Where is Abigail Adams in today’s political discourse?

Misogyny is at its most extreme because powerful men simply cannot abide a world in which women too are powerful, whether in their homes, communities, states, or countries

BRATTLEBORO — In all the talk about encroaching autocracy in the United States and elsewhere, politicians, pundits, media personalities, and others need to remember the words and wisdom of the revolutionary second first lady, Abigail Adams, who admonished her husband to “remember the ladies.”

Another first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, echoed her predecessor in a recent CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour when she called out the absence of misogyny in various analyses of forces at work when countries descend into autocracies and dictatorships.

She was right to do so.

* * *

In the growing discourse about various factors that prevail when democracies slide into autocracy, white supremacy, race, class, and caste quickly rise to the surface as identifiable and frightening factors. But not a word is uttered about the systemic oppression of women, which has been part of dictatorial regimes and cultures throughout history.

Examples abound from ancient times to now, with women being treated like second-class citizens in almost every country and culture.

In ancient Greece, women were thought to hinder democracy as the weaker sex. Considered property, they lived in seclusion without rights, valued only as the bearers of male progeny.

In medieval times, religious institutions kept women quiet and voiceless, while the idea of women as property prevailed into more modern times as women were “owned” by their fathers and husbands by virtue of economic indenture and lack of agency in male-dominated societies.

Fast-forward to the 20th and 21st centuries and consider the fact that women were denied the vote in the United States until 1920, and dictators like Hitler and Ceaușescu mandated childbearing, rendering women nothing more than semen vessels and property of the state - something we are seeing emerge in our own country.

Women continue to have limited access to leadership positions, economic parity, and agency over their own lives - largely legislatively ignored and increasingly court ordered.

* * *

The question is why.

The answer? It is intentional, overtly or unconsciously, because in a world dominated largely by (white) men terrified of losing patriarchal power, women are immensely threatening.

The fact is, powerful men know that women have priorities that are different from theirs, and that those priorities are grounded in a profound commitment to human rights and social justice, not in greed, moral and financial corruption, massive profits, or overwhelming power.

They also know that women are deeply intelligent, strategic, capable people and that they are organizing as never before.

* * *

One has only to look at the brave women of Iran who are willing to face torture, rape, and murder for “Women, Life, Freedom,” or to consider the courage of Kurdish women who fought on the battleground and Rohingya women standing up to their oppressors.

Or to remember the abuelas of Latin America who never gave up the fight to find their missing children, the women of Liberia and India whose work saved lives and changed policy, the French and Ghetto resistance-movement women who helped win a war.

Then there were the women who shared their personal stories about rape and sexual abuse at global conferences and with local newspapers, the million women who marched in Washington, D.C. the day after Donald Trump became president; the women artists, writers, musicians, photographers, organizers; the mothers demanding gun legislation; the lawyers who raised an army of volunteer lawyers overnight to litigate on behalf of immigrants at airports or helped a 10-year-old raped child escape forced childbearing.

The examples go on and on and on.

That is why male retaliation against women in Iran is so violent, why rape is increasingly a war crime, why the Supreme Court of the United States has rendered women property of the state, why domestic abuse and gun violence against women are on the rise, why books by and about women are banned in such high numbers, why women are going to jail for having a miscarriage.

And, more broadly, that is why teachers can no longer teach history, talk about marriage equality, use certain words, or encourage girls to play sports, to dream of becoming president, and so much more.

It all paints a portrait of misogyny at its most extreme because powerful men simply cannot abide a world in which women too are powerful, whether in their homes, communities, states, or countries.

The very thought of sharing the podium or the parliament or a pay scale with females is completely abhorrent because deep down powerful men know that women bring skills and experience to bear on pressing issues of our time, so they resort to further and deeper methods of domination, exclusion, and abuse.

And that is why we must include misogyny in the public and private discourse surrounding our deep concerns and increase acknowledgement that our democracy, and democracy elsewhere, are indeed in a precarious and perishable place.

It is why women are choosing, and working hard, to revolt against the evils of autocracy that could well render them “a leaf in the whirlwind of time,” a destiny that political philosopher Hannah Arendt warned us all against.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates