It’s easy to see why the online dictionary Merriam-Webster chose ‘feminism’ as their word of the year. 2017 kicked off with women across the globe marching against Donald Trump and ended with Time magazine heralding the #MeToo ‘silence breakers’ as their person of the year. Every glossy double-page spread further established feminism as this year’s fashion. Head cheerleader Jessica Valenti, writing in the Guardian (naturally) is cock-a-hoop about feminism’s resurgence:
‘Now we just have to continue to make it the movement of the year (and next year, and the next) until women can start to feel safe in their own country.’
Which would make perfect sense if Valenti was referring to women in Darfur or Yemen or Rohingya women fleeing Burma. But she’s not, of course. Valenti is referring to women in wealthy, western countries. Not the girls growing up on council estates targeted by grooming gangs or young mothers struggling to fit two part-time jobs into school hours. No; the women Valenti and her feminist chums want us to spend the next few years worrying about are film stars, journalists who take politicians out for long lunches, BBC presenters and Members of Parliament. 2017 might have been a good year for middle-class feminists but it’s done most women few favours.
First we had clarification that for women, feminism has your back – as long as you espouse the correct views. Images of women united in their loathing of Trump and their love for hand-knitted pink pussy hats were beamed around the world. The only fly in the ointment was the discovery that many women actually voted for Trump – and not Clinton, as they’d been instructed (only 54 per cent women backed Hillary).
Feminists unable to comprehend that some women might think differently to them were quick to diagnose female Trump voters as suffering from ‘internalised misogyny’, or, in other words, they were self-loathing, irrational and, frankly, stupid. It was Michelle Obama’s turn to berate women’s stupidity in September:
‘Any woman who voted against Hillary Clinton voted against their own voice.’
Unlike men who might be expected to weigh up where candidates stand in relation to a range of issues, women should, apparently, vote with their vaginas.
In 2017, female solidarity became redefined as privileged women staking a claim to victimhood off the backs of their genuinely less advantaged ‘sisters’. Back in July, we were asked to feel sorry for the BBC’s most highly paid female presenters and campaign to ensure they would get a greater share of the licence fee. Meanwhile, women with jobs rather than careers recognised they were better off fighting for higher wages alongside, rather than pitched against, their male colleagues.
Then, in October, feminism hit darker terrain. Sparked by a few horrific accusations against one man, Harvey Weinstein, hundreds of thousands of women took to social media to share their own experiences of sexual harassment under the banner of #MeToo. Since then, a tide of allegations against high-profile men has swept through the film industry, politics, theatre, journalism and academia. The #MeToo movement has been celebrated as an opportunity for women to speak out after decades of being coerced into silence.
The crimes some men now stand accused of are horrendous and they clearly need to be tried in courts of law. But the #MeToo bandwagon has unleashed some practices that can only ever be detrimental to women. Serious accusations of rape and assault have become blurred with allegations of knee-touching, unwanted attempts at kissing, back-patting and even text messages. When harassment is defined this broadly, it loses all meaning. This doesn’t just trivialise serious offences, it further inflames a climate of hysteria in which sexual harassment comes to be presented as a routine part of women’s lives. But this is far from reality.
This febrile atmosphere has real consequences. In 2017, the centuries old principles of innocent until proven guilty has, it seems, been jettisoned in favour of believing women who are deemed incapable of ever uttering an untruth. Men have lost their livelihoods and their reputations on the word of an accuser. This month it emerged that student Liam Allan faced a decade-long jail sentence for rapes he never committed because phone records that eventually cleared his name were not handed over by police. Even more tragic is the death of Welsh parliamentarian Carl Sargeant, buried without even knowing of what he’d been accused.
But women who have questioned the direction in which the #MeToo crusade is taking us, women like Angela Lansbury, Ann Leslie and Anne Robinson, have been vilified. Meanwhile, the famous, beautiful and defiant ‘silence breakers’ adorn the front cover of Time magazine and women are applauded for having suffered far more than for anything they have achieved.
The breakthroughs made by female scientists, engineers and academics in 2017 have been overlooked in favour of celebrating women as victims. But the truth is that women today are better qualified than men; they are working and earning more than ever before. It is now feminism – with its elite concerns and constant reminders to women to see themselves as victims – that is holding women back. It’s high time we were liberated from feminism.
Joanna Williams is the author of Women vs Feminism: why we all need liberating from the gender wars