“Feminism can be defined as a “political project that explores the diverse ways that men and women are socially empowered or disempowered” with intentions to “deconstruct sexist oppression present in our everyday norms and experiences” (Ott and Mack, p. 194). A prevalent example of this is the #MeToo movement that originated in 2006 by Tarana Burke whose purpose was to support sexual assault survivors, particularly young women of color from low socioeconomic backgrounds (Ottesen). Today, the #MeToo movement has adapted into a widespread phenomenon that allows women to share their stories of sexual violence on social media through the hashtag “#MeToo.”” This movement can be viewed as a step toward deconstructing oppression; however, systemic forms of sexism and gender discrimination still exist in media. Negative messages toward #MeToo promote the disempowerment of women and reveal norms of patriarchy. One of these messages came from President Donald Trump in a video where he calls the phenomenon “a very scary time for young men in America” (Colvin and Lucey). I argue that Trump’s response to the #MeToo movement perpetuates gender inequality and reveals power dynamics that are deeply rooted in patriarchal values.
Feminism is commonly stigmatized as “anti-male” or “male-bashing.”” However, feminists don’t intend to target groups of men or any single man. Rather, feminists look at ways in which everybody is affected by forms of sexism. Just because women of the #MeToo movement are speaking out on their male offenders, doesn’t mean those women are targeting men. Therefore, both women and men can speak upon this issue and decide whether to participate. This also allows people to use media as a way to react positively or negatively. At its core, feminism “is about equality of men and women, not “sameness.” Many people offer up the argument that women are not the “same” as men so there can’t be equality. In other words, because their bodies are different (many say “weaker” and smaller), and because men and women have different physical capabilities, these physical differences mean equality is not possible” (Caprino). Regardless, feminists wish to reject traditional norms of what it means to
be a “man” and what it means to be a “woman.”” The #MeToo movement disrupts traditional roles that women should be “silent” or “submissive.”” That being said, there are key considerations when analyzing a media message such as Trump’s. Through a feminist perspective, it is important to question the relationship between men and women portrayed, the power relationships at play, the way in which male and female roles get defined, and how patriarchy is ultimately revealed. I will use these guidelines to implement the core framework of a feminist approach.
In 2018, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault from several women. President Trump reflects his support of Kavanaugh in a video posted by Seattle Times where he names the #MeToo movement as “a very scary time for young men in America” (Colvin and Lucey). He continues to state that the accusers “want fame. They want money. They want whatever.”” Trump’s main concern is aligned with the reputation of powerful men like Kavanaugh and himself, rather than being sympathetic of the true victims. For Trump, the #MeToo movement is a merely a plot to eradicate white men from power and “unfairly threatens an entire class of powerful men” (Rucker, Costa, Dawsey, Parker). Trump’s attitudes reflect patriarchal values because he “essentializes women in a way that devalues them while predominantly serving the interests of men” (Ott and Mack, p. 195). Traditional roles of men being the one “in charge” come to question when women refuse to maintain the subordinate role. Trump expresses concern about this “threat” against men’s masculinity because men are being exposed and no longer have “power” or are “in control.””
Trump’s negative message reflects an unfair relationship between men and women as his response privileges male perspective over female perspective. Furthermore, this portrays an imbalance of power relations between men and women. Trump is in the highest position of power in our country as President but also as a white male with extreme privilege. As such a prominent figure in the public sphere and within the media, he uses his platform to devalue women and maintain the mold of a patriarchal figure. His attitudes toward the #MeToo movement support men rather than women. Trump deems men, like Kavanaugh, as the ultimate victim rather than the assaulted women. By doing so, he is oppressing women further and using his political stance to strip the validity from women’s voices.
Media messages like Trump’s are embedded into our daily lives and experiences. Through a feminist lens, media content becomes a platform to discuss forms of sexism and gender inequality. Both men and women can participate in this and ultimately decide whether to maintain a patriarchal system that privileges men and disadvantages women. The #MeToo movement shows how media messages can be used to expose power dynamics, but also reinforce traditional stereotypes and harsh social structures as seen via the President. Importantly, the #MeToo movement portrays how “social media [has] democratized feminist activism. It has “open[ed] up participation to anyone with a Twitter account and a desire to fight the patriarchy. By removing the barriers of distance and geography, sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram have made activism easier than ever, facilitating public dialogues and creating a platform for awareness and change” (Chittal).”