Feminism in 2017: The Good, the Bad and the Questions

It's fitting that Feminism is Merriam-Webster Dictionary's Word of the Year for 2017.

Protesters walk during the Women's March on Washington, with the U.S. Capitol in the background, on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC.

By Liberty McArtor Published on December 23, 2017

It’s fitting that Feminism is Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2017. The year began with the the Women’s March on Washington. It ends with a chorus of women saying “Me, too.” And in between? Let’s review a few highlights and lowlights.

The Women’s March

The Women’s March on Washington was potentially the largest march recorded in U.S. history. Americans gathered in Washington, D.C. and in cities around the nation the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The Washington Post estimates that over 4 million participated.

The Women’s March organization supports abortion and partnered with pro-choice organizations. Still, some pro-life groups were willing to look past these differences. They wanted to stand with women against what they saw as cultural misogyny and Trump’s propagation of it. (Think Access Hollywood, and many other cringe worthy statements.) One such organization was New Wave Feminists. They even signed on as a sponsor.

The Atlantic reported the partnership, quoting march co-chair Bob Bland. “Intersectional feminism is the future of feminism and of this movement,” she said. “We must not just talk about feminism as one issue, like access to reproductive care.”

Or must we? 

Soon after the Atlantic’s article broke, certain high-profile feminists threw a fit. They insisted one could not be a feminist unless they supported abortion. Hours later, the Women’s March apologized for their “error.” They revoked New Wave Feminists’ sponsorship. New Wave Feminists marched anyway.

So, the march wasn’t about “intersectional feminism” after all — but abortion? Apparently.

A Day Without a Woman

Desperate to keep march’s momentum going, The Women’s March planned a strike for International Women’s Day. The purpose of the strike, called “A Day Without a Woman,” was even more ambiguous than that of the march. In the Guardian, eight women tried to articulate why ladies should shun their duties on March 8. They’d ring in a new wave of feminism to fight against:

domestic violence, but also the violence of the market, of debt, of capitalist property relations and of the state; the violence of discriminatory policies against lesbian, trans and queer women; the violence of state criminalization of migratory movements; the violence of mass incarceration; and the institutional violence against women’s bodies through abortion bans and lack of access to free healthcare and free abortion.

Oh. There it is again. “Free abortion.” The Guardian writers claimed this new feminism would be “a feminism for the 99%.” Apparently the 99 percent does not include pro-lifers.

The Fearless Girl

Bronze and four-feet-tall, the defiant little girl was placed opposite Wall Street’s iconic “Charging Bull” in early March. State Street Global Advisors, the investment management branch of State Street Corporation, commissioned the temporary statue. 

Judging by the worship she inspired, she also came to set the masses of pink-hat-wearing feminists free. Or at least give them cute photo-ops

Some claimed this new feminism would be “a feminism for the 99%.” Apparently the 99 percent does not include pro-lifers.

State Street Global Advisors said the “Fearless Girl” was supposed to encourage executive boards to include more women. The awkward part came months later. State Street Global Advisors was sued by hundreds of its female executives for pay discrimination. It denied the allegations — then settled with $5 million. 

Real-Live Handmaids

In April Hulu released The Handmaid’s Tale. Based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, the series tells the story of female oppression in Gilead (America) after a distorted sect of “Christianity” takes power. What the unsuspecting American populace quickly learned was that The Handmaid’s Tale was not some dystopian work of fiction. It was Trump’s America!

Handmaid’s star Elisabeth Moss said the show became “much closer to home than we could have ever anticipated.” Co-star Samira Wiley claimed Gilead is “dangerously close to the climate that we were starting to live in.” Why? Because Donald Trump wants to take away birth control and subjugate women with pro-life laws. (Spoiler: he doesn’t.)

So women donned the attire of the “handmaids” (read: sex slaves). They wore these red capes and white bonnets to protest pro-life legislation around the country. 

The New York Times reported on the dress-up phenomenon, quoting NARAL Pro-Choice director Heather Busby. “Now we have teams of seamstresses making the cloaks” for protests, she said. How quaint.

#MeToo and the Silence Breakers

There you have it: feminism’s lowlights in 2017. (We don’t even have room to discuss the misleading freak-out over a Google memo, comparisons of the U.S. to Saudi Arabia or the sexist attacks on conservative women — by leftist women.)

But feminism had some good moments, too.

If there’s one reason Feminism truly deserves to be 2017’s word of the year, the #MeToo movement is it.

In October dozens of women accused Harvey Weinstein, previously adored Hollywood producer, of sexual assault or harassment. The testimonies published in The New Yorker and The New York Times were groundbreaking. They at last defied Weinstein’s years-long efforts to silence those he mistreated

And Weinstein was only the beginning. Millions of women have since come forward, often with the hashtag #MeToo, to reveal their own abusers. This month, TIME revealed its 2017 person of the year award went to such “Silence Breakers.”  

If there’s one reason Feminism truly deserves to be 2017’s word of the year, the #MeToo movement is it.

Asking Questions

And if there’s one question feminists are left asking at 2017’s finale, it’s what to do about it. 

A few weeks ago, columnist Christine Emba declared in the left-leaning Washington Post, “Let’s Re-think Sex.” Abstinence till marriage isn’t practical, she argues. But “now could be the time to reintroduce virtues such as prudence, temperance, respect and even love.” Why? Because “the idea that pursuing one’s sexual imperatives should take precedence over workplace rules, lines of power or even just appropriate social behavior is what allows predators to justify sexual harassment and assault.”

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Emba’s right. And her suggestion that sex has a “deeper significance than just recreation” is edging dangerously close to the code of conduct that the sexual revolution so defiantly did away with a few decades ago.  

Perhaps women’s “liberation,” with its pillars of easy birth control, unlimited abortion and meaningless sex wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Will mainstream feminists acknowledge this? Or are they married to the fantasy they displayed multiple times this year — that abortion is the key to female success and happiness? 2018 will tell.

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