by Aditi Hukerikar //
Women who are political figures have an important role in the feminist movement; they have both the platforms and the political power to make lasting change and promote women’s issues. However, feminism, as a concept, has been used less as a driving force for change and more as a shield against criticism for women in politics.
From Madeline Albright claiming that “there is a special place in Hell for women who don’t support each other,” at a rally for 2016 Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, to supporters of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett denouncing women who opposed her nomination for not standing behind a woman in a position of power, candidates from both sides of the political spectrum have been participating in this weaponization. Even women who are closely involved with politics can raise the “feminism shields” to block criticism. In response to a 2019 art exhibition commenting on her role in the Trump administration, Ivanka Trump tweeted “Women can choose to knock each other down or build each other up. I choose the latter.” Women in politics are equating feminism to the notion that all women must support each other, no matter what. This notion effectively demeans women who don’t stand behind certain political figures or beliefs.
Creating this shield against criticism turns feminism into a path for politicians to avoid accountability for their actions. Weaponizing feminism, especially against other women, defeats the purpose of promoting feminism in the first place. Aside from various demographic differences (race, sexuality, et cetera), women are diverse in their perspectives and opinions; sharing a singular gender identity does not create a homogenous population. Reducing feminism to “women supporting other women, no matter what” ignores this diversity and essentially reduces all women to their gender identity.
Supporting other women is important, but how is it a “feminist action” to push the idea that all women should think the exact same way? Politics, by nature, involves differences in opinion, and expecting all women to have the same political opinions is both illogical and unfeminist. Understanding that other women will have fundamental disagreements with each other, in politics and beyond, is something that we need to accept. Political figures are not defined solely by their gender identity; for women in politics to be treated equally, their constituents should support them based on their actions and political opinions, not on their gender alone.
Promoting the idea that women must support each other, no matter what, is not empowering. Instead, it promotes the idea that all women are contributing to the feminist movement, just by being women, which ignores the issue that not all women promote feminism through their actions. Feminism should not be seen as a tool that any woman can utilize when it’s convenient for her. It is a movement—one that requires constant attention and action. Simply existing as a woman does not help provide equality for other women, but taking action and actively promoting equality helps ensure that all women, today and in the future, will have the equality they deserve. Politicians have the power to do this through their work, and we need to start holding them accountable when they use feminism as a label but fail to integrate its ideals into their work.