Women’s Rights Backlash and Feminist Revival: Gender Equality in 2019

When I went to primary school in Southern Italy in the 1990s, humankind’s supposedly unstoppable march towards progress was the recurrent theme in my history books. While the American and French Revolution prominently figured as steps in this glorious journey, the struggle for women’s emancipation and the challenges they still faced didn’t receive honorable mentions in my school curriculum.

Italy, where divorce had been introduced only in 1970, abortion legalized in 1978, and honor killings criminalized in 1981, was no isolated case.

During the 1990s, between one feminist wave and the other, gender equality concerns were condescendingly met, and sometimes dismissed, in many Western societies. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Susan Faludi described this phenomenon brilliantly in her aptly entitled Backlash: The Undeclared War on Women (1991).

In those years, a certain “gender fatigue” married with post-Cold War triumphalism and the conviction that liberal democracy would absorb any illiberal tendency.

 

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