2014 Was A Great Year For Feminism. Is A Backlash Coming?

Last Year Was Great For Feminism. Is A Backlash Coming?
INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 24: Beyonce performs onstage at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
INGLEWOOD, CA - AUGUST 24: Beyonce performs onstage at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)

"It was a watershed year for women, and for feminism, as we refused to accept the pandemic of violence against women -- the rape, the murder, the beatings, the harassment on the streets and the threats online," writes Rebecca Solnit this week at the Guardian. "Women’s voices achieved a power that seems unprecedented, and the whole conversation changed."

It's true: 2014 was a banner year for feminism, at least here in the U.S., and the clamor of female voices demanding respect, autonomy and equality just seems to be getting louder. While Solnit focuses specifically on the rising tide against gendered violence, that was hardly the only way that feminism gained cultural traction this year. While the courts are busy chipping away at legal abortion and even contraception access, women themselves are actually getting more effective at controlling their own fertility. In pop culture, feminism has become downright trendy, from Beyoncé at the VMAs to Disney, of all companies, getting with the girl power program. Most major publications, including Slate, grapple seriously with women's issues. Even Cosmo set out to remake itself into an overtly feminist publication.
So what's going to happen in 2015? I have no idea! What I do know is that feminism's trajectory tends to be cyclical. Multiple frenzies of feminist energy in American history have been followed by anti-feminist cultural backlash. After World War II afforded many women a relative independence, the "traditional" 1950s came along to put women back in the kitchen. The Reagan years were such a notorious backlash to the second wave of feminism that Susan Faludi wrote a classic book about it. The surge of feminism in the '90s descended into the religious right craze of the Bush era.

Will the feminist trend continue to expand in 2015, or is the bubble going to burst? Let's look ahead to next year's landscape and try to game it out.

Presidential aspirations

Hooray, next year: Hillary Clinton is the early front-runner both in the Democratic race and in the overall field of would-be presidential candidates, suggesting we're on track to elect the first female president in 2016. More interestingly, many believe Elizabeth Warren could still throw her hat into the ring, which would make this the first year ever that there was more than a single token woman in the race for the White House.

Uh-oh, next year: The right wing hatred of Hillary Clinton has a lot to do with her gender, and her feminism. Though anti-Hillary sentiment is already churning in right wing media and online, expect it to explode once Clinton formally announces.

Pop music

Hooray: Women have been ruling the airwaves/downloads for years now. With Nicki Minaj dropping a new album and Rihanna hinting at another one on the way, it seems they will be as dominant in 2015 as they were in 2014, the year of Beyoncé and Taylor Swift.

Uh-oh: Female-dominated acts like TLC, Hole, and Tori Amos were all over the charts in the '90s, too, until they were summarily knocked out by a surge of hyper-masculine Limp Bizkit types. The same could happen again if a male-dominated genre, like country or EDM, surges past pop and R&B.


Hooray: The Hunger Games franchise and Frozen showed Hollywood that audiences are not afraid of movies with female leads or even feminist themes. Hollywood likes building on previous successes, so they're going to give us more of the same.

Uh-oh: If an expensive, female-led property such as Fifty Shades of Grey or the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fails to make money at the box office, expect Hollywood to retreat back to the male lead.
Sexual abuse

Hooray: The treatment of the allegations against Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi shows that the public conversation is finally moving away from reflexive disbelief of rape accusations and towards a more nuanced, thoughtful conversation. This could translate into legislatures starting to feel comfortable taking bold measures, such as writing affirmative consent standards into their criminal codes.

Uh-oh: The unraveling of a Rolling Stone exposé on rape at the University of Virginia should not be, but could be used to squelch discussion of campus sexual assault going forward.

Reproductive rights

Hooray: In the past few years, media attention has been focused on this important feminist issue because of high-profile attacks on reproductive rights such as draconian abortion restrictions in Texas and the Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell. This should continue in 2015, as it's likely the Supreme Court is going to consider how strictly states can regulate abortion.

Uh-oh: With all eyes on Justice Kennedy, the Supreme Court could easily rule in favor of the new abortion restrictions in Texas, opening the door to red states across the country legislating legal abortion out of existence.

However things swing next year, it's important to remember that even when backlashes happen, women still manage to hang onto many of their gains: the jobs, the legal protection against sexual abuse and discrimination, more effective contraception. The trendiness of and culture patience for feminism is cyclical, but women move forward a little every time it cycles around.

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