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Solnit writes: "Excuses broke. Silence was broken. The respectable appearance of a lot of institutions broke. You could say a dam broke, and a wall of women's stories came spilling forth - which has happened before, but never the way that this round has."

Young protesters at Time's Up rally in London. (photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty)
Young protesters at Time's Up rally in London. (photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty)

Feminists Have Slowly Shifted Power. There's No Going Back

By Rebecca Solnit, Guardian UK

08 March 18

The #TimesUp and #MeToo movements are a revolution that could not have taken place without decades of quiet, painstaking groundwork

his International Women’s Day comes five months after the revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s long campaign of misogynist punishments of women first broke, and with them more things broke. Excuses broke. Silence was broken. The respectable appearance of a lot of institutions broke. You could say a dam broke, and a wall of women’s stories came spilling forth – which has happened before, but never the way that this round has. This time around, women didn’t just tell the stories of being attacked and abused; they named names, and abusers and attackers lost jobs and reputations and businesses and careers. They named names, and it mattered; people listened; their testimony had consequences. Because there’s a big difference between being able to say something and having it heard and respected. Consequences are often the difference.

Something had shifted. What’s often overlooked is that it had shifted beforehand so that this could happen. Something invisible had made it possible for these highly visible upheavals and transformations. People often position revolution and incrementalism as opposites, but if a revolution is something that changes things suddenly, incrementalism often lays the groundwork that makes it possible. Something happens suddenly, and that’s mistaken for something happening out of the blue. But out of the blue usually means out of the things that most people were not paying attention to, out of the slow work done by somebody or many somebodies out of the limelight for months or years or decades.

Same-sex marriage arrived suddenly in the US when the supreme court legalised it nationwide, except that many states had already legalised it, and that came about as the result of the valiant work of countless non-straight people and their allies, making visible that not everyone is straight, making it important that everyone get rights, making queer people themselves believe they deserved and could win those rights. And it happened because the test case in California went before what appeared to be a conservative judge – federal judge Vaughn Walker, appointed by George Herbert Walker Bush – who had been in the closet himself at the time of his appointment, but was gay, and whose own attitudes toward his orientation must have evolved as the culture around him evolved. He found in favour of marriage equality and set up the case to be clear and thorough when it reached the supreme court. When judges rule on what seems self-evident common sense – be it Brown versus Board of Education or marriage equality – it often seems that way because of slow incremental changes in societal norms and beliefs. The judge gets the public finale, but the shift comes from the cumulative effect of tiny gestures and shifts.

This #TimesUp/#MeToo moment is no different; it is a revolt for which we have been preparing for decades, or perhaps it’s the point at which a long, slow, mostly quiet process suddenly became fast and loud. Part of the work was done over the past five years, more of it over the past 50. We have had a tremendous upheaval over the past few years – at the end of 2014, I wrote in these pages: “I have been waiting all my life for what this year has brought.” What this wave brought is recognition that each act of gender violence is part of an epidemic. It’s brought a (partial) end to treating these acts as isolated incidents, as the victim’s fault, as the result of mental illness or other aberrations. It’s meant a more widespread willingness to recognise that such violence is extraordinarily common and has an enormous impact, and arises from values, privileges and attitudes built into the culture.

It’s a shift that’s often happened before, for other rights issues, as something long tolerated is finally recognised as intolerable, which means that the people for whom it was not a problem finally recognise the suffering of those for whom it was. This shift from tolerated to intolerable is often the result of a power shift in who decides, or a shift in what stories dominate, or in whose story gets told, or believed. It’s a subtle shift in who matters that precedes dramatic change.

In this case, by 2012, a new generation of young women was not going to be intimidated by either shame or bureaucracy from talking about campus rape and, more than that, organising against it. Social media gave women a capacity to form a sort of Greek chorus when a story about gender violence erupted. We burned down a lot of the excuses that sought to diminish the impact of gender violence, as we apparently have at last with gun violence in the US. We are still working on getting some slow learners to recognise that workplace harassment is not a “few bad apples” problem; that removing some particularly egregious abusers from the scenes of their abuse doesn’t resolve a problem that arises from deeply held beliefs about who has the right to do what and who should just put up with it.

