But when you talk about destruction,
Don’t you know you can count me out.
On Nov. 9, 2016, a majority of Americans didn’t – couldn’t – get out of bed. Yet, in the gloom of those early days, a grandmother in Hawai’i conceived of the Women’s March, which signaled the beginning of the Awakening and the Resistance. The stunning reality that 60+ million voted for an admitted sexual predator, while initially overwhelmingly depressing, sparked this current sexual revolution ― #MeToo.
This sexual revolution has proceeded at a pace far faster than the Russian or French revolutions, and certainly faster than the sexual revolution of the ’60s. We are already racing past the allegations against powerful, mostly white, men, to profound discussions about women’s role in enabling the abuse over the past generations. Rebecca Traister of New York Magazine has been covering that aspect of this roiling and continuously breaking news story in great depth.
Where we stand now is that we’ve reached the Thermidor of this revolution when we hear and read, “Off with their heads!” at the slightest allegation. Little distinction is made between Trump and Franken, let alone Roy Moore, when their crimes are worlds apart. Only in response to acts of terror do people respond in such a broad-brush manner. We have four basic categories of murder – all killing is not the same. I hope that cooler heads prevail, and we will start discriminating among offenses and engaging process so the (relatively) innocent don’t pay the same price as the most egregiously guilty.
I wonder what would happen if we started treating sexual predation as a hate crime? Nor is it a stretch to consider, at least on a metaphysical level, that sexual harassment is a form of domestic terrorism. Cumulative attacks and assaults, shared among women across generations, have had the result of keeping women “in their place,” and remaining silent. Terrorism is action taken to instill fear in a particular population, be they Americans in general, LGBTQ folks in particular, or women in the broad sense. That’s what patriarchy is all about, and the resistance to it now manifests itself with more women willing to challenge the underlying social structure, even at great risk to their well-being.
Before going to hate crimes and terrorism, however, there is a simpler and less controversial means to advance the discussions beyond panel discussions and office gossip. We can declare misogyny and sexual predation of all kinds a public health issue. Gun violence was characterized as such, and because progress was being made, the NRA and Republicans went to great lengths to stifle that approach, and they have succeeded to a great degree. We must overcome that obstructionism, and we can tackle sexual harassment in a similar manner, and dare men to respond the same way.
When we classify sexual violence as a public health issue, we enable women to approach therapists and trauma specialists, engage with Family Justice Centers, and work with the medical community to help ascertain the long-term damage done to the physical and mental health of women. We can free up funds to study the pervasiveness of the problem, and begin to undermine the culture that costs us so much, not only financially, but in terms of death and disability.
We need to keep the discussion moving. We need to engage men in frank discussions so this moment doesn’t evaporate or engender a backlash, with men and women retreating into warring tribes in a manner even more threatening to the commonweal than before. The problem is real – when a journalist such as Brit Hume suggests that men and women need to keep their distance from one another in the workplace a la the religious fanatic, Mike Pence, we’re looking at The Handmaid’s Tale. When women such as Senator Gillibrand state that Bill Clinton should have resigned, we’re seeking to impose today’s standards upon a past in the manner of the worst of today’s leftist ideology. Thermidor did not advance human rights in France in 1794; it set them back for 50 years. We can and must do better.
While we, in our celebrity-saturated culture, obviously focus on the sins of celebrities, let’s not forget that the problems are far worse in those areas of the country and the culture where women are far more powerless than they are in media and politics. The underlying dynamic is the same, but the end results far crueler. This is evident in Alabama today, but we are not yet hearing the stories of waitresses and baristas, retail workers and health care employees. It’s also not just a problem in Congress; it’s a problem in state and local governments all over the country as well.
There is, however, one simple solution that would undermine the problem at its core, without the need to adjust men’s testosterone levels. That is the 50% solution – from corporate senior management to school boards and legislatures, from academia to the professions, from union workplaces to school systems – leadership should be 50% female and 50% male. When that happens, the culture readily changes.
The off-off year elections earlier this month presaged such a change in our governing bodies. Let’s up our game and not only retake Congress and statehouses for the sake of decency and justice, but pay it forward and make a major down payment on making America a fairer and more equal home for everyone.