Andrew Tate, Donald Trump and Witchcraft: anti-feminism in the media

Recently we have seen the rise of the #MeToo social media movement that has been giving women a platform to raise issues of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, this breakthrough into mainstream media has been undermined by the growing popularity of anti-feminist figures like Donald Trump and Andrew Tate. Donald Trump was elected into the Presidency of arguably one of the most powerful countries in the world despite having been accused of sexual harassment by at least 18 different women. Trump used social media platforms like Twitter to gain much of the following that led to his election. When looking into Trump’s twitter history, one will find that out of his 100 most popular tweets, a shocking 36 of these spread false information regarding the US elections. Similarly to Trump, Andrew Tate used social media to gain popularity in 2016 after being removed from the reality TV show Big Brother because of a leaked video in which he appeared to physically beat a woman. Gaining over 1.5 million Twitter followers, Tate has encouraged the use of violence to silence women: ‘bang out the machete, boom in her face and grip her by the neck.’ Andrew Tate has now been arrested following suspicions of his involvement in sex trafficking schemes in Romania.


Amongst the seeming developments in women’s rights campaigns, how did these anti-feminist voices gain such popularity in the mass media?


An early example of the media spreading anti-feminist messages is the witch-trials. Albeit these messages were initially spread through very different media-forms than we see today. Propagandist woodcuts and pamphlets demonising women circulated through 16th and 17th century Europe, and ultimately resulted in the execution of an estimated 40,000-50,000 people on this continent alone. Remaining evidence from the time shows that this media generally targeted elderly, single, and ostracised women, leaving them defenceless against unproven claims of witchcraft (in Wiesensteig, Germany, 95-100% of the accused fit this stereotype). Witch-trials continued into the 18th century across the Atlantic, and African states have held mass witch-hunts as late as the early 2000s. Interestingly, despite the media within African states popularising witchcraft beliefs, the global media has practically ignored the genitalia mutilation that more than two million women fell victim to in Tanzania in as late as 2009 under the accusation of witchcraft.


The witch-trials highlight two alarming truths about the relationship between media and women’s rights. Firstly, they highlight how the media often chooses to blame women for societal issues out of their control. Secondly, the broad timeframe and global scale of the witch-trials indicates that the media’s attribution to anti-feminism is a constant, rather than an anomalous event.


When the Suffragettes campaigned for the democratic right to vote, British media immediately condemned them as ‘mannish’, ‘hysterical’, and ‘dangerous’ (all terms used to describe witches hundreds of years earlier). Especially eye-opening is the tendency for media, both of the 1900s and today, to describe the Suffragettes as ‘terrorists.’ Most definitions of ‘terrorist’ include the intent, or the action, of murdering innocent people, something that the Suffragettes never did. In fact, despite being regarded as violent and dangerous, Pankhurst (a leader of the Suffragette movement) is quoted to give ‘strict instructions’ that ‘not a cat or a canary’ was ‘to be killed.’ Highlighting how the media often unnecessarily demonises feminist movements, something especially concerning as the media has the power to limit the effectiveness of these movements.


But is this a repeated cycle? Is there more evidence of the media repeatedly demonising women, limiting the effectiveness of feminist movements, and pushing women’s rights campaigns out of the spotlight?


Following the advancement in women being allowed and also encouraged to enter workplaces during the Second World War that had previously been restricted to men, the 1950s saw the media shift its focus onto the ‘feminine, stay-at-home mom cleaning, cooking, and taking care of children.’ Similarly, following the achievements of Second Wave feminism (such as the establishment of the 1970 UK Equal Pay Act and 1975 Sex Discrimination Act) the late 1980s and early 1990s saw cinema become increasingly anti-feminist in nature. The 1991 remake of the 1962 ‘Cape Fear’ rebranded the loving and united family originally presented to a family with a mother who was ‘bitter, disaffected and not supportive.’ This example highlighting another portrayal of the career-minded, self-empowering woman being demonised as selfish by the mainstream media.


An example of similar demonisation techniques being used to undermine entire feminist operations is the media coverage of feminist movements following the 1991 Gulf War in Kurdistan-Iraq. Rather than highlighting the issues facing women in the region, such as the gender pay gap, illiteracy, and the lack of legal protection against gender-based violence, the media focused on the ‘short-comings in division’ and the ‘under-development’ of the feminist groups trying to combat these issues. Similarly, following the 1995 Fourth UN Conference on Women, three analysts looked at 60 by-line stories published in mainstream American media (such as the Washington Post and the New York Times) and found that less than a quarter of the articles actually addressed the issues raised at the conference. However, they did find that there was a strong focus on women ‘conflicting’ with each other across the articles, again drawing the media focus away from the progression of women’s rights and instead demonising the women campaigning.


To answer the earlier question, yes, this is evidently a repeated cycle. Through a focus on the shortcomings of feminist movements and the demonisation of women campaigning for equality, the mainstream media has encouraged the popularity of anti-feminist voices. Empirical evidence suggests that only 17% of undergraduate female students actually regarded themselves as ‘feminists’ in 1996. According to the Oxford dictionary definition of feminism, (the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes) one would expect this percentage to be much higher. However, the constant demonisation of feminism has led many to believe that feminists are extreme radicals who strive for more than just equality, which has in turn allowed for the mass popularisation of dangerous anti-feminist voices.

Featured Image: By Birmingham Museums Trust from Unsplash

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