When I read Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale in high school, I complained to my English teacher that, besides being really badly written, the novel was completely unrealistic. I explained to her that “this stuff just doesn’t happen – a society cannot transform like that overnight.” Little did I know that in the six years to follow, our world would take a sharp Orwellian turn. We may not be entering the Gilead era just yet, but what’s happening to our society is frightening.
It has been one year since #MeToo became an impassioned call to action and transformed into a movement. I was deeply affected by the incredible number of #MeToo stories that I saw on social media and I thought to myself: well it’s about time. Women came out with their powerful stories and guilty men were taken down. We were finally having truly collective discussions about gender power imbalance. #MeToo permeated every corner of Western society and I slowly became optimistic about the future. It all seemed like it was going to be just fine. If Donald Trump had famously uttered “women are doing great!” slightly earlier this year, I would have actually agreed with him. Well, everything seemed like it was getting better until middle-aged white (and orange) men decided to pull a few strings and fight back against progress.
We saw this in full force in the arena that was Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination hearings. The significance of Kavanaugh’s confirmation cannot be understated. Its impact on #MeToo will be felt for a long time. The past month was a litmus test to determine how much progress we have truly made through the movement. What we found out was that if the male-dominated establishment really wants something, they’ll get it at any cost. Christine Blasey Ford’s very serious accusation did not matter in the end. Neither did the fact that we saw who Brett Kavanaugh really is, a completely unhinged partisan. For the American Right, this was a culture war that they were determined to win and they did.
It is clear that once again we are being put into a situation of the US versus THEM by the powerful. They again drew battle lines and further divide the population. The Kavanaugh-Ford battle fostered more fear, more uncertainty, and more disappointment. Women everywhere just saw an accused man ascend to the most revered judicial bodies in the world. Just as people, like me, were starting to relish in the progress we’ve made, we all received a cruel reality check. Kavanaugh’s eventual confirmation reminded us that our voices and stories don’t actually matter if they get in the way of something the elite wants. I was absorbed in hours of horrific comment-debates on social media when I realized the way we are being manipulated by the establishment in the same ways that have historically incited xenophobia, genocides, and cross-cultural conflicts. Divide, confuse, and conquer is their motto.
While Vladimir Putin proclaimed the #MeToo movement a conspiracy that luckily never made it to Russia, Donald Trump rather skilfully painted the movement as a witch-hunt without mentioning the campaign by name. He dog whistles by declaring that it’s a very scary time for young men. Trump is deepening existing divisions by inspiring fear in America. He repeatedly says that any woman can falsely accuse an innocent man and that “good” men are in a position of uncertainty. He is successfully corrupting a constructive collective discussion for political gain. We went from collective deliberation on how to repair gender imbalances to something completely different.
That one constructive dialogue allowed men to understand how to properly treat women, what to do when attracted to women, and how to mitigate power imbalances. Through #MeToo, I am convinced society was on the cusp of a profound realization. However, the open discourse we had is being chocked out by the escalating gender war. People of all political stripes are being told to pick sides and stick to them. We cannot allow ourselves to succumb to this special brand of chaos. We need to find more productive ways of communicating among each other and not let self-serving elites profit by bastardizing a once hopeful social movement. No Donald, it is not a scary time for men, but it is a scary time for humanity. It’s about creating dialogues instead of entering a fit of angry soliloquies.
Kate Shylo is a master’s student at University of Amsterdam. This column focuses on gender-related issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.