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Op-Ed: Feminism Didn’t Lose The Election

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Dec. 30 2016, Published 2:05 p.m. ET

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Hark! And behold the news. Feminism is dead. Feminism died with the election. Broken on the backs of the movement’s mothers who championed the marches and legislation and theory and thought pieces.

Gone is the progress the movement has made up to this point. Vanquished are we in our idealistic, progressive agenda to the dark ages that loom with the incoming administration. Feminism disappeared with Trump’s win. It was broken because of white women voters – or so the thought pieces proclaim.

As much as we want to fault feminism for its failure to place the first woman in the White House, there are some humble truths about feminism’s role in American politics and culture we need to seriously digest – at least before another thought piece goes out and sends us all wallowing further into the movement’s woes.

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First, feminism as a movement didn’t fail, despite the many carefully crafted arguments that appeared post-election citing white women voters as the symbolic downfall of the movement. The truth about white women voters is that they haven’t majority voted for a democratic nominee since the Bill Clinton was in office in 1996. Contrary to popular belief and as proven by their voting record, white women as a group aren’t a democratic stronghold, and to insinuate the majority would be feminists or feminist minded is a broad assumption.

“Feminism didn’t fail, but it did get rebranded…”

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Despite all the faux pas surrounding feminism within this past election, feminism itself is not broken and it did not fail. However, it’s fair to say that Clinton’s positioning  – intended or not – under the  individualistic umbrella of pop feminism had its consequences.

Pop feminism is a co-opted version of the feminist movement that does not represent every woman. It is the new rebrand of the old feminist movement. Pop feminism by and large glorifies the ideals and celebrity appeal of mostly economically elite women who seem completely out of touch with women of color, those from lower socioeconomic statuses, and definitely those white women voters in rural buckets that tend to lean conservative.

Though the popularity of pop feminism has pushed on, the response has been a backlash. The movement has been marked as disingenuous, de-politicized, and has been accused of moving away from its historically legislative and collective movement building roots:

“You aren’t simply a feminist because you choose to call yourself one,” says writer Arwa Mahdawi in her article on the differences between conservative and liberal feminist empowerment. “Feminism means fighting for the equality of women. And that means all women: rich women, poor women, white women, black women, brown women, queer women, disabled women, etc. It doesn’t mean fighting for the empowerment of yourself and people like you.”

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The rebranded role of pop feminism in our culture and politics has been to push individuals forward, not the collective. This can be seen in the rhetoric of the Clinton campaign. After all, the common positioning of those speaking for the Clinton campaign was that a victory for one woman would be a victory for all woman. The reality of this kind of branded feminism did not resonate with all female voters.

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But all is not lost, because pop feminism does not represent real feminism. The same underlying values of the movement are still present, as are the feminist leaders working in the frontlines  to bring empowerment and agency to all women in their communities.

The same gains and insights and progress made during the election through Hillary’s campaign and by those who championed gender equality have not disappeared.

Just like various movements before it that have fought and failed, and fought and succeeded, feminism will find a way  regardless of how conservative leaning women vote in the next election. And hopefully, it will pivot in a more genuine, inclusive way.

So long as pop culture feminism loses the limelight, we’re going to be okay.

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