The Post-Feminist Backlash

by Sidra M. S. Vitale

-- and why you won't see this 'deepest fear' anytime soon

Many of us have read _The Handmaid's Tale_, by Margaret Atwood, a novel of one woman's experience in a "backlash" world. For Offred, her world goes from one where she is a human being, to chattel. I won't say more if you haven't read it -- please do, it's absolutely riveting, and a horribly frightening picture of a future. *A* future. Not *the* future, and certainly not a scenario that, as fun as it may be for second wave theory to postulate "it's inevitable if we don't keep going to battle like we did in the 60s", is in any way a likely future.

The point of today's exercise is to argue that an extreme "backlash" is the least likely of all possible futures in the United States.

If you haven't already, I'd like to suggest you swing over to the Feminist Bookshelf and read Kim Allen's review of _The Futures of Women_ -- where 4 scenarios of possible futures are discussed. A backlash (not as extreme as what Atwood's progtagonist experienced) is one of those four.

In short, these "backlash" scenarios are ones in which women [and I'll restrict this discussion to the United States] lose significant ground as citizens. Lose the right to vote, lose the right to freedom of speech, lose economic, reproductive and political control over their own lives. It's an incredibly gripping and frightening scenario, and extremely difficult to actually bring to fruition.

In order to make a "backlash" scenario possible, what must happen?

Women must lose the vote. Since this is a right guaranteed by an amendment to our Constitution, another amendment to the same document is required. In order for that to occur, women must vote for it. Women would have to vote to give up the vote. Do you see that happening anytime soon, in all seriousness? I don't. I see politicians getting lynched for suggesting it -- it's political suicide to suggest to 51% of the US population that they vote to take away a right that has been theirs since before they were born. In fact, protection of our right to vote is the one possible topic that could lead to that entire voting bloc that is women coming together with one voice -- and there is no US politician who wants to risk the *change* implicit in the development of a Women's Party, to make it worth his or her while to bring such a suggestion up.

Now, this is something that would need to occur, legally, in order for women to lose the vote. What about these future dystopias that pepper science fiction, like the aforementioned _Handmaid's Tale_? Where the law seems to not be involved, or be somehow subverted?

Two things:

A backlash could be induced on a small scale, in a controllable community, such as the tiny Republic of Gilead of Atwood's novel. A small community that can be isolated from the rest of the world, its information input controlled, its borders vigorously patrolled with a homogeneous and properly-indoctrinated standing army. And it would still be difficult, implementing a successful backlash. In order to practice thought control effectively, you would need a large police force -- and the United States is simply too big to make that kind of scenario work. One state maybe, yes. The entire nation? Be realistic.

Furthermore, consider these future dystopias. One way to remove Constitutional rights in the United States is to remove the United States as a political entity. Thus, there is no guarantor of free speech, the women's vote, or the political power of the people. In order to take away the vote from women, you would need to take away the vote from *everyone*, destroy the information exchange infrastructure we as citizens rely on to make informed political decisions; destroy the political boundaries between states, destroy us as a nation. A nation as big as the US only works as a political structure -- as a group illusion we propogate -- when the passage of information from coast to coast is reliable and swift. That could be changed with a nuclear holocaust, and a future like the one described by Margaret Atwood, or David Brin's _The Postman_, could then come to pass.

But it takes a holocaust -- a nation-destroying event -- to do it.

Copyright © 1999 by Sidra M. S. Vitale

07/04/07 at 22:29