But even the “we” has changed and I believe that that is central to why so much else has changed. Who determines what stories get told, who gets believed, whose words have weight, who’s in charge has changed. (Black Lives Matter was another movement to shift what is visible, whose version is heard, who matters.) We have not lost the proponents of the old worldview, in which men’s lives matter more and their words have more credibility, but we have gained people who don’t operate by those rules. Feminists have slowly, steadily gained power – and by feminists I mean everyone of whatever gender who thinks first that women deserve full equality and second that systematic misogyny remains a grave problem.

And that’s where we can look to the long, slow work of feminism to put women in positions of power, in concert with the related work to change the racial makeup of who holds power. Who decided what stories mattered? Journalist Sharon Waxman says that when she was at the New York Times she tried to tell the truth about Weinstein in 2004, only to be dismissed by her male editor, who didn’t understand why that aspect of the story mattered. We know that Ronan Farrow started his own investigation of Weinstein under the auspices of NBC, which declined to pursue it (some suspected because it shed too much light on their in-house super-harasser, Today Show co-host Matt Lauer), so he took his story to the New Yorker. Farrow is, of course, not a woman; the shift is not only women in positions of power but anyone who believes that women deserve equality in access to power, credibility and justice. We need to continue putting people in charge of the courts, the media, the laws, the economy, the schools, who have understanding and empathy for those who are not white, not straight, not rich or otherwise advantaged, not native-born, not male. Who believe in equal justice and equal value.

This insurrectionary moment is already subsiding, but things will not be what they were. A friend recently told me about a major media outlet where women report that after some harassers were fired, people are feeling more confident, inspired and creative. We have had too many stories about men who don’t feel comfortable because things are changing, rather than women who feel more comfortable than they ever have before, for the same reason.

We are going to return to a phase in which change happens slowly and subtly enough that it is invisible to most people, though not to the people who take the long view and those who drive the change or who benefit from one small change in their home or workplace or relationship. And then the slow changes will reach a point at which there will be another rupture. your social media marketing partner


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+15 # dotlady 2018-03-08 18:53
The long-awaited moment of recognition is cresting but it must continue to roll.
-32 # Depressionborn 2018-03-08 19:23
Most of us never have been able to figure out what women want. The only thing for sure is that they want to be able to change their mind. Maybe we will live long enough for the rest?
[don't count on it]
+6 # tedrey 2018-03-08 21:12
If by "us" you mean the human species you are obviously wrong. If by "us" you mean the men who still haven't caught on, you are probably right.
+6 # NAVYVET 2018-03-09 00:12
I'm a woman and I agree with a man, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." "Little" indeed--and rigid, and narrow, and unable to tell the difference between true and false, good and evil, real and fake. Persons who can't change their minds are easy targets for con artists, and become self-enslaved True Believers--the ones who support a "true belief" even when its falsehoods are exposed time and again.

The pathetic followers of Hitler, Stalin, Ayn Rand, Donald Trump and the rest of the fascist ilk come to mind.
+3 # LionMousePudding 2018-03-09 06:55
What do men want?

Oh yeah, they have the world.

Depressionborn here seems to want the power to keep women from changing our minds..

You know, like men get to do when situations change. Like women have never forced men to give up.

Let us look at a sexual example, as that is obviously where Depressionborn' s mind goes when it comes to women.

When a man commits verbally to sex with a woman, and he realizes the woman is a cop.

Well, it will send him to jail if he completes the action. But if he is to be held to Depressionborn' s expectation for women, here as a thought experiment applied to men, he has to go through with sex.

How can that apply, asks Depressionborn? He will get arrested.

Yeah and if a woman is forced, by the very dint of being a woman, to complete a sex act at the moment she realizes the man is an a$$hole, or that she will suffer in any way, such as professionally, emotionally, or physically, even in the consequence of what feels, and could ruin her life like, rape, which I am sure depressionborn feels cannot be called that; guess what, that is a lot worse than a couple of nights in jail.

In fact, how many times did I read here, "she should have expected it if she went into his apartment;" that is, the very moment a woman walks into a man's home she has consented to any sexual act he should choose to force upon her.

