Is Megyn Kelly an “improbable feminist icon”? No.

A major theme of this article is sexual assault, which may be triggering to some readers. 

An article published yesterday by Vanity Fair caught my eye. In it, the author gives a variety of examples demonstrating Kelly’s support of sexual assault victims, from her most recent clash with Newt Gingrich, to her defense of and participation in Gretchen Carlson’s sexual harassment lawsuit against the former Fox News CEO, Roger Ailes.

In a world where the discrediting and dismissal of women’s claims of rape, violence and sexual assault runs rampant, defending and supporting victims in their allegations speaks volumes. An entire topic all its own, the support, or at least simple abstinence from condemnation one way or another, of women who go public with allegations is one of the core tenets of feminism.

I first heard of Megyn Kelly when a video of her claiming Santa Claus and Jesus Christ should only be depicted as white men went viral. Since, she has made many other claims that others feel to be racist, such as her views on the death of Sandra Bland, when she called  Michelle Obama a “whiner” and when she said it was normal to receive racist emails in the workplace. She has also done much to discredit sexual assault victims, has said consent is ridiculous, defended the fake Planned Parenthood videos, says that abortion should not be considered feminist, claimed the gender pay gap does not exist and has mocked transgender people a myriad of times.  She often uses the term “feminist” in a derisive manner.

To understand my questioning of Kelly as a “feminist icon,” let’s first examine why some may feel she can be argued as such. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

 Perhaps the most basic challenge that feminists have posed to traditional views of rape lies in the recognition of rape as a crime against the victim herself. For much of recorded history…rape was regarded as a property crime against a woman’s husband or father (Burgess-Jackson 1996, 44-49). A raped woman or girl was less valuable as property… the property status of enslaved African-American women was also thought to entitle their owners to the women’s unrestricted sexual use. Given this entrenched historical and cultural legacy, feminists’ redefinition of ‘rape’ as a crime against the woman herself is nothing short of revolutionary.

As such, no matter what strain of feminism one adheres to, the acknowledgement of rape being a widespread phenomenon is a feminist act.

Many female celebrities, in the wake of feminism as a new trend, label themselves feminist, only to support male abusers in their personal or professional lives. Actress Cate Blanchett was hailed at the 2014 Oscars for her quip about giving women more lead roles in film, proclaiming “the world is round, people!” to a cheering audience.

However, Blanchett won the award for her role in the film “Blue Jasmine,” a film produced by Woody Allen, an actor and producer who was accused of sexual assault by his daughter. A two-minute “feminist” soundbite does nothing when Blanchett worked with a man who embodies what feminism fights against. Thus is an instance of women disregarding the basic tenets of feminism to advance their own careers, choosing not to become embroiled in an act that is feminist at its root. To actively disregard women in favor of being politically or professionally advantageous is most anti-feminist.

As stated in a previous blog post, one cannot be a feminist if not fighting against systemic racism. Kelly shows time and again through her conservative rhetoric that she does not hold the interest of racial minorities at heart. Mocking the idea of consent and challenging Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights as a whole shows she is again at odds with another feminist concept: bodily autonomy. Blatant disrespect for LGBT people is completely at odds with feminism’s goal to be inclusive of sexual minorities.

While Kelly herself has stood up against the issue of sexual assault in a few instances, even with it being harder in her position as a conservative woman on a conservative network, she builds her television persona and markets herself on issues that fundamentally disagree with the main goals of feminism. The overall goal of her career is not to advance a feminist agenda, it is simply to advance her career. While she may do one or two arguably feminist things, it does not negate all of the anti-feminist views she has fought for. Thus holds true for all women whose lives and careers do not center around the advancement of safety, liberation and representation for all women in every way. Feminism calls for a devotion to the advancement of women, and no woman is deserving of the title “feminist” if proposing blatantly racist, anti-woman and anti-LGBT views.

