The Big Push: Exposing and Challenging the Persistence of Patriarchy

The Big Push: Exposing and Challenging the Persistence of Patriarchy

by Cynthia Enloe

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For over a century and in scores of countries, patriarchal presumptions and practices have been challenged by women and their male allies. “Sexual harassment” has entered common parlance; police departments are equipped with rape kits; more than half of the national legislators in Bolivia and Rwanda are women; and a woman candidate won the plurality of the popular votes in the 2016 United States presidential election.
But have we really reached equality and overthrown a patriarchal point of view? 
The Big Push exposes how patriarchal ideas and relationships continue to be modernized to this day. Through contemporary cases and reports, renowned political scientist Cynthia Enloe exposes the workings of everyday patriarchy—in how Syrian women civil society activists have been excluded from international peace negotiations; how sexual harassment became institutionally accepted within major news organizations; or in how the UN Secretary General’s post has remained a masculine domain. Enloe then lays out strategies and skills for challenging patriarchal attitudes and operations. Encouraging self-reflection, she guides us in the discomforting curiosity of reviewing our own personal complicity in sustaining patriarchy in order to withdraw our own support for it. Timely and globally conscious, The Big Push is a call for feminist self-reflection and strategic action with a belief that exposure complements resistance.

Editorial Reviews

Gender and Society

"Part narrative, part political history, and all feminist analysis. . . . An important contribution to scholarly work on gender inequality. Enloe provides an insightful and engaging analysis of why patriarchal beliefs and practices are so resilient, while outlining how feminist concepts, questioning, and investigation can be used to dismantle this perpetuating system. This text will appeal to scholars and activists as well as women and men who simply value empowerment, equality, and social justice."

Gender and Development

"Long-term admirers of Cynthia Enloe will know she writes in a pithy, witty, clear, and accessible style that (together with her knack for finding a catchy title to draw in her readers) ensures her work is accessible and easily read and absorbed. She has the popular touch."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520296893
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 10/26/2017
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 1,187,719
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.70(d)

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Read an Excerpt


Pink Pussy Hats vs. Patriarchy

The ground looks hard, with patches of snow under the tall northern trees. The salt-whitened rural road is empty of vehicles. Only a small band of walkers are heading toward an intersection, about a dozen people, some carrying posters, most wearing pink hats. It is January 21, 2017. This is the Women's March in the village (pop. 65) of Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia.

A seventeen-hour drive west that same wintry Saturday would have brought one to Toronto's Women's March. There one would have joined a contingent of an estimated 50,000 Canadian marchers. On January 21, a total of 34 towns and cities across Canada held Women's Marches. Crossing the border to travel further south (if one were not stopped by US border officials), one could have joined still-larger marches: Boston, 175,000; New York, 500,000; and, largest of all, Washington, D.C., with estimates of march participants ranging from 500,000 to 680,000.

The Washington Women's March initially was sparked by Teresa Shook, a retired Hawaiian woman, who, in the wake of the presidential election, posted a Facebook call to friends, urging them to travel to Washington with her in January to protest the election's outcome. She later explained to reporters that she was just trying to take action as a way to absorb Donald Trump's Electoral College win of the 2016 presidential election, and Hillary Clinton's loss despite her victory in the popular vote.

Teresa Shook was part of a complex relationship between American women voters, contemporary patriarchy, and the 2016 presidential election's gendered and racial dynamics. In each of the recent twenty-first-century American elections, slim majorities of white women had voted for the Republican presidential candidate. In this sense, 2016 followed an established pattern. Those white women who were most likely to vote for the Democrats' presidential candidate were single and/or college-educated: 51 percent of college-educated white women voted for Clinton. Yet four years earlier, in the 2012 presidential balloting, the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, running against Barack Obama, won an even higher proportion of these white college-educated women's votes.

According to exit polls conducted on November 11, 2016, 54 percent of all American women voters voted for Clinton. The pro-Clinton electoral majorities were especially high among women of color (94 percent of African American women voters, according to exit polls, chose to vote for Hillary Clinton, and 86 percent of Latina voters). While a slim majority of white women voters cast their ballots for Trump, only 41 percent of all men voted for Clinton. Again, the racial differences were stark, as majorities of men of color voted for Clinton.

That means that, even if patriarchal presumptions, preferences, and prejudices had an influence on the 2016 presidential election, we will not be able to get to the bottom of how patriarchy plays out in a country's crucial electoral outcomes until we explore the inter-workings of gender, race, class, education, and marriage inthe lives of women as voters (and non-voters) and men as voters (and non-voters).

"Women abandon Clinton" was a popular post-election claim. It was erroneous. A higher proportion of women of all major demographic categories voted for the 2016 Democratic nominee than had voted for male Democratic candidates in recently past presidential elections. That is, Donald Trump attracted a smaller proportion of women voters than had 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. This misleading portrayal of 2016's gendered dynamics, however, perpetuated two ideas that, if internalized by enough people, could serve to sustain contemporary American patriarchy. The first patriarchy-sustaining idea: there is no such thing as "American women," since American women are not only diverse, but also deeply fractured, even mutually hostile to each other. Patriarchy is always sustained by the "cat fight" cartoon version of women's relationships to each other. The second, and complementary, patriarchy-sustaining idea: most American women voters don't like/trust/respect/ approve of women as electoral candidates. In other words, the persistent marginalization of women in US political life is just fine with a majority of American women: most women are comfortable with the patriarchal system in which men run the country's political system.

