This month The Atlantic had a fascinating article by Yoni Appelbaum in which he ruminated about the lack of enthusiasm some Americans feel for democracy as an idea. In all its two or three thousand words, not one was the word “woman”. This is not in itself unusual among political historians — one can read entire histories of European societies which were apparently populated only by men, and historians have been erasing women’s histories since they began applying their pens to paper.
But this substantial essay occupying the “Dispatches” slot in the magazine occurred in a year when the election was polarized between “woman” and “anti-woman”, when sexism determined the outcome of the election, when an orange orangutang’s visible misogyny was accepted and reiterated by a majority of white men and a majority of their white wives. That an essay on American democracy could not contain a single reference to “woman” in a year when the election of a blissful woman-hater led directly to 2.5 million people, mostly women, marching in cities around the world for the sake of democracy — that’s about as careless as a man can be.
What kind of blindness is it that leads a man like Appelbaum to open his drapes on January 21 and not see the hundred thousand women in pink “pussy hats” thronging the streets of his city? What did he see instead?
Appelbaum refers to statistics indicating two thirds of people born after 1980 do not place the highest value on living in a democracy and do not think civil rights are needed to protect people’s liberties. Who are those young — well, youngish — people? Surely those statistics were broken down by race and gender, perhaps by education level? I’m betting not a single African-American woman is complacent about democracy. The consequences of patriarchal authoritarianism haven’t bled out of her system yet, surely.
In a time when American politics is polarized not just between left and right, but between male and female and between white and non-white, and when those categories align so that right means male and white, and left at least includes female and non-white, I’m betting those not repulsed by the idea of living in an authoritarian state are exclusively white right-wing male pseudo-Christians and their unfortunate stepford wives.
It is telling of the unforgiveable ignorance of men that Appelbaum, a man who has spent years as a professional political commentator in Washington, is not aware that democracy, as an idea, is being fought for harder now than it has been fought for in a long time — by those who always fight for democracy, that is, by the oppressed.
Democracy has never been the ideal of wealthy power-brokers. Democracy has been forced on them bit by bit over hundreds of years through the growing power of less-powerful groups. First aristocrats wrested some democratic rights from absolute monarchs, then the gentry, the bourgeousie, the merchant classes managed to extend democracy to include them. Eventually non-landowners, and non-white males were included in democracies in the west. The hardest fight, though, was always that waged by women.
Women, particularly women of colour, are still the most oppressed group in America and their access to democracy is minimal. They can vote, yes, but not for women. There are almost no women to vote for and that says everything about American men.
Appelbaum’s entire essay is a lie by over-generalization. It’s not young people who are complacent — it’s the inheritors of priviledge who are complacent. It’s white men who see democracy isn’t giving them the wealth, status and priviledge that their ancestors got from the vote. They’re simply thinking that maybe a return to brute patriarchy will give it to them.