 

 

Women’s voices ignored, overpowered and criticized: the role of our views

The other night I found myself in the peculiar situation most women have found themselves in at least at one point in their life: I was the only woman in a room of men arguing over women’s issues.

Who the people were and what was said do not necessarily matter in the context of my individual experience. The issue at hand is the presumption that someone can argue for an idea, cause or theory when not listening to the voice(s) of those who are affected by those issues. Aggravatingly enough, the issue is exacerbated when those affected are actually present.

Over the course of the night, I heard such pleasant remarks ranging from “the majority of girls like rough sex” to “most girls lie about the whole rape thing. They just do it because they regret the sex the next day.”

No woman reading this could say she is shocked at this vulgar exploitation. I have no doubt most of my female readers have assuredly heard far worse in the course of their dangerous existence inhabiting a female body in a male-dominated, patriarchal world.

My experience is a part of the daily struggle women face in the realm of conversation. There are many aspects of this struggle, but I want to highlight three issues women face in conversations:

  1. Women are left out of conversations regarding our bodies, even when we are there to discuss them

    Imagine, having a panel on women’s health and then not having any women on the panel, duh!”- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in 2012

    Imagine, indeed. In 2012, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on mandated birth control coverage. Two panels were held, and many expressed outrage at the first panel being composed entirely of men. The committee argued that because their hearing was about the effect of the birth control mandate on religious freedom, the presence of women on the panel was unnecessary.
    Democrats were allowed one speaker at the panel, choosing Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke, whom Republicans blocked from speaking. Democrats were angered by this, and the two women on the panel walked out of the hearing.

    This is just one example of women being left out of conversations pertinent to our reproductive health, our bodies and our rights. Additionally, the suppression of having Fluke speak at the hearing showcases how female voices are not listened to, even when present.

    This brings me to the next point:

  2. Men overwhelm the conversation; feminism dictates men should not control the conversation
    Lately, in mainstream feminism, there has been a trend of prominent male celebrities (and Average Joes alike) championing feminist causes. A simple Google search of “male feminist tweets celebrities” brings up article after article comprised of aggregated Tweets and quotes from men, supporting various liberal feminist messages:a5d0d35052c800707e5ad54431928a92

    Now, in and of itself, there is nothing wrong with men speaking up for women’s rights. In fact, mainstream feminism values male voices in feminist spheres. The trouble lies in male voices being valued so strongly that they drown out women’s voices.

    As an editor and a writer, I believe that the subject of the story should be the one telling the story. It’s pretty simple.

    And when it comes to women’s lives and rights, the future belongs in the hands of women. For generations, women’s lives and futures were entirely in the hands of men. For a large part of recorded history, we were somebody’s property. Even when we were given the right to vote in the U.S. in 1920, it was because the men in power decided we should be allowed.

    Pause for a moment and consider that. When we were finally considered true citizens of this nation, it was because the men––the bosses, the owners––decided that we could. Yes, our foremothers fought and suffered for that change, but that history, that ownership, is one reason why women need to be leading the fight for women’s equality.
    – Joanna Schroeder

    This succinct excerpt from an article at the dailydot really sums up for me why the prioritization of male voices regarding feminism in mainstream society is so troublesome. Schroeder does a fine job relaying the importance of male voices within male spheres. Essentially, men should use their voices to engage other men, but most especially to amplify the voices of women already speaking up.

    I could go even further with this argument, analyzing the radical feminist view that while men can speak out for feminist causes, they cannot truly be feminists, however that is semi-irrelevant to the topic (but a good read!)

    Women have been speaking up for years about our oppression, both discreetly and visibly, which leads into the third and final point:

  3. When women do speak up, our voices are belittled and met with contempt. This often places us in scary situations


    Men do not listen to us.

    OK, that is a generalized, “buzzword” sentence, however when speaking about men as a class (and not on an individualized level), it is relatively true. This story from stopstreetharassment.org  shows why it is dangerous for women to speak up. Women’s voices and narratives about our experiences are heavily scrutinized and destroyed within the mainstream – this is most often true when stories regarding domestic abuse and sexual violence are told.