The evolution of the Women's Marches of January 21, 2017, together with a fine-tooth-combed feminist investigation of 2016's actual voting patterns, belie both of these patriarchy-sustaining ideas.

Teresa Shook's modest Facebook post-election suggestion hit a common nerve. The Washington Women's March rapidly became a galvanizing event across the country and the world. It quickly outgrew Teresa Shook's own organizing capacities. The Washington Women's March's organizing baton was picked up by a quartet of young feminists, the majority of them women of color. By mid-January, that quartet grew to fourteen women. While none of the eventual organizing group had ever before organized such a rapidly evolving, multi-sited, large, and complex event, collectively they did possess what turned out to be the necessary toolkit of skills, perspectives, and experiences to make the Women's March and its multiplying "Sister Marches" a success: feminist intersectional analytical thinking, human rights advocacy experience, anti-racism organizing, fund-raising net works, alliance-building experience, Web design and merchandizing skills, and non-violent direct action training. They combined these with a shared conviction that the broadest mobilization would rise out of scores of grassroots initiatives. They were not obsessed with centralized control.

Precisely because the Women's Marches were such decentralized, grassroots events, until the morning of January 21, the national organizers had little idea of how large the Washington March would become, or how many Sister Marches would be held across the country and around the globe. In Anchorage, Alaska, 3,500 women and men braved the cold to take part in their own local Women's March. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, there were an estimated 15,000 marchers; in Birmingham, Alabama, 1,000; in Black Mountain, North Carolina, 400; in Charleston, West Virginia, 3,000; in Madison, Wisconsin, 100,000; in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 3,300; and on the Midway Atoll (still an American colony in the Pacific) six people gathered to hold their own Women's March.

That is, Women's Marches were locally organized and boisterously attended not only in places often stereotyped as "Clinton territory." They also were held in regions whose residents have often been sweepingly characterized as stubbornly conservative in their views on the intertwined questions of gender and race. The very geography of the January 21 Women's Marches should make us more curious about the dynamic interplay of American racist sexism, on the one hand, and, on the other, regional cultures of voting and political activism. Sustaining American patriarchy turns out to be not a simple matter in regions away from the coasts.

It also was impossible to accurately forecast how many women and men outside the United States would see the rise of Donald Trump and of what might be called "trumpism"— a distinctive cluster of fears and aspirations propelling his political ascendancy — as engaging them in public expressions of resistance. The scores of Sister Marches that that engagement did inspire, from Antarctica to Fiji, took many observers by surprise. When reading the full list of 673 Women's Marches (with an estimated 4.9 million marchers), it helps to have an atlas at one's elbow. Some marches were large, some tiny. For instance, according to preliminary estimates of the number of marchers:

• Accra, Ghana — 28

• Auckland, New Zealand — 2,000

• Beijing, China — 50

• Bristol, UK — 1,000

• Calgary, Canada — 5,000

• Cape Town, South Africa — 700

• Dublin, Ireland — 6,000

• Erbil, Iraq — 8

• Gdansk, Poland — 40

• Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam — 24

• Isle of Eigg, UK — 30

• London, UK — 100,000

• Melbourne, Australia — 10,000

Of course, one wants to know what exactly motivated each woman, each man (the marches drew both, as well as those who defied sexual binaries) to make the effort to come out on that Saturday in January 2017 to be seen and heard. The overarching commitments appeared to be for women's rights, for racial and ethnic inclusivity, and for transparent democratic processes. Yet each person who chose to take part had a personal motivating analysis. Reading the list of Sister Marches also prompts one to explore what feelings and understandings — perhaps quite new — about themselves in this world each marcher carried home with them from each event.

In some places, it required taking a personal risk to participate in such a public political demonstration.

The Sister Marches list goes on:

• Cairo, Egypt — 4

• Manchester, UK — 2,000

• Moscow, Russia — 7

• Nairobi, Kenya — 1,000

• Oaxaca, Mexico — 3,000

• Phnom Penh, Cambodia — 71

• Paris, France — 12,000

• Reykjavik, Iceland — 400

• Seoul, South Korea — 2,000

• Stockholm, Sweden — 4,000

• Tel Aviv, Israel — 500

• Tokyo, Japan — 648

• Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada — 300

The American women organizers published a list of the Washington Women's March principles and commitments — for women's rights, against violence, against racism (institutional, political, and individual), for transgender rights, for reproductive rights, for affordable health care, for policies to address the causes and consequences of climate change. One of the chief hallmarks of the marches, nonetheless, was the personal spontaneity and creativity that local participation inspired. The symbol of that was the "pussy hat." The hat was a hand-knitted (usually by the wearer or someone the wearer personally knew) cap made of pink or magenta yarn. It was square in shape, and, when donned, two of its corners popped up to resemble cat's ears. The message was feminist. "Pussy" was the crude term that Donald Trump had been caught on tape using in the company of other men while boasting of his sexual access to women, even when women attempted to reject his advances. The pink pussy hats were knitted and worn in irreverent defiance of that misogyny.

