The future is female. Or is it? There is no doubting that the biggest political event of the year was #MeToo. When I first saw the hashtag, posted it on my social media and then wrote about it, I had no idea how big an impact this movement was going to have. Still is having. As a woman, one gets used to ‘women’s issues’ gaining a bit of publicity for a while, then fading into the background. This hasn’t faded. If anything, it is keeping a steady glow going.
There is hardly a profession that I have seen that hasn’t been mentioned in conjunction with #MeToo. Sure, it started with the relative elite of Hollywood, but I’ve seen mentions of this movement by women in the financial world, medicine, the London theatre scene, the classical music world, politics, the literary world, academia, opera. I’ve known, in acquaintance, a few of the accused, and the revelations weren’t surprising. The irony of art reflecting life reflecting art were not lost.
There’s been a multiplicity of reactions to #MeToo, from women. It wasn’t long (probably a month) before the mutterings of the #NotAllMen groups of women started. From my observance, they were mainly women ‘of a certain age’ and the main thrust of their argument, when one broke it down, seemed to be that they had to put up with it, so why shouldn’t younger women have to do the same? Many of these women of my personal acquaintance (though not all) had sons which seemed, by their own words, to colour their views. Some women, who were friends with the accused, because they had not experienced this side of them found it hard to comprehend that they were capable of these actions. A human reaction, I guess; but part of the reason that the system of patriarchy and its narrative has prevailed. The deceit of women. Their cunning. When underneath all they are, are sluts. Branded women. Mark them with an A and have done with it. Dress them in a red dress and white bonnet and treat them as brood mares. They are good for little else. Possessions, not human beings.
This movement has given me pause about many things. Of course, partly I was elated and continue to be, that finally, these issues, which form so much a part of the experience of being female, were being discussed, and that this movement hasn’t disappeared from the public consciousness yet. Partly I’ve been disappointed by the reactions of some other women, and recognise that there is much in there that has been the causation of the lack of progress of the suffragette movement and its descendants, the various waves of feminism. We are still having arguments about providing creches in workplaces – something that was established by the Pankhursts in their business a hundred years ago. If anything, we seem to have gone backwards in terms of this argument.
I believe that #MeToo is having a major effect because of the political schisms we are experiencing. We are seeing an epic battle between how things have been, and how we want them to be, and in between, how things currently are. There is a broad acceptance that how things are is no longer acceptable, and there must be change. There is also conflict with traditionalists and apologists for how things are, and how they want regressive change to the way things were. Crucial to the movement, to this moment, and to the rising call for female equality, has been Trump. Never has toxic masculinity, a real life consequence of the system of patriarchy, been personified so odiously and so fully in one person. The Hero’s Journey is a basic principle of story-telling, and for every hero(ine) there must be a villain. Trump has fulfilled that role more than competently. In truth, one could argue that it is the only role he has fulfilled competently, providing the perfect example of what happens when one leaves power all in the hands of men. The call for female equality would not be resonating on this scale if men did not look at Trump as an example of their sex, and not like what they see. By and large, unless one is a white supremacist misogynist, he is the very antithesis of aspirational masculinity. His ‘grab ’em by the pussy’ comment. His wildly inappropriate and borderline incestuous comments about his daughter. His clear disregard for his current wife. The scarcity of women in his every staged photo opportunity. Women are useful and/or of service to him, or they are irrelevant, seems to be the message. The history books may yet show that the biggest catalyst for equality for women in Western countries was Donald Trump, despite the villain’s best efforts. No Hero’s Journey story is complete without the triumph of battle.
The way I see it, the major obstacles standing in the way of female equity, and that always have, are two-fold: Not just the implementation of patriarchal mores from men, but also from women themselves. A sort of keeping of the status quo. I was struck by this when reading about Meryl Streep recently. Now don’t get me wrong – I love Meryl Streep as an actress. I think she is probably the greatest living film actor, male or female. I’ve seen her speak at a Women of the World conference, and she comes across as a thoroughly nice human being, despite her disavowal of feminism, which I have to say, I did find disappointing. However, she is a person who has reached a certain level of power and influence, and her pronouncements about wearing black at the Golden Globes come across as someone who wants predominantly to maintain the status quo, while talking about protest. The problem with this is that sort of attitude is not possible, sustainable or even desirable to maintain anymore. It’s part of the ‘Change – but not too much’ attitude of neoliberalism. Unlike Brexit, change does actually mean change. Change is painful. It’s messy. It turns your world upside-down and inside out. Change is the rollercoaster ride that you have no guarantee of being thrown off of. It’s gut-wrenching, soul-destroying, overwhelming, terrifying. And ultimately, enervating, empowering and inevitable once one has been baptised in its fire.
I am using Streep as an example, not because I loathe her (the contrary) but because I believe her approach to fundamental change is wrong and can be a teachable moment. Sure, if every woman rocked up in black, there would be a huge amount of publicity – for the Globes and sales for media outlets. All predominantly run by men. These awards depend on women to boost their profile and sales. There is not one female director nominated this year, despite several great films directed by women, for example. Until they give women an equal footing, and equal power, then don’t engage. If every single woman stayed away from the awards season and refused to engage, that would do more than sending a message, and ‘making a statement’. I’m fairly certain it would have a real-life impact on the profile of the awards and media sales. Who, after all, wants to sift through hundreds of pictures of men in very similar looking tuxedoes?
I hasten to add that this isn’t an original idea – it is based on the Icelandic model of women disengaging from working, taking care of children and households in 1975 as an action against inequality. The result were quite startling – men were barely coping over the 24-hour period. They made their point, and got their first female president 5 years later.
Action can seem overwhelmingly. But even small actions matter. For example: I’ve made a commitment to not hashtag the Golden Globes – small in its way, but in this day and age, social media raises profile. An awards ceremony that does not recognise the achievements of women, half the population, is not a ceremony that I want to help in any way, shape or form. Instead, I’ll be writing as much as I can about #MeToo and issues of female equity as a counterbalance. Done collectively, like the #MeToo movement, these sort of actions can have impact.
The point is: protest is all very well. But actions do speak louder than words, and across sectors women need to start taking meaningful action that does not play by the rules of a game which treats them as second-class citizens. Then, and only then, will we see real progress on the issue of female equity. And progress on this, 100 years on from when women were arrested, tortured and killed merely to get a vote to get a seat at the table, more than change for its own sake, surely has to now be the aim. This is why #MeToo is a crucial movement, coming at a crucial time in the social history of the world, with remarkable staying power. It remains to be seen whether the hero will transform into the heroine on this journey, and whether the Heroine, female equity, will triumph at last.