2017: The year we watched the world split open

Reasons for optimism amidst the chaos
Photo: Marco Verch

I thought long and hard about what kind of column I wanted to write to conclude 2017. It was a year that started with many of us reeling from Trump’s election and the increasing presence and normalization of the neo-Nazi movement. Things that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago — an emotionally volatile, inarticulate, misogynistic, KKK-endorsed, former reality TV show host as president, and white frat boys marching in the streets with torches — had somehow become our reality.

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Despite this inauspicious start, 2017 ultimately provided us with some compelling reasons for optimism that I’ve chosen to reflect upon as we head into 2018.

A year of reckoning

Co-hosting the Montreal Women’s March in January, I stared out into thousands of worried but defiant faces and knew a shift was happening. That same month, 21-year-old musician Lorde ominously tweeted “These old men in power have a storm coming, the likes of which they cannot comprehend.” I’ve never seen a tweet age so well.

Decades in the making, 2017 was the year that jump-started revelations via the #MeToo movement. It was also the year that finally saw a woman ascend to the mayoralty of Montreal, while more women entered politics and were voted into power than I have ever seen before.

Later in the year, I shared my #MeToo story. Woman after woman flooded the public landscape with a backlog of secrets in what Eritrean-American writer Rahawa Haile referred to as “a daily show-and-tell of self medication” exorcising “an endless stream of predatory mediocrity.”

Painful, ugly, raw, personal stories — so many stories by so many people. To pretend they were untrue or to try to minimize them was futile. For the first time ever, it felt like sheer numbers and public opinion were on our side. There were finally consequences for serial abusers. Powerful men, who once seemed too big to topple, were crashing to the ground as those complicit or connected to them were scurrying away to hide or escape retribution.

There’s going to be a backlash, I started hearing. We’re going to become an antiseptic, safe society where flirting won’t even be allowed, some men whined. How little did they think of women’s intelligence and assessment skills that they thought we couldn’t tell the difference between flirting and harassment? Who made them think their unsolicited, premature think pieces about something most of them knew nothing about were important? No matter. The year of reckoning moved forward at an unrelenting pace.

“Feminism” was declared the Word of the Year according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The #MeToo movement was named TIME’s Person of the Year, with “The Silence Breakers” on their cover page. What explains this tsunami of consciousness, of public awareness, this breaking of the dam, of the private being turned inside out and exposed like a bleeding scar, like a raw nerve? It’s been a long time coming.

Women gathered in groups and marveled at the fact that there were actual consequences for these men. We’re so used to our stories falling on deaf ears — so used to the slut shaming and the accusations of ulterior motives and questions about what we were wearing and how much we were drinking and whether we were asking for it — that we can barely believe that we’re being believed.

Thanks in large part to many of us feeling like we’ve been living in a dystopian novel, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was the most read book of the year. A new generation of women found themselves reciting “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” to themselves — and to each other. The top New Yorker piece of the year was written by a female author.

It will take more than a single season of retribution and a few hard-hitting exposes to tilt the balance in women’s favour.

Ultimately, 2017 has been the year that women found their voices. Not because we had nothing to say before, but for the first time in a long time it felt like people were listening. Sure, the naysayers and the minimizers and the #NotAllMen’ers are still out in full force, but they’re miraculously being drowned out by the irrefutable proof of journalistic investigations revealing all kinds of unsavoury details in every conceivable industry.

Women have known the burden of those secrets for centuries. Ours have been lives of swallowed pain, of shared stories that were often only whispered because we had been led to believe that it was easier to navigate the world fighting our battles on our own, pushing the errant hand aside without rocking the boat because we had worked too hard for that promotion, ignoring the undermining and demoralizing cringe of the “sweeties” and the “kiddos” that Sheila Nevins refers to as “above the neck harassment” from men who were colleagues and should have had our backs.

Don’t expect miracles in 2018

Muriel Rukeyser, one of America’s most politically active poets, once wrote, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” What would happen if many women told the truth? Would the tolerable finally become intolerable? Here’s hoping.

There is no reason to believe that 2018 won’t be as frustrating, exhilarating, damning, and hopeful as 2017 has been. A Pandora’s Box has been cracked open and what has been unleashed has to be seen through. The truth is the arc of the moral universe always needs a firm push in order to bend towards justice. That’s what 2017 was. There will be a settling of accounts, a backlash, and one ultimately hopes a balance of sorts as the playing field is evened out — somewhat.

But I don’t hold hope for too many miracles. It will take more than a single season of retribution and a few hard-hitting exposes to tilt the balance in women’s favour. We’ve still got a long way to go, a lot more stories to tell, and a lot more people to convince about what constitutes our truth.

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