so i tried writing something about just a part of it: the media coverage or the entertainment industry or the politicians or the continuum that exists between al franken and harvey weinstein and more besides, or how i feel about accusations hitting people i admire and people i hate at the same time, or what the next steps are supposed to be. i tried writing about a number of these things and wasn't happy with any of it, which made me think i should just come back to the subject another time. but i've already spent so much time starting and stopping and erasing and rewriting that i can't cope with the idea of just letting it go.
so here's what i've been thinking, in part, possibly the first of several posts i'll eventually make on the matter.
i've heard a few tv pundits [not the ones who are facing charges] refer to what's happening now as a turning point, a moment when everything gross that's been lurking beneath the surface is stirred up, forcing us to deal with it. i like to think that's true, but people thought that it was a turning point in 2008 when the banking industry went all thema and louise with the economy. less than ten years later, the ones who suffered most as a result of that crash happily elected a man who promised to repeal the meagre constraints that had been foisted upon the financial industry. [a promise he's kept.] turning points have a tendency to turn back on themselves pretty quickly.
so that's it? we're living in a hellish world of normalised sexual violence that makes victims of almost all women and many men and there's nothing that can be done about it?
well, no, i wouldn't go that far.
i've festooned this post with images used in the early twentieth century to disparage the movement for women's suffrage, not just because they are hilarious, but because i think they're instructive when it comes to considering turning points and the arguments that have generally been put forward by women who wanted to improve their station. the counter-arguments have a [possibly] surprising timelessness:
women who want more rights are really trying to subjugate men. [and that men who support women's rights are tainted with the stain of femininity; nothing is more lethal to a man.]
women who seek to play a more active role in the world do so at the expense of their families.
this is the sort of hysteria [heh heh] that greeted women who wanted to be able to vote, who wanted a say in the government whose laws controlled their lives. that's a right that was perceived as so important that the americans used it as their revolutionary slogan. in a legal sense, the right to vote was tied to one's status as a person. and, indeed, women often had to fight to be recognised as persons in the same way that men were.
historically, we're told that's a fight that women won; there was the suffrage movement, there were pressures from the great war, there was a spirit of cultural change, and then someone stuffed them in a bag, shook 'em all up and presto women had the vote. well, some women. a few women. women here and there.
if you look at canada, for instance, a few specific groups of women were allowed to vote for the first time in national elections in 1917. the selection criteria for which groups was largely composed of factors that made them more likely to vote for the government in power, and their policy of conscription: women in the nursing corps and close female relatives of male soldiers. that's it.
in 1919, the franchise was extended to include pretty much all other white, english-speaking women, but that only meant that they could vote federally [and that they could run for office]. many were still excluded from provincial or local elections.
women in quebec weren't able to vote until 1940. asians of both sexes were excluded until 1948. and indigenous people did not have voting rights until 1962.*
nor did being able to vote give women a great deal more representation at the political table. canada elected its first female member of parliament in 1921, but there wasn't a woman in cabinet until 1957, and the number in cabinet wouldn't rise above three until 1993. by comparison, canada has sent fourteen people into space since 1983. [but hey, three of them were women.]
in 2015, our current prime minister, justin trudeau, made headlines for appointing a cabinet that was split evenly by gender, quipping "because it's 2015" when asked why he had done so. and, yes, it may seem ridiculous that women hadn't ever achieved parity in cabinet, but that's only true if you think that women have been voting for nearly a hundred years without getting to that point. the fact is that women started voting in 1917, and that there were ongoing fights to allow more and more of them into the public sphere from that time forward, with long stretches of very little progress at all. women getting the vote is not a historical moment: it is a process.
so it is, apparently, with sexualised violence. and as with voting, each stage of progress is accompanied by a phase where the disenfranchised/ oppressed/ victimised have to make the case that what they're talking about is actually a problem, and, although no one wants to admit it, those arguments generally go back to the idea of having to prove that we are people in the same way that those in power are people. and, yes, we do end up having those same damn conversations over and over again, because these are big problems and while we are dealing with them, we've only been chipping away one small bit at a time, which is how you're supposed to deal with big problems, after all. the thing is, you can't just deal with one of the small problems and expect that to solve the larger one. you have to keep working to solve lots of related small problems.
sexual violence and the use of sex as a tool of power isn't a small problem. what's happening now is just the discussion around it. eventually, people will start proposing certain things that can address parts of this problem- changes to laws, increased protections, etc. some of those things will get put into action and will help a bit. but they won't stop sexual violence and we shouldn't get our backs up when the topic keeps coming back at us in the future.
the healthiest thing that we can do for ourselves at this point is to flush the idea that there are such things as turning or breaking points, or that this is something that we will be able to solve and be done with. engaging the mind helps keep it sharp, so let's all stave off brain death a little longer and keep thinking and talking about how things can get better.
*but hey, at least we did better than some. liechtenstein didn't give women voting rights until 1984. switzerland allowed women to vote nationally starting in 1971, but suffrage at a local level wasn't fully achieved until 1991. look it up.