When I was still a member of the editorial board of The Hague magazine Norwegian Refugee Council I worked, six years ago, occasionally passing a group of anti-abortion protesters on my way into the room. I found a funny, almost touching curiosity: that you are so committed to fighting a losing battle. Hey guys, I think it’s 2016 – go do something better!
The idea that this is not a losing battle at all was played out in the United States this week, as a draft Supreme Court ruling that would reverse the national right to abortion was leaked. In the Netherlands too, criticism of abortion extends beyond orthodox religious circles. “Abortion has become a mistake,” Issa Krens of Mother Heart sighed on Instagram.
Sociologist Abram de Swan wrote in against women (2019). He saw this aversion among conservative believers (from Brazil to ISIS) as well as among “rightists”.
But there is also an opposite trend. As time recedes elsewhere, liberation here has already accelerated. A few years ago we no longer considered it natural for a man to be the measure of all things: that he decides what pleasant jokes and appropriate behavior are, that medical science focuses on the male body, that boards, committees, and juries sometimes have only men.
This is a huge shift in mentality. The ’90s and zeros, the decades in which I grew up, were sexist. I knew nothing better than to judge women first and foremost by their appearance. Long before my first kiss I bought strings, well known lyrical Sisqo thong sung (1999). The first time I went out, in 2001, I sat awkwardly on a bar stool to shake Played by Dave Rhimes. “Down to the ground / Shake that ass,” he sang, and: “You look delicious / I want to eat you like fruit.” Such songs still exist, but now young people also listen to the songs of the star Billie Eilish, who sings about how her body is personified. Women are still judged by their appearance, but that is no longer unanswered.
I myself have not been in the forefront of this change, I must admit. At first I found many of the feminist complaints annoying. That the medical world is trending toward the male body, yes, that is exactly the case. I remember the same thought when I read, in 2014, Francesca Wallis’ op-ed on the masculinity of our language. Wals wrote that when it comes to “man,” “writer,” or “philosopher,” it is always who.
This kind of criticism wasn’t a moan, but rather important steps toward true equality. Thanks to the youngest generation of feminists, for many women, this is the best time to survive.
But this does not apply everywhere. In Afghanistan, girls have been banned from school since the return of the Taliban, in Indonesia there are increasingly strict dress codes, in Poland abortion has been nearly impossible since last year, in Brazil violence against women has increased since Bolsonaro’s presidency. Abram de Swan writes that this “reversion” is sometimes a reaction to women’s emancipation: “Men who see their rule over women gradually unravel as a poignant loss of honour.”
De Swan sees this rebound as a spasm, a minor setback on the path to a woman’s inevitable victory. I think this is a nice and optimistic idea, but I don’t know if I believe in it. Historian Timothy Snyder mentions this way of thinking in his book The road to not being free The “politics of determinism”: the prevailing belief, especially after the fall of the wall, that progress is unstoppable. According to this belief, the world is constantly moving towards a better and fairer version of itself. The arc of the moral universe bends toward justiceAs Martin Luther King said.
However, King himself did not wait patiently for this bow to reach its destination: he understood that he had to do something for himself. Just as feminists unleashed the latest wave of emancipation, conservative politicians and opinion makers orchestrated the backlash.
Progress is not self-evident. It’s human labor, just like bringing it back.
Fleur Rossmann (email@example.com) Editor at Norwegian Refugee Council
A version of this article also appeared in May 7, 2022