I can right now feel creeping into our zeitgeist a rising acceptance of the idea that the #MeToo movement is primarily a destructive, radical fringe movement certain to fade away once its moment in the sun has passed.
We have been down this road before—twice. I remember well the paradigm-rattling power of second-wave feminism. I remember when, in the mid-1960’s, Betty Friedan’s bestseller, The Feminine Mystique, compelled millions of women (including my mom) to transition from frustrated housewives into patriarchy-challenging feminists. I remember when 1971’s The Female Eunuch rocked the world like an earthquake that would never stop. In early 1972 I knew I was holding history in my hands when I opened the first issue of Ms.
Gloria Steinem’s seminal article, After Black Power, Women’s Liberation; Susan Brownmiller’s book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape; Kate Millett’s book Sexual Politics; congresswomen Shirley Chisholm and the irrepressible Bella Abzug; the National Organization for Women; the Equal Rights Amendment; the 92nd Congress (which, in session from 1971-72, passed more women’s rights bills than all previous legislative sessions combined); Billie Jean King; Title IX; the Pill; Roe vs. Wade; the monumental Our Bodies, Ourselves—feminism in the 70’s seemed like an unstoppable force for good.
I mean—TIME awarded its 1975 “Man of the Year” to “American women.” Their accompanying article, Great Changes, New Chances, Tough Choices, from January 5, 1976, opened with:
They have arrived like a new immigrant wave in male America. They may be cops, judges, military officers, telephone linemen, cab drivers, pipefitters, editors, business executives—or mothers and housewives, but not quite the same subordinate creatures they were before. Across the broad range of American life, from suburban tract houses to state legislatures, from church pulpits to Army barracks, women’s lives are profoundly changing, and with them, the traditional relationships between the sexes. …1975 was not so much the Year of the Woman as the Year of the Women— an immense variety of women altering their lives, entering new fields, functioning with a new sense of identity, integrity and confidence.
Yes, I was young and naive. But I can certainly be forgiven for believing, along with millions of Americans, that the systematic subjugation and marginalization of women was finally and truly drawing to a close, that never again would American women have to live as second-class citizens.
And now here we are, nearly 50 years later, agitatedly “discovering” something no woman has ever had the chance to forget, which is that way more often than not women are still treated, at best, as second-class citizens.
And now, today, you can just feel, however slightly as of yet, the #MeToo movement beginning its inexorable absorption back into the Borg of the Dominant Narrative.
It’s been a year since the #MeToo movement went large. And that movement has been—and will clearly continue to be—responsible for lots of men with lots of power being taken down. And hallelujah for that.
But in due time the #MeToo movement will slide out of our shared consciousness. Because its lifeblood is media. And the lifeblood of media is money. And to say that men have most of the money is like saying fish have most of the gills.
But just in case anyone needs reminding of the unconscionable gender disparity of wealth in this country:
- Women are 80% more likely to be impoverished in retirement than men.
- In 2017, female full-time, year-round workers made only 80.5 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 20 percent.
- In middle-skill occupations, workers in jobs mainly done by women earn only 66 percent of workers in jobs mainly done by men. (Side note: equal pay for women would cut poverty among working women and their families by more than half, and add $513 billion to the national economy.)
- The gender gap in median weekly earnings for women between 25 and 34 is the widest its been in seven years.
- White women own only 32 cents for every dollar owned by their male counterparts. Women of color own even less than that, averaging only pennies on the dollar compared to white men.
- Of 2,043 billionaires on the latest annual Forbes tally, 227 are women. *
We’re all looking forward to the upcoming midterm elections.
Anyone interested in radically advancing the cause of gender equality in this country should really be looking forward to the upcoming midterm elections.
Why? Because every Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby in America can go down in the same flames that fried those two cretins—and it won’t matter. It won’t really change anything. It won’t hurt anything, for sure. It’s always great when awful people are held accountable for their awful actions.
But you don’t kill the monster Hydra with just one sword. Cut off one of its heads, and before you’ve looked away the beast has grown two more. It takes countless warriors, working tirelessly as a team, to kill a Hydra.
And the hydra of the male patriarchy doesn’t grow two heads for every one that it loses. It grows two thousand.
It knows it can’t be beat.
It’ll let a few of its heads fly, sure. That’s not a problem for the hydra.
Because it knows that time is one its side.
Because it knows that you can’t change history.
Which is true! Except for one tiny, itsy-bitsy little thing: Every so often, you can.
Every so often, history really does pivot.
Our country was born on such a pivot.
And when history does turn in one direction, it never goes back. Things might regress, of course: people are nothing if not stubborn. But once a real change is made, that change stays.
Today we often hear quoted the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. (a thought he paraphrased from 19th-century Unitarian minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker), “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
A great saying!
But the thing is, that arc only gets bent when and if moral people, working together, take ahold of it, and bend it themselves.
On November 6, we are all going to have a chance to bend the moral arc of the universe.
On that day we will have the opportunity to vote women into the highest offices of political power in this country.
And that, right there—that, and nothing else—will keep the righteous ethos which informs and sustains the #MeToo movement from sliding back into oblivion.
It’s never about what’s happening in the current generation. It’s about what the next generation understands, accepts, takes for granted.
On November 6 we can ensure that little girls growing up in this country so regularly see women in positions of power that it doesn’t even occur to them that there’s anything noteworthy about it.
Women standing on the stage, barely visible through the confetti and balloons celebrating their election. Women introducing bills. Women debating policy. Women heading congressional committees. Women running investigative panels. Women signing the laws, handling the crises, pounding the gavels, getting struck by and ducking and hurling themselves the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. A woman, our president, giving the State of the Union address. A woman waving to us all from the steps of Air Force One.
We have a chance to show today’s young people as many women as men in these kinds of moments. And as they grow up, they won’t ever settle for less. Because they’ll know better. Because the only reality they’ll have ever known is the one that we now have a chance to create for them.
The strength of the women who have come forward to bring and keep alive the #MeToo movement have given us the opportunity to really and truly change history for the betterment—for the equality—of women. And so for the betterment of literally the whole world.
If we squander this opportunity, then . . . then I guess we’ll just see how we’re all feeling about the state of the world in another fifty years.
* References from which these statistics are drawn:
Pay Equity and Discrimination, Institue for Women’s Policy Research
The Economic Impact of Equal Pay by State, Status of Women in the United States
Money Is Power. And Women Need More of Both, the New York Times.
The Gender Pay Gap Is Actually Getting Worse for Millennial Women, Money magazine.
The photo of the National Women’s Conference marchers is taken from the Smithsonian’s article, The 1977 Conference on Women’s Rights That Split America in Two.