For many women, 2017 was bookended by triumph and backlash. I kicked off the year with the former when I joined thousands of women, including hundreds of Canadians, for the Women’s March On Washington. That day buzzed with unstoppable energy — anger and hope connected us, uniting our purpose. It made us buoyant and kind; it made us loud and rebellious.
On the walk that morning from our bus to the march route, the day after Donald Trump took his oath of office, we met so many generous people: children and their moms handed us coffee, drivers honked their horns to cheer us on, elderly women and men waved homemade signs in support. During the march, I witnessed many similar acts of care, thoughtfulness, and love. I also witnessed rage. Women yelled until they were hoarse; they punched the air; they showed how fed up they were in every step. It seemed impossible that, just weeks before, media had speculated as to whether anybody would show up at all.
This momentum, and the conversations started that day, carried through to the #MeToo movement. In it, there is the same undeniable force, the same sense of inescapable reckoning and awakening. It shook people out of their complacency and showed women they were not alone. It demonstrated that harassment and sexual violence don’t affect merely an unlucky few: they’re as much a part of our culture as hockey or maple syrup.
Like the women’s march, what #MeToo has really exposed is a pervasive frustration: we will no longer take it — any of it. And while it’s true that the magic of #MeToo is that many people are finally listening, it is also true that our protests have grown louder; we, as women and survivors, can no longer be ignored. We are everywhere. We are, as Time magazine called us in its 2017 Person of the Year issue, “The Silence Breakers.”
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If there were victories, though, there was also backlash. People questioned the point of the women’s march — whether it would amount to anything. They criticized everything from the pink, knitted pussy hats many women donned to the appropriateness of some celebrities’ speeches. An Ontario minor league hockey coach’s Facebook comment went viral: “Any of those CANADIAN women who wanted to protest the President of the USA and got turned around. Good u dumb bitches. Worry about your own Country CANADA. And your protesting what?” For every person who protested him, there were those who agreed, who defended.
And #MeToo hasn’t escaped criticism, either. Matt Damon has put his foot in his mouth more than once this past week. He disparaged the so-called culture of outrage we live in and during an ABC interview said we should not conflate bad behaviours: “You know, there’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right?” Days later, he gave another interview, in which he said we weren’t talking enough about the men who don’t engage in harassment — the good guys. Many women were exasperated, including his former Good Will Hunting co-star Minnie Driver, who pointed out that abuse often starts small, and that others should not dictate how someone is allowed to feel about their abuse.
Still, when I look back on 2017, I feel something I would not have expected to going into the year: cautious hope. A recent NRG Research Group poll shows that I’m not alone. More than half of Canadians believe that the avalanche of accusations against high-profile men, and the resulting #MeToo movement, will help reduce workplace harassment. More than 80 per cent believe #MeToo has raised awareness of sexual harassment and sexual violence in general.
And yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, these numbers dropped when respondents were asked whether #MeToo would have a long-lasting impact on behaviours. Men were much more likely than women to believe things would get better: 43 per cent of them, compared to 30 per cent of women.
We cannot know where #MeToo or the Women’s March movement will take us. We cannot know what new movements will form, or which ones will take us even further. When I marched, and when I spoke up about my own #MeToo, I did so without knowing what would happen. I was pessimistic, but I also stubbornly believed that someday things had to change — if only enough of us demanded it. And while we cannot know where these movements will take us, we know where we want them to take us.
I want a 2018 that continues to explore what solidarity means, what diversity means — one that looks hard at who benefits from this momentum and who is still left behind. I want a year in which all women reach out to others and help them build their own platforms for hope and outrage. Most of all, I want a 2018 that continues to push for these tough conversations — that continues to prove women will not go back to silence. Those days are done.
Lauren McKeon is the digital editor of The Walrus. She's the author of F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism, published by Goose Lane Editions.
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