“Ugly as his views about women may be, Trump represents the world that has disrespected women for centuries. His victory should be seen as a deadly blow to the fight against gender inequality that continues to persist”
METJI R. MAKGOBA
The world is still reeling from Donald Trump’s ascendancy to one of the most powerful offices in the international system. From social to mainstream media, people are trying to come to terms with Trump’s election triumph. As the US’s president-elect, he will start his term in January 2017.
It seems Americans, and people who will be affected by Trump’s geopolitics, have been thrown into political uncertainty and chaos. Some have already taken to the streets to vent their anger at the turn of events.
The general consensus is that if Trump’s utterances about minority groups, such as, Muslims, Mexicans, black Americans and women, are anything to go by, we must brace ourselves for a presidential shocker that promises to shake the foundation of the world.
Many people, especially gender and political activists, hardly believed that the man who is known for bragging about assaulting women could cast doubts over their efforts to fight discrimination and, inexplicably, beat another woman in the process to win the election.
The world does not have a place for sexists and misogynists such as Trump, they convinced themselves.
In other sectors of society, liberals strangely opined that Trump does not embody the virtues of political correctness, and will inspire a free-spirited world that encourages people to express their political views when his victory was almost certain.
But what they did not realise was that Mr Trump’s win symbolises the enduring power of patriarchy: it reveals the deeply held private thoughts of the male psyche.
Ugly as his views about women may be, Trump represents the world that has disrespected women for centuries. His victory should be seen as a deadly blow to the fight against gender inequality that continues to persist. From birth, many young men are still socialised into patriarchal behaviours that shape how they interact with women and the LGBT community.
This socialisation, which sows the seed of destruction that turns violent in some, teaches them treat women as subjects and objects. It also instils different beliefs and attitudes that undermine women in the process.
Their schools, and the media they consume, personify the same patriarchal attitudes. And the problem with socially-learnt behaviours is that they become part of our mental models and inherent in our attitude towards people and the world. Such behaviours interfere with our ability to process new information and may unconsciously control how we contextualise and interpret social and political events.
They also require an equally strong ideological orientation to change them.
When men talk about women, they largely focus on women’s physical appearances, rarely focusing on their intellectual gifts and other qualities. On the other side of the coin, discussions about men have always revolved around their money, intelligence, career, and power.
These constructions then become the basis for our socio-political organisation of societal gender relations in which women generally come to occupy the underclass, the abject poor, and the subordinated. The historical legacy of this male fantasy we call “patriarchy” is then one of structural discrimination, male cultural and social dominance that characterise how we treat women.
The insults and degrading labels Trump meted out against women during his presidential campaign reflected this structural problem. They have been motivated by unequal power relations between women and men where the latter always seeks to reaffirm their sense of social position.
This has been passed from generation to generation, and become normalised, as well as socially acceptable in society. It sabotages feminist movements and the struggle for gender equality.
Even females have internalised degrading stereotypes and misogynistic views about their fellow women, judging their abilities and themselves largely based their gender. This has, in turn, created a communicative inequality that influences our gender relations and dynamics.
Despite many women who have broken through these gender stereotypes, the society persists in reducing women to their looks and sexual appeals. Some women are even afraid to express their sartorial elegance.
They know that their fellow women and men alike will subject them to abuse. Other young men behave as if they have a God-given right to criticise and comment about how women conduct themselves.
They have a sense of entitlement, acting as self-appointed arbiters of women’s behaviour.
They cite social standards and values, which they claim are the foundation of their society, to justify their disregard for women. The ideologies of patriarchy remain persistent because both men and women have accepted their values and principles. Whether this happens through their false consciousness is not clear.
In reality, the dangers of ideologies are that they prevent one from engaging in critical thinking – a much-needed attitude to challenge any oppressive behaviour. If people who uphold an ideology are pushed to the wall, they become rebellious. An ideology is a gateway to our attitude towards knowledge and language.
In many religious circles over the world, patriarchy reigns supreme and helps build a rigid social hierarchy that determines human relationships, as well as how they treat each other. If you believe that things have changed, you better think again! Women who have voted for Trump showed that the struggle for gender equality is far from over.
This phenomenon does not bode well for women and our efforts to build society that treats everyone with dignity. It must be considered as a wake-up call to all gender activists. It is not farfetched to contend that our society, and its apparatus structure of relations, has not progressed sufficiently to develop a majority of men who have a critical understanding of gender – an understanding of gender as a question of power and not of behaviours. Many have continued to regard feminism as a threat to their territory.
There is a serious need for the discussion that seeks to unpack how the radical feminism movement could help educate young men about how their gender puts them into privileged positions.
To be constructive for greater social accord, it must seek methods to challenge patriarchy without alienating men. We need the new type of gender politics and movement which treat gender as a social construct if we want to make the struggle for gender inequality a collective responsibility.
We need to reject a politics that depicts the struggle for women emancipation as an attempt to suppress men and in so doing work together to fight patriarchy. Doubtless that many men still uphold patriarchal behaviours and beliefs, which they consider truthful, that fundamentally influence their perception and suppression of women.
Therefore, to minimise cognitive dissonance – the gulf between what we perceive and what we believe – we need to help men understand gender more critically and persuade them to join the struggle.
Metji R. Makgoba is a commonwealth scholar and writes in his personal capacity.