    “Why is she just now coming out with this?” “Where’s the proof?” “She’s just a golddigger.” “It’s a convenient time for her to be coming out with a story like this, when she can cash in on it.” “She was coerced into saying this from the [liberal/conservative] media.” “She is not reputable.”

    Any news story about domestic violence, sexual assault, or any other gendered crime elicits responses such as these. Just look at the public backlash in the cases of Angelina Jolie’s allegations of child abuse against Brad Pitt, Amber Heard’s allegations of domestic abuse against Johnny Depp, Dylan Farrow’s allegations of sexual abuse against Woody Allen, and just recently all of the women who came forward about Donald Trump’s sexual harassment. I could fill the pages of a book with cases of women who have accused men of sexual violence and been met with contempt, and still never be done writing.

    We can argue about the validity of these claims all day, but when it comes down to it the issue lies in the fact that women are not even given a fair chance to be listened to. Our stories are not even given equal weight nor do they have the opportunity to be evaluated – immediately we are shot down as liars, opportunists, or women who simply “regret the sex the next day.”

Misogyny in Donald Trump’s political language contributes to rape culture, has impact

By now most people have heard the comments Donald Trump made in a 2005 hot microphone video on the set of “Access Hollywood” obtained by The Washington Post.

In it, he makes many remarks that feminist outlets along with the mainstream media have called out as being indicative of sexual assault:

“I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her,” Trump says. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

“And when you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

“Grab them by the p—y,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

The Language

“Sexist remarks aren’t anything new from ordinary speakers,” said Dr. Diana Boxer, a distinguished professor of linguistics at the University of Florida. “But this is not an ordinary speaker. This is somebody who is possibly going to be the leader of the free world. [We must] hold that person up to the standards of any person. Even if it’s all talk and no action, which obviously women are coming out now saying that it is action, it is still not right for a person in a powerful position to be able to objectify any part of the human race that way.”

I asked Dr. Boxer about Trump’s tendency to rate women on their looks with numbers. While she personally said she didn’t know of any research in her specialization that has analyzed that, she said this is one way people use language to “other” certain populations.

“One of the ways you would [other someone] would be saying ‘She’s an eight out of a 10,'” Boxer said.

Dr. Boxer said the misogynistic language used by men in powerful leadership roles has always dissuaded women from pursuing leadership roles. Hillary Clinton is told “‘your voice is so shrill.’ They don’t say that about men,” Boxer said.

Trump’s misogynistic language, spanning decades, continues to reinforce the belief that degrading language is normal.

 

The Impact

Dr. Boxer applies the term androcentrism, meaning anything men do is the norm whereas what women do is a deviation from that norm, when speaking on the impact of this election. “We have to break out of that gendered socialization pattern that has been inculcated in us.”

Dr. Boxer directed me to an opinion piece recently published in the Gainesville Sun written by Trysh Travis, a UF professor in the Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies Research. In it, Dr. Travis touches on how Trump’s language contributes to the feminist concept of rape culture:

“The frank and vulgar way he talks about ‘mov[ing] on’ and ‘grabbing’ women can be read as another great example of his refusal to kowtow to ‘political correctness’,” Travis writes. “[Rape culture] is created by men who aren’t necessarily ‘rapists’ but who, in their everyday conversations about women, construct them as objects to be manipulated and ‘moved on.’”

It is through this language of Trump’s that he shows how his mindset is one that was cultivated by and in turn breeds rape culture.

The impact of this language is being noticed. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC Survey, Hillary Clinton’s lead among women jumped from 12 points in September 21 this October. However, there are still women who are vocal about their support of Trump, one such woman being the wife of our very own congressman here in Gainesville, Rep. Ted Yoho. Carolyn Yoho’s reaction to the remarks was “a few moments of righteous indignation.”

“Then I got some perspective.”

