Many are wondering what the impact of the #MeToo movement has had on the lives of women. Has the serial stalking subsided or is it business as usual. The backlash as well as the reinvention of some of the accused might be an indication and yet, like in #BlackLivesMatter, it’s as if voices have been given a freedom to tell stories and more people are listening. DIANE DE BEER highlights some of the good news:
There’s no doubt that The Handmaid’s Tale in 1984 was ahead of its time (some would say at the right time) but now, looking back, it’s almost as if the world has caught up with Atwood’s dystopian tale.
Women’s reproductive functions became their only value in a world where a previously free-wheeling democracy turned into a totalitarian dictatorship in which specific men made all the decisions with no attempt at embracing the needs of the female populace.
Some would say that’s the lives women were living anyway, but with more subtlety in the execution, but perhaps the fact that little has changed for women since, is more of an indictment. Even the new millennium didn’t offer many new horizons.
But there has been a mind shift even if it still only finds its power in the “voices” of those creative women who write or tell stories through film or theatre or other writing of course.
And while Atwood never wanted to write a sequel to her most iconic novel, she might have been pushed by the success of the television series based on her book, which had to its advantage the timing as well as the excellence of the production on all levels.
Some have said enough already, but personally having witnessed a third generation of girls entering exactly the same world I did midway through the last century, that’s where I want to say enough already!
So well done Ms Atwood for both novels, and while The Testaments (Chatto & Windus) has to my mind an easy (yet hopeful) ending (no wonder art historian Mary Beard described her as a “optimistic dystopian”), I was thrilled that the author’s prescience kicked in both times – in 1984 and again in 2019 and that she was thus rewarded with the 2019 Booker Prize (shared as it was).
Perhaps on a different timeline but Edna O’Brien’s Girl (Faber & Faber), speaks to similar themes. While this is a work of fiction, there’s enough fact around for her to tell a story based on reality – and it’s horrific. That 276 female students could be kidnapped by an extremist terrorist group in the Northern province of Nigeria and disappear overnight with all our sophisticated surveillance techniques is astounding.
And yet, while 57 were rescued a few months after the capture, and a few stragglers have managed to escape, more than 200 women (no longer girls, all these years later) are still missing. Hopefully this book by one of the world’s leading writers, described by some as her masterpiece – understandably – will shine a searing spotlight on those still missing.
Had they been on another continent and perhaps not black, more effort would have been made and yet, the same group is still terrorising African people in that part of the world and the women must surely by now be fully integrated into their way of life. It’s been almost six years and they were at a very vulnerable age when first captured.
What O’Brien has done so cleverly is write a story of a young girl, now with a baby, who escapes the tyranny to journey back home through nightmarish terrain. But she is courageous and by now crafty and by sheer force of will, she makes it home.
Many would imagine that would be the end of her hellish life’s journey. But as is so often the case with female victims even someone who has discovered her own voice – she is silently blamed for everything that has happened to her, including the kidnapping and the pregnancy.
It’s tough to imagine how you deal with one tragedy after another and yet, it’s almost as if life keeps throwing those challenges at those who don’t buckle. It is about the strength of a woman fighting for her life and fighting back, in spite of a world which has turned its back on her. It’s full of heartache but finally, also hope for each woman survivor.
Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, winners of the Pulitzer Prize, have written a book about their article on “breaking the sexual harassment story that helped ignite a movement”.
She Said – Breaking The Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite The Movement (Bloomsbury) is an extraordinary read as they go into great detail to tell the story of their travails to get to a story that had to be watertight, so that it wouldn’t simply be dismissed and disappear into thin air – as was so often the case in the past.
What has been happening is that the entitlement of some powerful men turns them into monsters, who believe they can simply take women whenever and wherever they want.
And in the case of perhaps now the most visible alleged sexual molester, Harvey Weinstein, he had an army of enablers around him to make this predator’s sex life run smoothly. Some who didn’t care to confront him, some who went out of their way to help, because it would benefit their careers and others, like his brother, who kept fixing the problem, yet never making it go away. Somewhere in all of this, women’s lives and dreams were being destroyed. No one seemed to care and the women were too scared to talk.
Even the most famous ones. If women like Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd couldn’t stand up to Weinstein, what chance did a young assistant or secretary have?
If you never pay for any wrongdoing and you are perceived to be all-powerful, you will believe and write your own press. And while they tell Weinstein’s story and his efforts to kill the story and to deny any wrongdoing (to this day), they also turn to one of the other high-profile rape cases, that of Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation against Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.
We all know what happened there in spite of amazing testimony by a woman of such impeccable character and dignity. And yet like the Anita Hill case in 1991, where her accusation against another Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas was roughly brushed aside at great personal cost to the accuser, all these years later, the results were the same.
The only impact of the #MeToo movement was more publicity. As a result, it was more delicately handled by the members of congress because of the media scrutiny. But still, the US now have two men accused of sexual crimes, sitting on the highest court in the land.
Fortunately, the #MeToo movement has gained immeasurably as women got the courage to step forward and many mighty men who have been paying cash for their sins in the past decades, yet never punished publicly, have had to leave their high-paying, high-profile jobs as the women stood up and together made their voices heard – too loudly to be ignored.
And because the media was so often part of the story, like in the Fox News case with Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, both mighty powerful and then brought to their knees, the details were given to the world in full colour. There was no more escaping these sins that had been perpetrated for decades on naive young women with dreams – all shattered.
The second book covering the Weinstein sexual abuse allegations comes from a different angle – yet making many of the same points. It seems investigative journalist Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill – Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators (Fleet) was ahead of the pack but the closer he got to the nub of the story, the harsher the degree of resistance from even his own network that would finally have to screen the story.
It meant that he had to switch from a release on NBC News to a print story in The New Yorker, which the magazine was happy to publish after fact-checking extraordinaire. This book tells how this investigative reporter had to battle violence and even espionage to expose this celebrity serial abuser while focusing on the powerful people surrounding him at his own workplace as well as the coverups from Washington to Hollywood.
Weinstein had learnt and perfected the ways of wielding power and he used that liberally to obtain support for his evil lifestyle with full consent of people – both men and women – who should have known better. It’s an astonishing read, more of a thriller than a news report, which is more the style of She Said.
And while it seems to go on and on, especially towards the conclusion, he wanted to emphasize the lengths he had to go to get this story told. The amazing thing is that everyone knew. Yet no one was speaking – even the women were too scared to share the horror of their experiences.
It is this silent conspiracy that has turned rape into an epidemic worldwide. When the powerful think they can get away with something, many of them would do just that, as those being accused attest too.
And if anything, what all these public revelations have done is to show why women were so scared to tell their stories. No one was listening and when they did, they simply refused to believe the accusations. Think of Strauss-Kahn, former IMF boss who was accused by the hotel worker cleaning his room.
Finally those doors have been opened. Now we have to make sure that those who have to make decisions are representative of the whole community not only the perpetrators.
Perhaps then, some of the outcomes will make more sense