(Remedios Varo, Witch Going To The Sabbath ; https://www.wikiart.org/en/remedios-varo/witch-going-to-the-sabbath-1957)
As I drive south on I-81 in Virginia towards my home, I pass an old barn with a giant “Lock Her Up” sign nailed to the top. The barn serves as a homemade billboard, publicizing its message for thousands of cars and trucks passing by each day. The billboard reminds me how Michael Flynn led chants of “Lock Her Up” at last year’s Republican National Convention. Oh, the irony.
A friend drives her car behind a truck with a multitude of stickers. One of them is an exaggerated, Barbie-style female shape, in a sex pose, colored in with the confederate flag. The caption is “Southern Style.” Other stickers on the truck boast of the truck owner’s military service. The sticker reminds me of how the confederate flag imposes racist, and now also explicitly sexist, messages masked as nostalgia for the past. This is a past for which many people feel nothing akin to nostalgia, due to the overriding and violent oppression they and their ancestors experienced in that past, a past which resembles in too many ways the present.
A few days ago, I drove behind a truck that had a sticker that recommended that its readers, “Ditch the bitch. Let’s go goose hunting.” This prompted me to wonder who “the bitch” was and why the ditcher would engage in what appears to be an unsatisfying relationship with the ditched. Things might work better, I thought, if the ditcher skipped the unwanted union with the “bitch” and just went directly to killing birds. The bumper sticker evokes a general misogyny that seems even more unleashed than usual over the past year. (*See this Gender Blog post on the “B-word,” used in reference to Hillary Clinton frequently during the campaign season.)
This past week, Donald Trump claimed to be the victim of a witch hunt. He tweeted, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” According to this article from the Smithsonian Magazine, tens of thousands of women were executed in witch trials in Europe between the late 1300’s and the late 1600’s, and of course most of us are familiar with the Salem Witch Trials here in the United States in the 1600’s and 1700’s. History professor Mikki Brock’s interview in Motto is an excellent critique of Trump’s use of the term ‘witch hunt.’ The Motto piece states: “One of the great ironies of this of course is that Trump is not someone who has an especially high view of women,” Brock said. “For Trump to co-opt that term to paint himself as a victim shows a total misunderstanding and woeful ignorance of women — but also an unwillingness to see how power structures work and to be sensitive to the deep meanings behind this terminology.”
In this May 18, 2017, article in The Atlantic, Yasmeen Serhan speaks with historian Mary Beth Norton about witch hunts and witch trials. Norton sees the witch hunt as “an expression [more] of military fear” in which white citizens believed the devil controlled Indians and witches. Norton adds, “The problem that I set for myself as a historian was figuring out why Salem was so different, and my answer was fear of Indians and the Indian war and how the fear of the Indians got conflated with fear of the witches.” Historians Brock and Norton tell us that the key to the witch hunt is the idea that a person is unfairly targeted (made “other,” as in the case of Native Americans and many women) or falsely accused. Of course, then, we have to see Trump’s use of this term as analogous to his claims of “false news” for any media outlet that tarnishes the overblown image he has of himself. The man who just takes what he wants sees himself as unfairly targeted. The man who encouraged, rally after rally, to have supporters chant “lock her up” sees himself as unfairly targeted. Oh, the irony.
The “Lock Her Up” metaphor stretches to other women-punishing policies of the Trump administration, including the AHCA and the Global Gag Rule. See this April 4, 2017, Foreign Policy article for more information on Trump’s anti-woman policies.
Politics seems to breed corruption. I’m not a political scientist and can’t speak to the history or statistics of this statement, but it certainly seems true to the casual observer of the political sphere. In this sense, if corrupt practices are part and parcel of how business is done, then I am concerned that women presidents and prime ministers (and potential presidents and prime ministers) are held to significantly higher standards than their men counterparts. Former Brazil President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from office last year, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye was impeached and removed from office this year. This is a high percentage of specifically women leaders to be impeached! (*The Pew Research Center reported on March 8, 2017, that “There are 15 female world leaders currently in office, eight of whom are their country’s first woman in power, according to our analysis of data from WEF and other sources. While the number of current female leaders – excluding monarchs and figurehead leaders – has more than doubled since 2000, these women still represent fewer than 10% of 193 UN member states.”)
By many accounts, Dilma Rousseff and Park Geun-hye seem to have been engaged in corrupt practices, practices that are a part of the system in which they move. I am not saying that impeachment wasn’t (or was) appropriate in these two cases, but I am saying that male colleagues seem to escape the intense scrutiny to which high-level women leaders are subjected.
Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who seems only to have done an exemplary job in her office, illustrates the “Lock Her Up” metaphor even more clearly. As she provided constitutional rationale both for criticizing Executive Order 13769 and for warning of Flynn’s compromised position, she was accused by Senator Charles Grassley of leaking information to the news media and scolded by Senator John Cornyn for making an “enormously disappointing” decision about the travel ban. (*See this The New York Times opinion piece from 5-11-2017.)
Remember, too, that Code Pink activist Desiree Fairooz was arrested for laughing at the confirmation hearing of Jeff Sessions. The New York Times reports that Fairooz and two other protesters face “up to 12 months in jail, $2,000 in fines, or both, depending on the outcome of a June 21 sentencing hearing.” “Lock Her Up” apparently extends from e-mail servers all the way to laughter.
What and whom do they want to lock up? It seems we are somehow still afraid of women’s authority, success, irreverence, and genius.