She said she has heard professional men speaking “very inappropriately and it doesn’t make them incompetent.”

Thus, Carolyn Yoho and like-minded conservative women view remarks like Trump’s as having no weight on their ability to be successful in their respective fields.

I asked Dr. Boxer why she believes such women will still vote for Trump.

“Do you want me to give you a cynical answer?” she asks. “Because we’ve been brainwashed by the male hierarchy: the hegemonic male outlet of our society…. It’s the androcentric rule [that] women have been socialized from a very early age [to believe].”

Campus racism a feminist issue

Last week, The Independent Florida Alligator reported on the racial harassment of a UF Bollywood dance group, Gator Adaa, as they practiced outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. According to The Alligator, they were harassed by two men who appeared to be within their 30s. The dance group is made up of 13 women.

The two men were part of a larger group who cheered and clapped as they watched the young women dance. The two men stayed behind as their group left, and gave racist comments to some of the members, likening them to an “invasive species” and mocking their dancing.

This incident is but one example of the strained relationship between race and American universities, and, while the students were not specifically targeted for being women, also showcases the unsafe environment campuses can become for women.

A January 2016 article from The Atlantic gives statistics on this relationship: it cites a survey that states “75 percent of black college students responded that they tend to keep their feelings about the difficulty of college to themselves, versus 61 percent of white students” and discuses how Justice Scalia’s December 2015 negative comments on affirmative action feed into the idea that college students of color are not as “resilient” as white students.

College campuses have also made headlines lately for campus sexual assault. According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 23.1 percent of female undergraduates will experience some form of rape or sexual assault during their time in college. 

Thus, racism and sexual harassment/violence are big problems on college campuses.

But what does Gator Adaa’s experience with racism mean in a feminist context?

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own,” writes Audre Lorde, a prominent black lesbian feminist.

While to outsiders feminism may seem to only focus on female oppression, many feminist movements focus on race, stressing the importance of analyzing what is known as “intersectionality”. A term defined in 1989 by civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, intersectionality is the study of how varying identities overlap each other. Black, multiracial and postcolonial feminism all incorporate intersectionality into their theory.

While Crenshaw’s work focuses on the experiences of black women, her argument about intersectionality is applied to all minority identities. She claims that “this focus on the most privileged group members marginalizes those who are multiply-burdened…this focus on otherwise-privileged group members creates a distorted analysis of racism and sexism because the operative conceptions of race and sex become grounded in experiences that actually only represent a subset of a much more complex phenomenon.” (Emphasis mine.)

Thus, race is a feminist issue. When analyzing this incident of racial harassment through the context of a feminist lens, feminists must analyze not only why a group of 13 young female college students were harassed by two men in their 30s, but why they were targeted due to race as well. Surely Crenshaw and other feminists of color would argue this group was targeted due to both their sex and race: for two white males, 13 young women of color may have been seen as an easy target.

Welcome to Fundamentally Feminist!

Hello and welcome to Fundamentally Feminist! This blog was created out of a desire to explore current feminist issues. I hope to analyze recent events affecting women from a feminist perspective using research, interviews and various strains of feminist theory.

I am a second-year journalism major with a concentration in women’s studies and an educational studies minor at the University of Florida. I love reading and discussing various types of feminist theory, including liberal, radical, Marxist and postcolonial feminism. Reading feminist authors and scholars such as Andrea Dworkin, Gloria Steinem, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Gail Dines, Adrienne Rich and Patricia Hill Collins is an important aspect of the way I approach feminism, and I hope to incorporate the theory laid out by feminist scholars of various approaches.  I find that taking a multifaceted approach to feminism yields the best results when analyzing an issue.

With this blog I hope to show that feminist thought is more intricate, thoughtful and layered than the general population may expect. I hope to make readers really question the issues discussed here, to learn not to simply accept ideas or social structures at face-value and to begin analyzing all aspects of life with a feminist lens. I hope my words here give readers a new outlook.