MISOGYNY. SEXISM. PATRIARCHY.
These words, it seems, have been used more in the past year than over the past decade. Women and girls face catcalls on the streets and sexual harassment and assaults in the workplace and on campuses, all tactics to devalue and control women and girls.
Silence is the enemy of justice. That’s a phrase that comes to mind again and again as women’s stories have unfolded these past few months. The ability of harassers and sexual predators to silence and isolate their victims stems from the misogynistic cultural forces that shame and intimidate women from coming forward; the patriarchal systems that segregate by gender and race in the workplace, justify our lower pay and sustain our marginalization on the lower rungs of power; and the legal barriers put in place by those intent on sustaining white male power. The antidote to patriarchy is a strong feminist movement that demands change in our laws, our institutions and our customs.
As feminist scholar Cynthia Enloe writes in her new book, The Big Push: “Donald Trump may be the latest gift to those who seek to perpetuate patriarchy.” But clearly, women have had enough. We are speaking our truth to power and demanding justice. Our collective voice, a #MeToo voice, has brought down Hollywood moguls and heads of media companies, long revered political pundits and journalists, politicians and male bosses in industries across the country. As women’s voices are finally being heard and believed, it is men who must now account for their behavior.
Could this be a tipping point? Real change requires a series of new laws—starting with prohibiting the use of nondisclosure agreements in legal settlements (at the discretion of the complainant) and ending mandatory confidential arbitration clauses in employment contracts. Congress must lift the cap it put in place on punitive damages in sex discrimination cases. Lawmakers everywhere must strike down the special protections they have built for themselves against exposure of the sexual harassers in their ranks. And we must get rid of those who won’t make the needed reforms; indeed, it’s already happening as record numbers of women are running for office and winning—bringing down long-entrenched patriarchs.
Employers must put in place reporting systems and mechanisms that encourage victims and those who suspect sexual misconduct to come forward—and prevent retaliation when they do. Activists must continue to pressure stockholders and advertisers and customers to withdraw their support from companies that don’t make the changes required, like the effort that urged advertisers and viewers to #DropOReilly. Ultimately, Fox News did. We must find ways to break the intolerable abuse and exploitation of those whose economic circumstances have guaranteed their silence—until now.
But beyond these fixes, we must restructure workplaces with the explicit goal of achieving real gender equality. Governments and employers must close the gender wage gap, fund child care and guarantee paid parental leave and a livable wage. We must call out and shame companies with male-dominated boards and executive suites. We can no longer tolerate male-dominated workforces like the military, police and firefighters, construction, Wall Street and technology companies, but also Congress and state legislatures. It’s time for equal representation of women in all spheres of society.
We must challenge America’s culture of misogyny. A culture that allows our labor and our lives to be devalued. A culture that enables men to stay silent even as they witness the abuse and humiliation of their colleagues and co-workers. We must constantly seek to dismantle—in small ways and big—the patriarchal systems, practices and institutions that keep women from gaining real power.
And we must finally put women in the Constitution with an Equal Rights Amendment. It’s about equality, fairness and respect.
The opportunities arising from this moment are countless. Let’s seize them.