What became a global feminist knitting movement began when Krista Suh, a 29-year-old screenwriter in Los Angeles, started wondering how she could stay warm while walking in a march in Washington, DC in January. Then she asked herself: "How can I visually show someone what's going on?" She posed the question to her local knitters group at LA's Little Knittery. Together they created a simple knitting pattern in a vibrant color that would send a collective feminist message. To spread the word and keep their project grassroots in practice, they posted their simple pattern on Facebook and on global knitters' websites. It went viral.

The intersectional analysis underpinning the Women's Marches suggested how far transnational feminist thinking had developed during the past four decades. Again, that thinking was expressed in spontaneous chanting and an array of homemade poster messages. Among the chants shouted by many marchers joyfully in unison:

"My Body, My Rights! My Body, My Rights!"

"Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!"

"No Hate. No Fear. Immigrants Are Welcome Here!"

During the massive Washington march, hundreds of thousands of women and men — racially and ethnically diverse, old and young (scores of mothers and daughters), those new to demonstration politics and veterans of Second Wave feminist activism, ambulatory and in wheelchairs — announced them selves as having come to the capital from every state in the union. They walked shoulder to shoulder along Pennsylvania Avenue (where, only twenty-four hours earlier, the smaller, official Inauguration parade had occurred). A call-and-response chant was taken up:

"Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like!"

"This Is What Democracy Looks Like!"

The signs women and men in the numerous marches carried (no poles or sticks allowed) were drawn in myriad colors and scripts. In Boston, one woman held her hand-painted sign over her head: "Indigenous Women Exist-Resist-Rise!" Next to her another woman displayed her own sign: "There WILL Be a Woman President!" At the same time, down in Washington, a pink-hatted woman wore her sign strapped to her back: "If You Are Not Outraged, You Are Not Paying Attention." A middle-aged woman climbed atop a piece of street-cleaning equipment to display her sign: "Don't Call Us Radicals. We Are Informed Citizens." Another Washington marcher held a cardboard sign inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt: "A Woman Is Like a Tea-bag — You Can't Tell How Strong She Is Until You Put Her in Hot Water."

Several women in various cities came to their local Women's March dressed as early 1900s Suffragettes, wearing green, white and purple sashes that read "Votes for Women."

The Canadian writer Margaret Atwood reported receiving multiple messages from marchers accompanied by photos, showing signs that were inspired by her best-selling dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale, which told of a dark future in which a totalitarian state would take control of women's bodies. One marcher's sign declared: "Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again!"

Among the Washington March participants were feminists from other countries reporting back home what they were seeing. For example, Chinese feminist observers were there as journalists and translators to let their activist colleagues in China know what was transpiring. They said that this reporting was especially necessary because Chinese conservatives deliberately mistranslated and misrepresented the Women's March in order to discredit its principles and goals. For instance, one Chinese graduate student was there, she said, to send translations of signs and chants back home to her Chinese feminist colleagues: to feel the energy of the marchers, and also to ensure that sexist Chinese reporters and Tweeters did not succeed in distorting the portrayal of the march.

In keeping with the transnational and open spirit of the January events, women's Sister Marches around the world brought marchers' global messages together with local concerns. While many marchers expressed anger and alarm at Donald Trump's election, they also were propelled by the intersection of their own local feminist concerns with those seemingly becoming entrenched in the United States. For instance, Lepa Mladjenovic, one of the co-founders of the feminist anti-militarism group Belgrade Women in Black, noted that the January 21st Belgrade Women's March was led by five women who came to the capital from small Serbian towns to hold a broad purple banner that spelled out in bold white letters: "Zenski Marš Protiv Fašizma": "Women's March Against Fascism." While "fascism" is a term used only sparingly among American feminist activists, it has deeper and sharper resonance among many European feminists, connoting as it does the distinctive package of authoritarian rule, racism, militarism, and contempt for women's physical, intellectual and political autonomy. In the minds of the Belgrade Women's March participants, trumpist ideas were fascist ideas, and those ideas were already, even before Donald Trump's presidency, gaining prominence in Serbia and other regions of the former Yugoslavia.

Any movement that sparks widespread participation in diverse societies occurs in the midst not only of global conversations and mobilizations, but also at particular times in the ongoing evolution of local political worries, debates, and actions. In Dublin, the January 2017 Women's March occurred during the throes of a national campaign to repeal the Irish constitution's eighth amendment, the clause prohibiting abortions. Consequently, according to the prominent Irish feminist Ailbhe Smyth, the Dublin Women's March, while consciously part of a "worldwide resistance" and in "solidarity" with American feminists, featured among its diverse posters a long green and blue banner carried by seven women and one man. It read: "Coalition to Repeal the Eighth." In Stock


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