life after roe.

Women Aren’t Saviors

Photo: Natalie Keyssar for New York Magazine

All feminist claims proceed from the simple if radical assertion that women are people. This idea is expansive enough to include people who may not identify as women but require abortion rights, among other feminist goals. It is expansive enough to place women on equal footing to men, as human beings whose observations, emotions, and needs are vital to any liberating project. It celebrates women in their complexity. Crucially, it asserts no moral superiority. Women deserve rights because they are human, not because they are better than men. Yet this feminist spirit is absent from a well-intentioned, if misguided, op-ed from New York Times columnist Charles Blow.

Blow describes men as “pack animals” and proceeds to say that he has “come to fully, religiously believe that if this country is to be saved, it will be women who do the saving.” As proof, he cites the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, the former White House aide who testified before the January 6 committee this week. “She did what so many men around the president have refused to do: She spoke up in service of the truth and the country,” he writes.

Hutchinson’s testimony was, as Blow says, “riveting.” That is where all praise of her should both start and end. Hutchinson voluntarily worked in the Trump administration knowing all that Trump represented; prior to this, she interned for Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Steve Scalise, men who oppose abortion rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and other forms of progress for minority groups. In doing so, she joined a long tradition of women who work against feminist goals to rise quickly through the ranks of the conservative movement. That she may have told the truth under the oath does not redeem her. Hutchinson is an obstacle to other women, not evidence of our goodness.

Women like Hutchinson are, of course, why we’re here at all. The road to Dobbs, and the end of Roe, required Amy Coney Barrett. The conservative movement has always boasted its Phyllis Schlaflys and its Anita Bryants. These women are not incidental to the conservative project. Instead, they are central to the war on feminism and the broader backlash to the sexual revolution. Without women to claim they’ve been harmed by abortion, libertine sexual mores, or time in the workforce, social conservatives lose much of their rhetorical heft. Understanding these women for what they are — traitors to their class — is key to understanding why it’s so foolish to depict women as the nation’s saviors. This is not too far off from how conservatives themselves portray women, though the emphasis is different. To conservatives and social conservatives, in particular, women become saviors through the roles of dutiful wife and mother or, in certain special cases, culture-war firebrands.

Nevertheless, it’s not difficult to understand why Blow wants women to be saviors. The moment is dire, and the impulse to anoint a savior is entrenched in American political culture, especially in liberalism — minorities will salvage the Democratic Party, Generation Z will save the climate and win gun control. Except minorities are not monoliths, and neither are young people, and any leftward tendency evinced by either group is limited, often, by the power of a well-funded, minoritarian conservative movement. This is not a time for rosy visions. A brutal era demands the truth, however difficult it might be. Progress has always been uncertain, and now it feels especially distant.

Many women are angry, as Blow points out, and rage can have clarifying properties. I have come to embrace my own anger. I allow it in and permit it to move me; I cling to it on long, dark nights. I think it is my anger, and not my gender, that will save me in the end. Anger sharpens my vision, and this is what I see: Women will not save us. Not by themselves. No struggle for liberation can be won in isolation. True freedom requires mass politics, requires, then, the “pack animals,” as Blow calls men. Why should women bear our salvation on our own shoulders? Why place another burden on an already marginalized class of person? Men must transcend patriarchy to demand something better for themselves and indeed for all people.

There is no way out of our moment but through it, and we will not get there without each other. The truth is that there are no saviors. Freedom is not a matter of electing the right president or putting the right people on the Supreme Court; both measures simply buy us some time. Nor can it be won through the innate virtues of one group; this is a fantasy. What we need is for patriarchy to become unthinkable, as unimaginable as the right wing wishes abortion would become. Women cannot accomplish this by themselves, nor should anyone expect us to try. What we require are not allies, in DEI parlance; passivity will free no one. It is a time for comrades, or fellows, in the struggle. It is time for a universal fight.

Women Are People