The Ms. Must-Read: “What Kind of America Will This Be?”

Every Friday, Ms. executive editor Kathy Spillar breaks down the week’s biggest stories, offering commentary. This weekly letter from the editor recaps critical developments in U.S. and global feminism—alongside the latest Ms. must-reads—right as they unfold. You can also get The Ms. Must-Read sent directly to your inbox every Saturday morning.

A sign from a march in New York City in 2011 reads, “Feminazi: because wanting to be treated like a human being is just like invading Poland.” (Terence McCormack / Flickr)

Though it seems much longer, it was less than two weeks ago that the Senate was hearing arguments in Trump’s second impeachment trial. In his closing challenge to the Senate, lead House Manager Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) quoted Tom Paine, “The times have found us,” and asked, “Is this America? What kind of America will this be?” Despite overwhelming evidence presented in the trial, 43 Senate Republicans voted to acquit Trump of inciting the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, leaving the final tally 10 votes short of the 67 needed to convict.

In national polling, 71 percent of the public was less ambivalent about Trump’s role in the insurrection, believing he was at least partially responsible for the attack—including just under half of Republicans. About half the country thought Trump should be convicted of inciting insurrection and barred from holding public office again. Support for conviction was significantly higher among women: 59 percent of women, compared to 42 percent of men—a 17-point gender gap. And 65 percent of women compared to only 44 percent of men, believed Trump should be barred from ever holding elected office again—a 21-point gender gap.

The insurrection, as well as Trump’s path to power, was built on the politics of grievance, perfected and fueled for decades by right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who died this week. His homophobic and racist rants were legend. Early in his nationally syndicated show, Limbaugh began referring to feminists as “feminazis.” Limbaugh “preached an anti-feminist message against political, economic and social equality of the sexes. He helped conservative men believe that feminism was a weapon intended to emasculate them and by elevating the danger of a liberated woman, he paved the way for a toxic trap like Trump,” wrote Melissa Scholes Young for Ms.

But Limbaugh’s sexist commentary backfired when he attacked Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, calling her a “slut” and mocking her testimony before a House committee hearing supporting birth control coverage as a health care benefit in the ACA. Feminist groups launched a “Flush Rush” campaign that caused multiple corporations to pull their ads from his show, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.

“No woman deserves to be disrespected in this manner,” said Fluke in 2012. “This language is an attack on all women, and has been used throughout history to silence our voices. The millions of American women who have and will continue to speak out in support of women’s health care and access to contraception prove that we will not be silenced.” (Screenshot from C-SPAN)

This week saw continued progress against the pandemic, with COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths decreasing as the Biden administration’s vaccine rollout gained momentum. But in a sober reminder of the toll the pandemic has taken, nearly half a million people in the U.S. have already died, driving down life expectancy in the U.S. by a full year in the first half of 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black and Hispanic males suffered the largest declines, dropping by 3 years and 2.4 years respectively. Black females’ life expectancy declined 2.3 years, and 1.1 years for Hispanic females. 

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Congress now turns its attention to debate over the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan that will launch a ‘whole of government’ response to the pandemic. As former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin writes in Ms., the Rescue Plan “is ambitious, big and bold; it is just what we need to heal us from the COVID-19 malady.”

“We have to act now, and we have to act quickly,” said President Biden.  (Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

The bill contains $40 billion in emergency funding to stabilize the child care system, described by leading women’s groups as a down payment on meeting the country’s full needs for universal child care and early childhood development programs. Biden’s Rescue Plan also includes $170 billion for the safe reopening of schools. And the bill provides tax credits to businesses that provide paid leave to employees during the pandemic. Again, a start, but not the “real paid leave” we need to bring the U.S. up from its last place position among the countries of the world in providing paid sick leave.

Advocates are looking to the administration’s Recovery Package to provide both the child care investments and paid leave so critical to women’s ability to participate fully in the economy and to pulling the country out of the worst economic crisis since the Depression. Women have faced the largest net job loss (5.4 million), with many leaving the workforce to compensate for school closures or a lack of child care.

And finally this week and month, we are celebrating the work of Black feminists, past and present, such as Pauli Murray—featured in a new documentary reviewed for Ms. by Aviva Dove-Viebahn—and suffragist and racial justice activist Mary Church Terrell. This progress—including work by Black women state legislators to make abortion more accessible—is worth celebrating, even during dark times.

With progress now beginning, this is not the time for any of us to look away from politics. As Congressman Raskin said, “The times have found us. Is this America? What kind of America will this be?” Staying vigilant is the only way to ensure a more just future for us all and the America we want. 


Katherine Spillar is the executive director of Feminist Majority Foundation and executive editor of Ms., where she oversees editorial content and the Ms. in the Classroom program.