Kellyanne Conway had a #MeToo moment and so, as feminists, we should reach out to her, surely? She told Jake Tapper on CNN, “I feel very empathetic, frankly, for victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment and ****. I am a victim of sexual assault.” Tapper conveyed sympathy. But Conway, Donald Trump’s White House adviser, was on the ******, as all those around Trump are, and there to impugn the motives of Christine Blasey Ford. Watching Conway is always horribly fascinating. This is the woman who came up with the phrase “alternative facts”. She is anti-********, and though a survivor of sexual assault, works for a man accused of multiple sexual assaults. I always remember a friend quipping about the strange outfit she wore for Trump’s inauguration. “Is this what happens when the gays won’t dress you?” (it was Gucci!).
Now she is on the airwaves announcing herself as a victim, but still acting as a full-time enabler for those who think either a bit of teenage sexual assault is just “boys being boys”, or all of this is a Democrat smearing of a good man. (Brett Kavanaugh has denied all allegations.) He is cast as the real victim here – and he certainly played that part to the hilt.
The #MeToo movement hits a block when it gets reduced to party politics, as we are witnessing, and feminism hits a block as long as there are women, like Conway, complicit in upholding male power. She isn’t alone. Many white women supported Trump; many evangelicals supported Trump for pragmatic reasons. He may be less than ideal faith-wise, but he had policies they like. Some of those women are now rallying to support Kavanaugh; others are peeling away. But the appointment of Kavanaugh is a huge deal. A poll from the Pew Research Center found that “supreme court appointment” outranked healthcare, the economy and gun control in terms of importance for votes for the midterms.
As the limitations of the FBI investigation become apparent, as more stories emerge of Kavanaugh’s drinking and friendships, the more polarising this all becomes. One wonders what it will take to wake these rightwing women up. A woman like Conway succeeds because she works the patriarchy to her own advantage. She has Trump’s ear: “My gender has helped with the president,” she says. “I’m actually unafraid to express my mind, but I do it very respectfully – very respectfully and very deferentially.”
Conway, portrayed as a bimbo by some Democrats, is whip-smart. She knows what she is doing. She refers to herself as one of the guys. How does she balance her personal life with the White House, she was asked, as all women are asked, by Fox Business Network: “ I don’t play golf and I don’t have a mistress, so I have a lot of time that a lot of these other men don’t.”
A young woman marching in support of Kavanaugh put it this way: “This could be our brother, our dad, our boyfriend …” These women know and they don’t know. They are on the side of those who are trying to set limits on women’s political power. This is a big moment indeed, but in the midst of it, one cannot ignore or wish away female complicity in the patriarchal structure Trump presides over. He is in power, it is said, not because of poor rural voters, but middle-class white women. All over the world some of the staunchest defenders of systems that limit women are other women. This is a reckoning, then, for anyone who wants to change things. Internalised misogyny acts out. No one escapes it. Some, like Conway, profit from it. The venal semi-circle of stony-faced men who confronted Blasey Ford is one face of male power, but every time I see Conway, I am reminded of that great but uncomfortable truth bell hooks told us: “Patriarchy has no gender”.
‘Casual racism’ is, actually, racism
What is the opposite, I wonder, of casual racism? Racism in formal dress? It’s a bizarre phrase, implying it is not deliberate, yet it is employed precisely by those praised for their phrase-making: men such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg. These men’s personas are carefully invented; there is nothing casual about anything they do.
So Rees-Mogg appears to impress his peers by talking without notes (something the average secondary school teacher does every day of the week, but never mind). Without notes, he referred to an African country as “the People’s Republic of Jam Jar or something”. Hilarious, what? Jeremy Hunt had compared the EU to Soviet Russia. T and the ante has always to be upped. The rest of the world is foreign to these men who like to portray themselves steeped in history. I don’t know what they are taught at Eton, but the absolutely senseless comments on Ireland coming from the Tories about a bridge (Johnson) and the border (all of them) make me wonder if they even know where it is. Of course, ignorance of the relationship between England and Ireland is another form of casual racism – or let’s be done with this stupid phrase and just call it what it is: racism.
It is not political correctness running amok to say this, as Tory ignorance is actually backfiring. A united Ireland and an independent Scotland would please some of us, but is that what they actually want? This is what happens when you play politics as a debating society with no idea of the actual effect of policy.
In the end, though, Rees-Mogg and “piccaninnies” Johnson are far-right fantasists whose racism is intentional. They know who their audience is and they are playing to them. It’s not casual, it’s shameful.
A Turner prize worth taking time over
Not everyone likes the Turner prize this year because it is four pieces of video/installation art. I glimpsed some of it at a do the other day. I will go back. This stuff requires time and commitment; there are hours of footage. What Forensic Architecture are doing, for instance, in documenting scenes of international crimes, crosses over into investigative journalism and activism. It’s slow and meticulous, the opposite of the usual quick trot round a gallery. There is nothing easy here and I like that. Nor is it very marketable: not a lot of gift shop opportunities, but work that asks for personal and political engagement. And above all, time. Whatever next?