- On the Road Again with the American Girl
The vocal trends of young women and girls, such as "vocal fry," "uptalk," slang and conversational fillers such as "like" and "um," are often taken as signs of their insecurity or the insignificance of the content of their speech. However, some scholars have suggested that in fact these linguistic features are sophisticated mechanisms for negotiating social interactions, possibly as cues and tools in building relationships with others through language. Girl culture has proven a kind of "incubator" for vocal stylings that spread across other divisions to older generations and to men; young women are, in short, linguistic innovators.
I was reminded of this phenomenon and the media coverage it has briefly received when I was asked to revisit the question of transnational feminism in American literature in the "moment of Trump." The consistency with which young women go overlooked or written off as political subjects and creative agents comes as no huge surprise to anyone who pays even glancing attention to national culture and nationalist discourses. The protection of girls and young women has served as the alibi for all sorts of disciplinary measures, ranging from laws requiring parental notification and consent for a minor's abortion, the policing of bathrooms through statutes that target transgender persons, and stepped up deportations and [End Page 491] anti-immigrant policies in the aftermath of Kathryn Steinle's death in the "sanctuary city" of San Francisco (Steinle was struck and killed by a wayward bullet shot by an undocumented immigrant in July 2015). And, of course, Donald Trump himself was even momentarily disavowed—upon disclosure of his infamously misogynistic remarks—by the likes of Paul Ryan and John Kasich, who cited their revulsion as fathers and husbands to Trump's cavalier description of sexual assault. On the other hand, it seems routinely inconceivable to elected officials, media and corporate elite, and even most artists and scholars that girls and young women might in themselves be anything besides (potential) victims, mindless consumers, or apathetic observers with regards to the weightier matters that constitute public life. In contrast, I contend, transnational feminism instructs us to look beyond such limited representations to see American girls and women as, in Wai Chee Dimock's terms "hitherto unpromising players" who "suddenly prove themselves capable of feats no one would have suspected" (2017, 44).
There is also another side to the story of the current political moment that ought not to be forgotten when speaking of American women's political participation, at least in the electoral process. Namely, there exists an acute division within the US female electorate that falls sharply along racial and ethnic lines, with 52% of white women voting for Donald Trump, while Hilary Clinton struggled even to win over a majority of college-educated white women, barely squeaking out with 51% of that particular demographic. Meanwhile, although their identification with Clinton would seem less easily made, women of color consistently voted against Trump, with an especially remarkable 93% of black women voting for the Democratic candidate. As any number of observers noted in the election's aftermath, Clinton didn't lose women; she lost white women.
Trump's victory, alongside that of Republicans in both houses of Congress, certainly has stark implications for women across the globe. Most immediately, for example, one of the first (and few) successful policy maneuvers on the part of the Trump administration was to reinstate the "global gag" rule, thereby prohibiting nongovernmental organizations that receive funds from the United States to provide information, counseling, or referrals for abortions in the services they provide women outside the United States. Meanwhile, conservative news outlets and memes continue to fetishize the oppression that women in other parts of the world, especially those living in Islamic and Muslim societies, face, thereby upholding an [End Page 492] image of the United States as somehow exceptional in the rights and freedoms it grants women.
We should not, however, let the sheer outlandish buffoonery and the starkly retrograde aspirations of the current administration distract us from the fact that a Clinton administration, like the Obama one, would have continued to preside over an American empire, one...