Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and Nairobi, Kenya, and the author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Middle-aged women have never been treated as an exciting or newsworthy political force. In contrast, young, single women make for sexy stories or examples of nanny-state selfishness. Disaffected working-class white men are treated like the backbone of the country and the true Americans. And the press looks toward young people generally to take the temperature of the country’s political future.
Mothers, however, are presented as “soccer mom” voting blocs (or alternately, “hockey moms” or “security moms”) – not as movers and shakers running for office, staffing winning campaigns and even taking to the streets in protest. It’s not that women in their 40s, 50s and 60s haven’t been active; it’s that they’ve been invisible.
But now, they’re so organized and loud it’s impossible to miss them. It’s women who are leading the protests against President Donald Trump’s cruel immigration policies — some with their own children in tow as they protest separating families at the border. They’re getting involved as political organizers, attending meetings, canvassing for candidates they believe in and making phone calls to pressure their elected officials. As Michelle Goldberg recently detailed in the New York Times, these are the women doing the thankless work of pounding the pavement.
And yet they still aren’t featured in news and magazine articles about their podcasts. They are, as one of those young male podcasters derisively referred to the Hillary Clinton supporters now opposing the President, “the middle-aged hysterics who make up the Resistance.”
But the hysterics are getting stuff done.
Republicans seem to be realizing it, and they’re trying to quietly cash in – or, perhaps more accurately, cynically deploy a few strategic women to their own benefit. Trump is reportedly considering Amy Coney Barrett, a right-wing jurist and member of an extreme Catholic sect – People of Praise, to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court. Barrett’s religious sect believes that men are heads of households and women “handmaids” who are supposed to defer to patriarchal authority in all things. During her appellate court nomination hearing last year, Barrett said that while she is a religious Catholic, her beliefs would not affect her judicial decision making.
Still, that doesn’t sound like a great perspective for a judge – especially one whose job will entail deciding cases about the rights of women across the country. But she is a woman, and for Team Trump, that may be enough of a gotcha. As conservative pundit Ramesh Ponnuru put it, “opposing a woman will probably be more awkward for senators than opposing a man would be.”
Maybe. Or perhaps senators will actually listen to the women leading the resistance and understand that we’re angry and motivated – and putting another misogynist in power won’t placate us, even if she happens to be a woman. After all, women aren’t immune from sexism, and throughout human history have been enthusiastic upholders of patriarchal norms. One of the people being targeted by these “middle-aged hysterics” is Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, herself a woman. And yet senators (led by women) are calling for her to resign; a woman even led a protest at Nielsen’s home.
Attempting to appoint a right-wing female justice may provide satisfactory fodder for smarmy op-ed writers who think it’s hypocritical for liberals to refuse to vote for a woman simply because she’s a woman (it’s not). But it’s not going to make a bit of difference to the women on the streets. The only thing those women want is Trump out of office. And if their unrelenting work over the past year is any indication, they’re not going to stop until they get it.