It’s a difficult time to be a woman. Populism and right wing (I refuse to use the term ‘alt-right’) politics are gaining traction; vulnerable populations such as immigrants, refugees, PoC, LGBTQI and women are being targeted; and the progress we’ve made for equality for all groups of people seems to be retreating backwards. What the fuck is going on?
We now live in a post-truth world where terms such as ‘fake news’ are actually becoming a reality and universal truths are suddenly being argued against. For example, angry voices rage about the validity of false rape claims and some morons actually still believe the Earth is flat.
This divisiveness and anger seems most prevalent in the US right now as the country gears up for their mid term elections on November 6th. Similar to voting for new MPs in parliament, this is when all of the seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be contested. It is like a referendum on the Trump presidency so far. I wanted to know what it has been like to live as a woman, as a queer woman and as a woman of colour under this presidency so asked three friends (all young filmmakers), Tulica Singh, Natalie Stone and Laila Shireen, their thoughts, fears and hopes for this year’s midterms.
What were your thoughts when Trump got elected?
TS: Complete shock and devastation.
NS: Honestly when the Brexit vote happened off the back of an overtly racist campaign I was absolutely terrified because I felt then that Trump could actually get elected. Hate speech has a real-world immediate global impact. I lay on the floor with my flatmate crying all night. The only thing that gave me a shade of hope was that this darkness would make people sit up and see injustice, and start fighting to get back to the light.
LS: I felt the American public wanted a quick fix. They wanted a buzzy campaign they could understand and not complexity and nuance. They wanted someone who would get angry with them and offer blunt solutions.
You work in the film and TV industry, so the #MeToo movement seems more personal. What are your thoughts on it? Particularly now, after this absolute shit storm with Kavanaugh?
NS: I was first sexually assaulted when I was 18 and I first began talking about it last year. I spoke out on social media about the attempted rape during the #MeToo movement. I was lucky I got him off me before he could rape me.
Watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford bravely come forward and share one of the most traumatic moments of her life resonated deeply with me because I could so closely identify with the nature of her experience. I didn't tell anyone what really happened in that room for ten years because I was so ashamed and I blamed myself. I didn't have words like 'sexual assault' or 'attempted rape' for my experience back then. All I knew was that I hadn't been raped.
I didn't understand that this trauma would affect me for the rest of my life and that what happened wasn't my fault. Everything about the world told me otherwise. I repressed it hard and carried on. And I don't know a single woman in my life who doesn't have an experience with sexual assault or harassment in some form, an 'Aziz' night where their lines of consent have felt blurred or trespassed over by the other party. The entire process triggered me, and every single woman around me.
TS: It's another shock. The amount of supporters Kavanaugh has is very surprising, especially in terms of women. But I am hopeful because younger generations, especially Gen Z, seem to be appalled by this type of behaviour and understand consent more than older generations. However, once again any sort of progress in this area leads to a reaction.
LS: In an industry so heavily based in apprenticeship, favouritism, and networking, it seems impossible to avoid #metoo stories in Hollywood. Hollywood takes advantage of its workers through long hours and minimal pay because of its imbalanced power structure. We need more transparent work places and to change the face of those in power.
What (or who) do you think is the biggest threat to women under a Trump presidency right now?
TS: I think gay marriage is now at risk. I am also afraid of the strides we made in entertainment rolling back. Studios and networks will want to cater to a growing demographic of bigots. As a woman, simple rights and safety are at play.
NS: Healthcare is definitely extremely high on my list of concerns for women. Right now with Kavanaugh just confirmed, the threat of overturning Roe vs. Wade feels much more real. Women and our most vulnerable communities need our attention. Having watched immigrant friends of mine navigate a healthcare system that already doesn't provide for them as women, and having navigated myself a mental health system that does not, I am angry and nervous to watch men decide the fate of our future.
As a queer women I am generally horrified with Mike Pence (the Vice President) as well as the prospect of the Supreme Court overturning equal marriage laws which were only recently reached (2015) as well as wreaking havoc on progress made for LGBTQ+ rights. Trans women (and men) of colour are particularly at risk and being killed every day because of their identity. As feminists, we must stand together and fight for the rights of all women, which includes all queer women, women of colour, immigrants, those with disabilities and gender non-conforming people.
