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Can we use Feminism to Improve Democracy?
Rebecca Solnit argues that a feminist lens helps us to understand authoritarian leaders
In brief: In my last article, “Reframing the Relationship between Feminism and Democracy,” I discussed how feminists reference tyranny and authoritarianism when analyzing domestic abusers. In her article for the Guardian, “Feminism taught me all I need to know about men like Trump and Putin” (2023), Rebecca Solnit draws a connection between domestic abusers and political leaders. To Solnit’s point, once you exit the household and enter the political sphere, the issue of exploitative power only gets worse: populations are affected rather than just individuals, and it is harder to call out. Can feminist literature on domestic abuse help us understand corruption in the world of politics?
Why it Matters: In 2023, political figures such as Trump and Putin maintain a large stage presence. Both participate in and allowing for violence against women in their personal lives, Solnit argues; they also carry their abuse into the policies they support, their jargon when speaking publicly, and their executive decisions. Left uncriticized, that influence trickles down. Absent repercussions, others feel they can get away with the same; Solnit points to the regular rape and murder of women in the war in Ukraine as an example.
Some may argue that viewing our political world through a feminist lens is reducing. The behavior of men and the reasons behind this behavior vary depending on whether they are in a personal and or professional space, especially for men running countries. However, we can use feminism to track patterns of abuse and shine a light on how authoritarianism does not turn off when you hang up your keys for the night in the same way that abuse does not stop when you pick them back up. Thus, using feminism we are able to accurately view political figures in the same light as we view domestic abusers. We can see how the tactics are the same, only politicians’ actions affect collectives and the ideals of democracy.
Zoom Out: It is often power hungry men who often drive countries to conflict. Politics in the U.S. and beyond have relied on the power that coerciveness can have over people and perspective, which only perpetuates authoritarianism disguised as democracy. Using traditionalism to defend heinous actions on a personal, public, and international level is not leadership, it is abuse and it should be addressed as so.
Main Point: While the issue of tyrannical power is more multifaceted than “abusive or not abusive”, beginning to be critical of the people wielding the power could be a start to achieving a better sense of global democracy. We must learn how to analyze this behavior in order to change it.
Go Deeper: For more, check out Evan Start’s 2007 book Coercive Control.