New Year, New World For Women

As the dawn of the new year rises, we are left to reflect on the profound ways 2017 was shaped by women. From the Harvey Weinstein allegations, and the ensuing allegations of dozens of men in power (including the very President of our nation), to the resulting “Me Too” hashtag, women’s voices have consistently broken the silence which has too long encumbered them. The voices of mothers, actresses, politicians, domestic workers, artists, cashiers, farmworkers, waitresses, students, teachers, friends, and lovers. The voices of women, women of power, and women without it. Courageous women whose stories ring out with truth. Stories that confirm what women long knew, sexual harassment and abuse is a universal experience for us. It transcends into the lives of all women, especially to members of vulnerable minority groups. 

So as we look forward to the oncoming year, we must ask ourselves, what does this mean for women? More than in any other generation we are seeing powerful men being held accountable for their abuses. But how do we ensure that rather than a reaction to the current climate, this moment becomes a distinct change in our culture?  

On New Year’s Day dozens of celebrities, among them, America Ferrera, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Natalie Portman, took to Instagram to post about the Times Up Campaign, boldly declaring that time’s up on tolerating discrimination, harassment, and abuse. The initiative garnered massive attention at the Golden Globes, where women wore black in support of victims, and men sported  “Times Up” pins on their lapels (some rather hypocritically). The two words seemed to echo throughout the night, repeated faithfully by female winners and presentees alike.

The heart and purpose of Times Up resides within it’s legal defense fund, which aims to provide subsidized access to legal defense for women across all industries who are victims of sexual harassment or assault, particularly women in low-wage fields who are at higher risk. The fund has received over 16 million in donations, and will be housed at the National Women’s Law Center’s Legal Network for Gender Equity. 

Highly publicized donations have been made from stars of Woody Allen films such as Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Hall, as amends for working with the alleged child molester. Mark Wahlberg donated his salary of 1.5 million from reshoots of “All The Money in The World” in Michelle William’s name to the fund when word spread of the gross pay disparity between the two. Proving that awareness and advocation will bring justice for victims of inequality.

However, despite all the good progress, when the story of a young woman being assaulted by Aziz Ansari broke, it became apparent that the issue of assault is more comprehensive than violent men attacking women. A deep cultural misunderstanding exists, that allows men who’ve harassed women to walk on a stage wearing a “Times Up” pin with no qualm. 

The problem is, many men and some women did not view the encounter as assault. Despite the woman saying things like “Let’s relax,” “Next time,” “I don't want to feel forced,” and “No, I don’t think I’m ready to do this.” Despite her physical cues, moving away from him, not kissing back, pulling her hand from his genitals, and a lack of reciprocation or enthusiasm. Despite the verbal and physical cues, many men still claim the line of consent was fuzzy in the encounter.  

The story resonated with many women for a different reason. It was a story many women had experienced, a story of fear and coercion, a story of the internal battle between making a scene and offending men and our own comfort. The story of freezing in the moment, trying to scream without words "stop this stop this stop this." The expectation for a woman to scream, and kick, and slap when she wants to refuse a sexual advance is a harmful victim-blaming mindset, and an infantilization of the capabilities of men to read basic social cues. 

The momentum of this moment is propelling women forward, and providing us with a larger voice and platform than ever before. We cannot shrink from the challenge to speak. We cannot shrink from the moment to fight. We must demand from our peers, our coworkers, our employers, our family, our society, to see us and hear us.

No longer will sexual coercion, and assault be an accepted aspect of women’s sexual encounters. No longer will harassment, and unequal pay be an accepted part of women’s working environments. No longer will disrespect and belittlement be an accepted aspect of womanhood.

As Oprah declared triumphantly at the Golden Globes, “I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women… and some pretty phenomenal men”. The new age is coming, but it must be heralded in by men and women standing up and demanding justice, tolerance, and equality for all. It is a new year, let’s create a new world for the future generations of women. 

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