Live long enough to see women want more rights than to change their minds? Really you haven't noticed?
-1 # Depressionborn 2018-03-09 16:20
live long enough for the rest?

[the "rest"to learn the rest] read again. if you can't read my unclear assertions no wonder you feel oppressed?
+1 # sashapyle 2018-03-10 08:53
Depressionborn clearly has not lived long enough to learn that women and men are both just human beings. I suspect not wanting to learn has something to do with it.
-5 # Depressionborn 2018-03-09 09:43
no problem LionMousePuddin g, I think you gals can/should have any right you want. You can even change your mind abut it if you want. What you can't do is expect us men to know what you want. When we try to guess, we are usually wrong. Your confusion does not mean that sweet thing and I are not lovers-we are and always will be. I just do what I'm told, ttthanks.

ps. "Man" means both men and women. Quit trying to change language please. God created man, men and women He created them. And women ARE different than men-get over it.
+3 # sashapyle 2018-03-10 08:57
It’s actually pretty easy to learn what women want if you listen. Nobody has ever asked men to be psychic, just to treat others as equals. This tired trope is one of many excuses for a failure to learn and evolve. If you were indeed born in the Depression, you have been blessed with decades upon this earth. Plenty of time to adapt to information that comes to you from all directions. Unless you prefer to cling to the prejudices that were once considered acceptable.
+1 # Depressionborn 2018-03-10 12:48
Quoting sashapyle:
It’s actually pretty easy to learn what women want if you listen. Nobody has ever asked men to be psychic, just to treat others as equals. This tired trope is one of many excuses for a failure to learn and evolve. If you were indeed born in the Depression, you have been blessed with decades upon this earth. Plenty of time to adapt to information that comes to you from all directions. Unless you prefer to cling to the prejudices that were once considered acceptable.

I would like to hear what women want. The silence is deafening. In the old days, (yes a long time ago, our great grandchildren are graduating,) the gals simply wanted a decent husband, a home and a family. Now it seems all they want is to kill their babies and get their house cleaned by a cleaning lady. So, sashapyle, you tell me. A lot of good men order brides from Asia.
+5 # librarian1984 2018-03-10 18:16
Really, D? Not a very friendly way to carry on a conversation.

Men are simple. They want whatever they want whenever they want it. Sometimes they take advantage of physical strength to intimidate perceived inferiors including women. Not all but enough to make many of us miserable and even the 'good ones' are silent about abuse. For decades police wouldn't interfere in domestic violence. Maybe there aren't any good ones? Maybe gender trumps humanity?

When I was young I thought men were the more interesting. They talked in front of the tv about real news while the women bustled about the kitchen discussing family and the neighborhood. I've come to appreciate the women were right. Those were the things that mattered. And snacks.

Men are simple. Women are complex. We inspire the apes to be better; alternatively, the apes take a simpler course, to intimidate and subjugate resource holders.

I've been a feminist since before I knew the word but still am not up on the politics or the labels. There are waves but I've never quite fit into any of them though I think we all agree on a few basic principles:

We are equal. We deserve the same respect and opportunities. We are not servants or property.

Many men don't get it until they have daughters. Some not even then. It's been informative to raise sons. I feel empathy for men, as well as some bitterness ;->

We should raise our sons and daughters to find out what each other wants by asking and then listening.
+3 # Depressionborn 2018-03-11 13:15
aso librarian1984, as usual right on.
-4 # Depressionborn 2018-03-09 13:33
I am offended,LionMo usePuddin, that you accuse me of thinking men have a right to impose on women, especially those gals that work for them. Shame on you and your arrogant assumptions.
So give it rest and keep your clothes on for anyone not your husband.
-4 # Depressionborn 2018-03-09 13:45
except LionMousePuddin oops, after a bit of research it seems possible if not likely that gals today find that there are not enough good men?

About which God is clear: "a husband must love his wife as Christ loved the church", [Christ died for the church], so a husband should die for his wife. Maybe a proper husband is hard to find or has been scared off by virtue-less women? something has changed, that's for sure.

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