own decisions about their bodies and lives.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Christian nationalist hate group that was instrumental in the repeal of Roe “seeks to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries,” in its own words. They will say their goal in attacking abortion rights is to “empower women.” But make no mistake: this goal is based on a misogynistic fantasy of only one type of acceptable woman: a pure, submissive, and obedient housewife and mother – and nothing else. It should come as no surprise that the very same organization is the architect of the attacks on trans rights nationwide. This right-wing movement for biological essentialism and strict gender discipline should alarm absolutely everyone.
And they aren’t finished. The battle over mifepristone, the first-step pill in the medication abortion regimen, is ongoing and could have devastating consequences. If the right wing is able to continue filling out their tally cards without meeting serious resistance, no-fault divorce and even birth control could be in the crosshairs.
The Worst Man You Know Has A Podcast
Meanwhile, if you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve probably already noticed that the fringe “manosphere” – from inceldom to “trad” subcultures and “Men Going Their Own Way” – has elbowed its way into mainstream virality. It wasn’t enough for Andrew Tate to be suspended from major social media platforms and then arrested for sex trafficking. It feels as if a thousand mini-Tates have cropped up after their own piece of the clout, equipped with a mic, a TikTok account, and a bottomless pit of contempt for women.
There is a crisis of men that exists alongside the broader mental health crisis and economic crisis. Young men are finding themselves downwardly mobile, lonely, and alienated by the system that thrives on all of our misery – the perfect victims for capture by the misogynist right.
These viral trends, alongside high-profile political attacks, have a real impact on the social landscape: a 2022 study found 62% of young Republican men and 46% of young Democratic men say feminism is a net negative for society – a marked increase from similar studies just two years ago. Young women are shocked to find their partners, friends, and family members suddenly spouting Tate-esque talking points seemingly out of nowhere.
22-year-old Harold Thompson fatally shot his girlfriend in a Dallas parking lot after learning she went out of state for an abortion. Mind you, this is in a state that has vigilante punishment against women who seek abortions written into the law.
This is divide-and-conquer in action. It’s also a powerful exposé of how the political struggle in the halls of power affects the landscape of our everyday lives. In the absence of a united movement with a program against the misery and alienation that plagues all of us, there’s an endless supply of fuel to the fire of right-wing bigotry.
The Final Chapter?
The right wing is heavily asserting the nuclear family and strict gender roles to distract from – and to try in vain to stabilize – a system in crisis. But the situation is not permanent.
A key strength of socialist feminism is the understanding of the cataclysmic, contradictory, non-linear, and dialectical nature of history. When movements assert themselves, there is always a backlash: take the “law and order” and “refund the police” movement that followed the George Floyd rebellion of 2020. It is no coincidence that everything got worse when we stopped marching. It takes mass movements being sustained and escalated to win real social change.
The current landscape feels dark and unfamiliar to many young women. American women were legally chattel – the property of their fathers, then husbands if they married – all the way up until the turn of the 20th century. Women couldn’t have their own credit cards until 1974. Marital rape wasn’t a crime in all 50 states until — literally — 1993.
Pushing forward social progress is a historical task in which the women’s movement has a key role to play. We need to meet the backlash with a revitalized women’s struggle to thoroughly dismantle the forces that want to send us back. This will mean appealing to working-class men for solidarity in action and untangling muddled consciousness by putting forward political clarity around who our real enemies are. It is also crucial that we firmly refuse to allow women’s rights to be pit against trans rights – a deliberate agenda from the right wing strategists who want to eradicate both.
Our society’s reliance on gender roles, and the antagonism between men and women, is a historical phenomenon created by class society. Because it was created, it can also be undone. The idea that women are property would have no real basis if all of society weren’t based on private property and wealth. Capitalism relies on the subjugation of women, as well as racism and nationalism, to oppress and divide the working class. This is precisely why multiracial, multi-gender struggle is the key to not only women’s liberation but the liberation of all of humanity. Women, and all working people, need to fight for the right to take control over our own lives and to collectively take control of society, through bold mass action that can send the misogynists back into the shadows.