Is now the best time ever to be a woman?

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Is now the best time ever to be a woman?
Gloria Steinem has been getting us ready… for the past 45 years

Before you ask, yes I have been reading the papers lately. And no, my headline isn’t some kind of supremely sarcastic call-to-arms. I am all-too aware of the avalanche of abuse and harassment reports that have erupted forth in the past few weeks; a harrowing, rage-inducing, but nonetheless pretty accurate barometer of exactly what it’s been like for women just to go about their daily lives up till now. That we could be minding our own business, just, say, buying some Pringles, or trying to unjam the sodding printer at work, and regardless of how inane the circumstance, we have all, at one point or another, had to deal with some form of this absolute trash from a man who thinks he was born with the right to do it. Whether that’s been a) an ignorant, throwaway, yet dangerously insidious remark to be filed under #everydaysexism (See: PMS jokes. Catcalls. Aggressive mansplaining) or b) full-blown harassment (quite literally a police matter), we have all been made to feel silly, or small, or scared, and like we constantly have to second-guess ourselves, gaslit to within an inch of our lives.

“Did I imagine that?” we’ve asked, riddled with self-doubt. “Am I just being uptight? Was it my fault? Would anyone believe me, anyway?” Our worst crime of all though, it seems, has been to exist in a culture that has historically shamed, belittled and even disbelieved women who have spoken out about abuse – and not shouted loud enough to change it. Jeez, did we actually believe what we were told as little girls; that getting all riled up and cross is terribly unbecoming? Looks like we did, eh? We put up and shut up, lest we upset the menfolk. But in doing so, we have been guilty of enabling all shades of shameful behaviour – even giving it more power. As Robyn Wilder wrote, men aren’t predisposed to these kinds of actions, rather “society is predisposed to allow it.” The lesson here? Shout, girls. And dammit, make it loud.

The reason being, we might like to think we’re in an enlightened age of empowerment, but one look at how much traction the #metoo movement has gained – hordes of women hashtagging and sharing their personal experiences of harassment – highlights that we certainly aren’t. What it does show, however, is that we are living through one of the most gloriously angry and vocal watershed moments in history, with this year seeing one of the biggest spikes in feminist-activist initiatives since the ’70s.

This, ladies, is what I meant by the best time ever to be a woman. Not because we haven’t still got a serious slog ahead of us, but because the goal is more within our reach than ever. Because there’s a sea change that has irrevocably rocked the ground beneath our feet. Ironically, a post-Weinstein world – and, I would even argue, a post-Trump presidency – has set into motion an army, a tide
that cannot be held back, and, as a result of their utter contempt for women, have subsequently created the one thing that will undermine these men and their ilk the most. A voice that’s finally louder than theirs. Also known as the sound of a million women collectively going, “Sod this!”, donning our pussyhats, calling out our catcallers and shaming our predators. Even everything from setting up mansplaining hotlines (thank you, Sweden) to refusing to airbrush out models’ stretchmarks (thank you, ASOS) marks a small yet significant move towards ending the kind of sexism that is so endemic that it feels like part of the furniture.

Everything’s up for grabs now, girls. The gender pay gap, body hypocrisy, ageism, objectification… it’s all there, being upturned and scrutinised and set on fire in a braying, virtual amphitheatre. Solidarity, support and, crucially, visibility, has never been better – honestly, there’s something to be said for the internet breeding a generation of feminists who can now all share their stories, in their own words.

Sometimes, though, men’s words are just as fantastic. If you ask me, we need more like comedian Peter White, who, quite frankly, just gets it, and had this gem to impart last month: “I think the golden rule for men should be: if you’re a man, don’t say anything to a woman you wouldn’t want a man saying to you in prison.” Our kind of guy.

Photo: Courtesy of Kate Spade New York: SHE: Muses, Visionaries and Madcap Heroines