Thursday, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day 2018: Action Needed Now

Earlier tonight, I came home to find on Facebook a longtime friend rather teasingly challenging me to write something about International Women's Day 2018. Normally, I stoutly resist urges to plug some person, place, thing or event on my blog—and particularly, as in this case, when I don’t feel as if I had anywhere near as much time as I’d like to research a subject.

But this past year has been different. Even a lifetime of being all too familiar with male crassness and sexism left me woefully unprepared for revelations by women I have known for years, even since childhood, offering a viral catalogue of misbehavior inspired by the #MeToo movement. It shouldn't have, but the endlessly unrolling list, with one long-valued name after another, left me reeling, sad, and, ultimately, angry.

I wish International Women's Day were unnecessary. But I also wish that an appeal to men’s basic decency—“Would you want your mother or sister to be treated this way?”—had succeeded far more often in the real world than it has done to date. 

In the past few weeks, I have read much—even from professed progressives—who wonder whether the #MeToo movement may have pushed too far, prompting a backlash. A backlash may indeed be inevitable, but if so, it will only be because all reform movements inspire reactions, not because this one has been unduly excessive. 

In fact, from my conversations with several longstanding female friends—friends of unquestionable integrity—I suspect that the movement has not even come close to revealing the full extent of the inequality, condescension, and sexual power plays present in the American workforce. 

Far beyond the fields of entertainment, journalism and politics that have garnered the lion’s share of headlines, the business world, with far less glamour that can brought to bear by celebrity accusers, continues to operate with impunity. 

The theme for this year’s international Women’s Day has been #PressforProgress. For the sake of simple justice—for the sake of according so many women the equity that their intelligence and hard work should have afforded them long ago—that motto is the least we all them. 

As much as anything, the events of the last year illustrate, according to a fine essay on the #MeToo phenomenon by Harper’s columnist Rebecca Solnit, that “power generates a cushion of obliviousness around it.” She goes on to enumerate how to counter this:

“That means, first, treating people with respect regardless of their status: not taking the invitation to disdain or ignore. It means being aware of how your status may cut you off from what others know and may share among themselves; it means knowing that you do not know. It also means questioning the insulating tendencies of power.”

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