By Jess Lord
Thinking back to 8th March 2017, it is difficult to imagine a world without #MeToo and #TimesUp.
In response to the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal, a dialogue about sexual assault and harassment was initiated. Following disclosures from several high profile actresses, the American press reported that Weinstein, over the course of his career, used his power to sexually assault over fifty women. Allegations continue to be investigated.
In response to these horrific revelations, many women chose to share their stories of sexual violence in solidarity. Prior to #MeToo, the hashtags #MyHarveyWeinstein, #YouOkSis, #WhatWereYouWearing, and #SurvivorPrivilege also circulated online, spearheaded by many prominent female personalities.
Stories of sexual abuse and harassment flooded the internet at an unprecedented rate. This initiated a conversation about a problem that had previously been too unpalatable for the general public. Although tragic that such a conversation is necessary, it is refreshing that this issue is no longer being stifled by embarrassment and shame.
Time acknowledged how important it was to celebrate these women’s bravery
In December 2017, Time named their ‘Person of the Year’ as the ‘Silence Breakers’, in recognition of all the women who have spoken out about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault. These women were revolutionary. Time, in featuring these women, acknowledged how important it was to celebrate their power, bravery, and influence.
However, society is in a very sorry state if we let the time between 8th March last year and this year be defined by sexual assault, by #MeToo, by pain. It is wrong and it is heartbreaking. I have more respect than words can do justice for all the women who have come forward and shared their stories. It angers me that this is a problem that is not only endemic, but institutionalised.
Yet, we cannot let it define the past year. Whilst remaining inspired by the grace and courage of these women, the prevalence of sexual assault within our society should not cast a shadow over the other impressive, awe-inspiring and fantastic things women of all ages have achieved over the last twelve months.
We can’t let historical sexual abuse define the past year
In the 12 months from March 2017, a record-breaking number of women were elected to the Houses of Parliament; in September, a royal decree lifted the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia; this summer, Maria de Jesús Patricio Martínez, a Nahua indigenous woman, will make history by running for President in Mexico.
In January 2018, over 250 marches and rallies took place across the globe, under the umbrella of the ‘Women’s March’. Jeanette Epps is set to be the first African-American female space-state crew member, whose mission heads for the stars in May 2018. In April 2017, Cressida Dick assumed office as the first female police commissioner in Scotland Yard’s 188-year history. In the same month, Katherine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, did it again, 50 years after her first attempt. She is 70.
In July 2017, the BBC cast Jodie Whittaker as the 13th incarnation of the Doctor. The ‘HeForShe’ movement continues to grow, even here in Durham, with the launch of our own HeForShe Society in October 2017. The most searched word of 2017? Feminism.
Feminism means we. It means us
But what now? We need to keep fighting, learning, and speaking out. I say we because, as those who Googled ‘Feminism’ throughout 2017 will know, feminism means we. It means us. It means both men and women. It means the unequivocal equality of the sexes.
It is hard to decide exactly where to go from here. Sexual crime is a huge issue, casual sexism and ‘lad culture’ are on the rise, and recent figures have revealed the true extent of the gender pay gap. The change needed is so extensive it is almost overwhelming – almost. But 2018 is the time to tackle these issues.
It is time to rebalance authority and influence
One thing that is key to confronting these problems is changing the distribution of power. As a concept: simple. As a practical pursuit: complicated. Put simply, those with power have the authority to influence and exploit others. But, most importantly, those who have power have the tools to make a change.
It is time to rebalance authority and influence. Women need to climb to the highest levels within business, industry, government, sport, television, and at home. Be this via funding, training or consciousness-raising, distributions of power within the upper echelons of society need to change.
Let’s smash that glass ceiling. Let’s rebalance the power. 2018 is our time. Happy International Women’s Day, and remember, #WeHaveThePower.
Photograph: Carly Hagins via Flickr and Creative Commons. Illustrations: Katie Butler.