Women won’t be silenced in 2018

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial –  2017’s #MeToo movement was a watershed that could change everything.
Dec. 28, 2017.   By

Way back in 1971, when Helen Reddy sang “I am woman hear me roar; in numbers too big to ignore,” she was riding the swell of an optimistic women’s movement that appeared to be a force to be reckoned with.

Sadly, the song’s prediction turned out to be decades premature. Women continued to be not just ignored, but oppressed.

But in 2017 her song seems, again, to exactly capture the moment. Because if there is one takeaway from this year it is this: women will not be silenced any longer. And not only are they being listened to, they are being believed and their demands acted on.

This time it seems the momentum is with them. There is no turning back.

That became clear last January when millions of women donned pink pussy hats and marched along with men in 672 separate protests on seven continents with one clear message: “Women’s rights are human rights.”

By holding it the day after Donald Trump’s Inauguration Day, they made it clear that their protest was aimed directly at the new U.S. president. He was, after all, a man who had infamously boasted on tape about sexually assaulting women.

It was the first sign of 2017 that sex abuse, which has silenced women for eons, could instead be used as a megaphone to demand equal rights.

The marches were the first step. The movement picked up speed with the firings of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment. By October it had hit full throttle with women accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual assaults and rapes. From there it grew into the millions-strong, worldwide #MeToo movement. So empowering was the so-called “silence breakers’ ” message that they were named Time magazine’s Person of the Year and the top story of the year by both The Canadian Press and The Associated Press.

Left in the wake of their courageous disclosures were the careers of dozens and dozens of extremely powerful men in entertainment, journalism, and politics, including four members of Congress. By year’s end 16 women had also bravely resurfaced to accuse Donald Trump himself of sexual assault, despite his threats and insults.

Could women bring down the president as they did Harvey Weinstein and his ilk? Anything seems possible in this #MeToo climate.

In December, for example, women defeated a sure-bet Republican candidate for senator in Alabama. Or at least black women did. Ninety-eight per cent of them voted against Roy Moore, a man credibly accused of child molestation. He shouldn’t have been allowed to remain as a candidate, never mind been actively supported by Trump.

Still, his defeat by a bare margin of 1.5 percentage points showed there are tears in the fabric of the women’s movement that must be mended. Disturbingly, 63 per cent of white female voters in Alabama actually supported a man who trolled a mall in his 30s in search of teenage girls to target for his sexual advances.

Indeed, as the body count from the Weinstein affair trended upward, so did a small, but worrying, backlash from some women and men that must be countered. The tight vote was one indicator. There were many more.

“We need to turn down the volume on the outrage machine,” one Canadian female columnist wrote just weeks after the Weinstein scandal broke. “Enough already,” wrote another about the #MeToo movement.

The backlash from men was more insidious. In an outrageous example of victim-blaming the famous American literary journalist Gay Talese said: “I hate that actor that ruined this guy’s career.” He was disturbingly criticizing Anthony Rapp who alleged Kevin Spacey sexually assaulted him when he was only 14.

Still, that open anger is less dangerous than the more secret rumblings of a backlash among men that Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg warned about. They are saying: “This is why you shouldn’t hire women,” she said. “Actually, this is why you should.”

She is right. Here’s why:

First, sexual assaults and harassment of women would not be so common in the workplace if more women occupied positions of power. Indeed, had there been one woman on the board of directors at the Weinstein Company it’s hard to believe the many allegations of sexual harassment that first came to their attention would have been ignored and covered up, leading to the company’s demise.

Women’s participation at senior levels is necessary to change the climate that has led to this mess.

But here we are in 2017 and the dial on women’s participation on boards of directors, never mind in executive positions, has barely budged. It’s at 21 per cent in Canada, and 20 per cent in the U.S.

The same holds true in politics, where women could really make a difference. The percentage of women in the U.S. Congress sits at 20 per cent. It’s 24 per cent in the House of Commons.

Nor is it any wonder that women were abused in Hollywood, where men still hold the majority of power. There, women account for only 21 per cent of executive producers and 13 per cent of directors.

But all that can change, as 2017 proved.

In the meantime women should not turn down the volume on their protests about sexual assault. In fact, hopefully, they’re going to turn it up in all workplaces, not just those of the rich and powerful.

And they shouldn’t just target sexual harassment for their protests. Now is the time to focus on the horrific brutality women face on a daily basis around the world, from husbands burning wives with acid in India to female genital mutilation in Somalia, to rape as a tool of ethnic cleansing in Burma.

Indeed, this is no time for women to be silent. Instead it’s time for them to ride the wave of 2017 and do what Canadian suffragette Nellie McClung long ago advised: “Never explain, never retract, never apologize; just get the thing done and let them howl.”

If the howls of 2017 are any indication, it appears that is exactly what women are doing. And apparently this time their “roar” won’t be stopped.


1 Comment

  1. I’m sure the suffragettes rolled their eyes at such patronizing headlines: “Women won’t be silenced” in 1918. It’s a sentiment expressed so often that it trivializes the fact that women have been yelling at the top of our lungs forever.
    “If I have to, I can do anything…” But men are welcome to join me in the work of ending sexual violence, not to mention advancing pay equity, the shared division of caring/domestic labour, and doing the volunteer work in our communities and work places that contributes so much to our economy and basic human decency. Women’s rights are human rights, and sexual violence will cease when women share equal access to economic power in partnership with men, as well as the intimate joys and responsibilities of caring work.

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