2016 was the annus horribilis that gave us Brexit, Trump’s win and painfully long ‘In Memorium’ segments in awards shows. What will we say about 2017? Was it the Year of La Terreur Du Donald? No. Let’s re-frame this.
I’m a big fan of taking control of a narrative by changing the headline. It’s a strategy that keeps me sane. Remember in Sex and the City, when Carrie was dumped by Berger via post-it, and she set out to re-claim that day, to make it about something else? What she was doing was pushing the Berger story off the front page of her life. She might have gone about that in an odd way, but it worked: that day became a funny story instead. It’s not as simple as making lemonade from lemons; there isn’t always a bright side or a silver lining. But how we frame our narrative is important.
So how can we do this with 2017? The clues were there from the beginning. One way or another, the presidential election was going to galvanise discussion about gender politics. Sure, we hoped it would be in an aspirational way. And we wept when the results came in. But we did something else too. We mobilized.
It takes a lot to get us to say ‘Enough’, to push us to make a stand. Perhaps what we had before was a complacent kind of hope. Perhaps we thought that things would work themselves out. We were so certain of victory; we dared to dream. When we got a waking nightmare instead, it threatened to break us. It still might. But we will not go quietly into the night.
Progress happens in inches. A few forward, a few back. There is a push and pull effect. We hoped for a giant leap this time, and didn’t get it. But did we walk away? No. We assembled. We marched.
1 year ago, a man accused of sexual assault admitted it, dismissed it as ‘locker room talk’, shrugged that it was no big deal and was elected President of the United States. As an official example of what happens to men when they are accused of sexual misconduct, this was as bad as it could possibly be. It could have set the nation back by decades in terms of gender politics. We were afraid, of course. But we were also furious.
Was the dawn of Trump the final straw? We started by mourning for the end of an aspirational era, one where gentle gains were celebrated. But then we realised that if we wanted things to be better, we needed to fight for them.
An estimated 5 million people took part in the 2017 Women’s March worldwide. 5 million. And thus, feminism became mainstream. It became normal. It became cool. Women who had never identified as feminists before, were suddenly buoyed up, prepared to fight on the front line. And less than a year after one sexual predator was given the ultimate political approval, the climate has changed so much that the previously unspoken predatory behaviour endemic in Hollywood, the media and politics is being voiced at last.
The climate has changed, but it hasn’t become safe yet; this is still a massive risk for the people speaking out. It takes a lot of courage to come forward and publicly tell your story. (It takes a different kind of courage to stay silent, endure and survive, lest we forget that.) But two things have happened: first of all, we got angry, and our anger has outweighed our fear of what happens when we speak out. And secondly, we can see vocal allies, assembled en masse, promising solidarity. It is still not safe, but it is safer when survivors know that they will be supported, believed and defended by these allies. There has been a shift in attitude, a nudge in the right direction. It might not be a full transformation yet, but it is still significant. Is it a sea change? It’s hard to say so early on, but it definitely feels like the tides are turning.
Consequently, countless people have felt able to tell their stories for the first time. The #MeToo campaign on social media was almost unbearable in its shared pain. Some of the stories shared right here, both above and below the line, have been heartbreaking. And so much has already come out of it: the support and love for others, the declarations of togetherness, the epiphanies, the re-evaluations of pre-conceived ideas and gut responses… All of these have played out in the comments here, and it has been beautiful and emotional. (Plus, there are gifs and cute animal pictures and stuff. And normal snark settings are resumed as soon as possible. Just in case this was sounding too sentimental.)
Progress is still slow; we are only just beginning. Each new scandal is divisive: there are still plenty of people who suspect accusers of lying, and who abuse them anew with slut-shaming and victim-blaming, but gradually the ratio of supporter / detractor is improving. In the professional world, policies are being re-written. Procedures are being reviewed. Unions have pledged to do better. Those who abuse are losing their power and privilege. Criminal investigations are underway. If you are looking for your lemonade, this is it: the more we talk, the less likely it is for this to happen again.
And so, it’s time for us to move from #MeToo to #NoMore. This isn’t a witch-hunt; it’s a war cry. That paralyzing fear has worn off, and in its place is Antiope, calling for a shield.
And that’s how I want to remember 2017: the year that women said ‘No more’. A year when we stood hand in hand and declared, ‘Enough is enough’. That’s what we have done. That’s the headline for this year.
Stay angry, but also be proud. Think about what we have already accomplished, and knock That Guy off the front page. He’ll hate that. Even better.