Eva Wise­man

# MeToo is one year old, and the bat­tle is just be­gin­ning

The Observer Magazine - - The Observer Magazine - @eva­wise­man

On life in the af­ter­math of #MeToo. Plus, the Ob­server ar­chive

How are you cel­e­brat­ing the an­niver­sary of the fall of Har­vey We­in­stein? Cake? Crack­ers? A fes­tive sob in the loos at work? Ten days ago Dr Chris­tine Blasey Ford told the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee: “I am here be­cause I be­lieve it is my civic duty to tell you what hap­pened to me.” Alyssa Mi­lano (the ac­tor who launched the #MeToo cam­paign) glared at them from the cheap seats as Repub­li­can se­na­tors waited pa­tiently for the chance, one by one, to apol­o­gise to Brett Ka­vanaugh, Trump’s nom­i­nee for the supreme court who de­nies any wrong­do­ing, for the pain he had suf­fered. And haunt­ing the room, too, were the ghosts of Rose Mc­Gowan and Asia Ar­gento and the mil­lions of peo­ple that came out as sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault. A wood-pan­elled room, cof­fin-like, to hold the bod­ies.

Didn’t it feel as though we had been build­ing to this? Build­ing to this, over the past year of sto­ries, this bloody show­down be­tween the sexes, ac­cusers and the ac­cused, the men whose priv­i­lege was be­ing poked? A hear­ing, to fol­low a year of lis­ten­ing. And (though I write be­fore the fi­nal de­ci­sion is made) didn’t it feel like we knew, even be­fore it be­gan, ex­actly how it would end? A year since the ac­cusers of We­in­stein – who also de­nies these al­le­ga­tions – came for­ward (and two since the broad­cast of Trump’s “pussy grab”), and while on one hand it feels like we’ve wit­nessed great lib­er­a­tion in hav­ing heard so many swal­lowed sto­ries of abuse, in the other, we grip a feel­ing of ter­ri­ble weari­ness, the sense that only half the world has been pay­ing at­ten­tion.

I should have been work­ing, but I was watch­ing the live feed, and then the of­fice emp­tied around me and I was late to a birth­day party be­cause even from 4,000 miles away the hear­ing had me stuck, pinned down. “I was sex­u­ally as­saulted and no­body be­lieved me,” a woman called Maria Gal­lagher told Jeff Flake as he stepped into a lift in the Se­nate of­fice build­ings. “Do you stand with these women?” asked an­other sur­vivor of sex­ual as­sault, Ana Maria Archila. Flake stayed silent – his an­swer came later, when he called for an FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Ford’s al­le­ga­tions. They’d forced him to look into their eyes.

If a woman’s civic duty is to speak up, what is the civic duty of a man? Women have been per­form­ing their civic du­ties across the world over the past year, re­port­ing their trauma, not just sim­ply to bring down a bad man but to kick at the struts of a so­ci­ety that al­lowed it to hap­pen. And it goes fur­ther than sex­ual abuse, it ex­tends to the way women have spo­ken out about other ex­pe­ri­ences that would typ­i­cally have been for­got­ten in the dark, from abor­tions to mis­car­riages, in or­der to shed light on the re­al­i­ties of life as a woman. But the obli­ga­tion that sur­vivors must re­visit hor­rors from their pasts – and, in do­ing so, open other women’s care­fully dressed wounds – is a re­quire­ment that feels in­creas­ingly empty. Do­ing so is only worth­while if it ac­tu­ally changes some­thing. Oth­er­wise, hav­ing wit­nessed so many of these spec­ta­cles, where sur­vivors of abuse have been ridiculed and dis­be­lieved, soon these voices will quiet, and women will re­treat once again into cor­ners where they whis­per warn­ings about handsy bosses and in­ter­net creeps.

The rea­son Repub­li­cans are ush­er­ing Ka­vanaugh through, de­spite what can kindly be de­scribed as a C-grade job in­ter­view (one that wouldn’t even get you be­hind the till at Shoe­zone, sorry Brett – and imag­ine a woman be­hav­ing like that, with the tears, the shout­ing?) is be­cause of his hard­line views on abor­tion, which, when nor­malised, have an im­pact on all women. It’s not a co­in­ci­dence that those in power are, at best, choos­ing to ig­nore the mea­sured tes­ti­mony of women in pain. And it il­lu­mi­nates the need for change. Rather than just speak­ing up, women need seats at the table so they can speak across. There is a big­ger job to do; there are big­ger jobs to win.

A year since We­in­stein, and this much is clear – the ef­fect of #MeToo was not that it changed the world, but that it brought women to­gether in prepa­ra­tion to do so. It was the be­gin­ning, not the end, and it taught us that we need more women in power, ur­gently. This is how we will col­lapse the house of beer mats, and this is when we’ll know change has hap­pened: when women no longer have to fil­let their his­to­ries to prove sys­temic ha­rass­ment and abuse, sto­ries of the boys at school, men on the train – when women are no longer ac­count­able for men’s be­hav­iour, no longer have to broad­cast sto­ries of our abor­tions in or­der to pro­tect the right to con­trol our own bod­ies. The rage so many of us felt watch­ing last week’s hear­ing should pro­pel us to vote, to stand. We need more women in power so sur­vivors feel safe to come for­ward, and so that when they do so they are heard. More women must get in the lifts with the peo­ple in power, not just as ac­tivists but as elected peers, trav­el­ling up to the spa­ces where change hap­pens. ■

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