The fact that Meryl Streep, who plays British icon Emmeline Pankhurst in the new movie Suffragette has tried to distance herself from the feminist label she once clearly supported could mean that there is a shift right in women’s politics.
As far as campaigners go, the Hollywood actress has been one of the highest profile supporters for the Equal Rights Amendment in the US, sending out letters demanding change to every member of Congress. She has called out Tinsel Town as being far too male dominated, and even set up a fund to support women screenwriters over 40 as a way of correcting that imbalance. Meryl Streep has never sat on the sidelines.
However, as much as there is a ratcheting up of feminist activity against a climate of rising violence against women, there is at the same time too a backlash. Its not a move to turn the clock back against equal rights or equal pay, or FGM, or forced marriage, or serial sex offenders or unbalanced misogynists with a nasty grudge. But it is a type of backing off, a feeling that feminism is too man-hating, a concern about appropriate fairness for all and how we achieve that.
Rush Limbaugh’s caustic coining of the term feminazi has been damning. It acts as a type of panic button for men, or in defence of men, at the receiving end of feminist victimisation. And it is very disparaging, one of those ‘stop in your tracks’ attacks, like a Trump insult. Cases like the barrister Charlotte Proudman who cried ‘Abuse!’ over the remark on a LinkedIn profile picture fall into this camp for example. People are now asking, ‘Is this really standing up for women’s rights?’
Former equities trader Kim Elsesser has now written a book Sex and the Office claiming male office workers are now so afraid of being on the receiving end of a sexual harassment case, they are now reluctant to mentor female colleagues. The losers, ironically enough, are not men but women. who need just that to get ahead. Networking, a vital part of corporate promotion, is more difficult for women than men and, by the sounds of this book, it just got a whole lot harder.
So it is likely that Meryl Streep now views the Feminist label with a question mark. Or could it be that playing the role of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the film The Iron Lady inspired her towards a more conservative, view of equality.