A (Tempered) Victory for the Silence-Breakers

Victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual abuse and their supporters protest during a #MeToo march in Hollywood, California on November 12, 2017. Several hundred women gathered in front of the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood before marching to the CNN building to hold a rally. / AFP PHOTO / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

The good news: Time magazine has chosen as its Person of the Year, “The Silence Breakers,” recognizing the entire #MeToo movement. The cover story, by Stephanie Zarachek, Eliana Dockterman, and Haley Sweetland Edwards, is a round-up of the experiences of various women and a few men — in entertainment, media, hospitality, activism, and other fields — who had the courage to speak out about the sexual abuse, harassment, and discrimination they endured from men in power. As context, the piece also provides the backstory to the movement.

The bad news: unfortunately, the magazine undermined the impact of its cover story and Person of the Year choice by selecting sexual-predator-in-chief Donald Trump as runner-up.

Like the “problem that has no name,” the disquieting malaise of frustration and repression among postwar wives and homemakers identified by Betty Friedan more than 50 years ago, this moment is born of a very real and potent sense of unrest. Yet it doesn’t have a leader, or a single, unifying tenet. The hashtag #MeToo (swiftly adapted into #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, #Ana_kaman and many others), which to date has provided an umbrella of solidarity for millions of people to come forward with their stories, is part of the picture, but not all of it.

This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist. They’ve had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose. They’ve had it with the code of going along to get along. They’ve had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women. These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought.

Emboldened by Judd, Rose McGowan and a host of other prominent accusers, women everywhere have begun to speak out about the inappropriate, abusive and in some cases illegal behavior they’ve faced. When multiple harassment claims bring down a charmer like former Today show host Matt Lauer, women who thought they had no recourse see a new, wide-open door. When a movie star says #MeToo, it becomes easier to believe the cook who’s been quietly enduring for years.

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