LS: The justice system and politicians acting in favour of special interests are huge problems. I also feel the threat from these parties to discredit citizenship and voting rights. If they can take away those fundamental rights from citizenship - equality is out of our hands.
Do you think women/people of colour/LGBTQ+/immigrants are constantly the ones being attacked or demeaned by Trump and his supporters? Why?
TS: Yes, it's all about identity. A group that has been in power is now under "attack" because people are asking for equality. Which idiots see as a competition rather than an opportunity. Immigrants are either able to do manual labour for less pay, or are more educated and offer innovation that is invaluable to growing companies that partake in a global economy.
Anything that looks different from "traditional" American is seen as a risk. So even someone who is queer or transgender represents a change that is leaving “them” behind. Some people think they are being made fun of and looked down upon because they don't understand, so the reaction is fear and hatred. To me it's akin to not understanding math in a class you are behind in, so to save face you make fun of the teacher and think the subject is stupid and hate it.
LS: I do believe those groups are the ones constantly being attacked. Conservative supporters want a simple solution to their problems and fascist fear mongering helps divide us. The country was always divided, but the blatant acceptance and condoning of intolerant behaviour from politicians has helped embolden these supporters to go against their neighbours.
NS: Absolutely. Trump constantly creates narratives where the powerful privileged party is actually the victim and it is the minority that should be feared. This is a comforting notion for a person in a privileged position needing some validation of their own fear and anger. There is a great power in normalising hate speech through these false narratives and giving permission for prejudice. Trump understands that a lot of America doesn't come into contact with minorities, fears change and needs a scapegoat for their problems. Sometimes it really does feel like the whole world revolves around a white straight dick-measuring contest that's being constantly shoved in your face without your consent.
What is your hope for the midterm elections in Nov?
TS: I hope turnout is stronger than it has been, especially for Millennials. I hope democrats, especially left-leaning ones, can get their word out.
LS: I believe change is possible. I believe that the Trump presidency has awakened many of us to action and shown how easily rights can be stripped away if not fought for. I hope we can see the power of people engaging in their government actively because they care about issues for themselves and each other.
NS: My hope is that we will see a lot of young voters turn up at the polls, put some women and minorities in political power, and that we will see some red states (Republican) go blue (Democrat) and take back some seats.
The Handmaid's Tale - truth, will be true, happening now?
TS: This has been happening around the since the beginning of time.
NS: The Handmaid’s Tale takes on issues that are prevalent and pervasive across the globe. Rape, child marriage, female genital mutilation, slavery, sex trafficking, child prostitution, domestic abuse, are happening now all the time. Our rights are under threat in America but we must not forget that living here as a citizen is a privilege. Education for our young girls and women is certainly the best way to end the cycle of poverty and repressing women is the fastest way to corrupt a society. Now with our rights under threat from every angle, we must remember the power we do have left no matter how useless we feel and use it.
LS: It’s hard to feel like the Handmaid’s Tale could ever happen in real life. But many citizens and visa holders have had their voting rights, bank accounts, and military and regular employment taken away from them. I feel like there would be a great amount of protest before anything like that could happen in real life, but the show is a reminder of how a government can quickly take power over its citizens if left unchecked.
NS: Communities should not have to speak up about their own oppression alone, it is imperative that we wake up woker then the day before, get more intersectional with our feminism everyday and speak up for other communities and use our privilege to do so. Men must speak up for women and gender non-binary people, white people must defend POC, straight people must stand with the LGBTQ+ community, able-bodied people must stand with those with disabilities.
TS: I think we all know that things are scary. But we need to know more ways to help. We need to interact with our communities and neighbours, and really listen to one another. I am left leaning; my parents are conservative. Our thoughts and fears are not as different as we think. We are all trying to make the world a better place, we just have different ideas of what better is.
For example, my last girlfriend’s grandmother was against homosexuality, until she forced her to meet me. I had a conversation with her, in which I said I understand that some people just truly don't believe in homosexuality and that I have to respect their opinion. She came around and realized there was nothing to be afraid of. And her opinion changed. We just want to be heard and respected.Support Villainesse