Opinion, Staff Editorial

Was 2017 the ‘year of the woman’?

Was 2017 the “year of the woman?” Will 2018 be? Energized by changing tides, some, such as MAKERS’ newsletter, have made those claims – but with so much left to work on, doing so feels like a premature pat on the back.

Of course, we can’t understate the strides that have been made. This year saw victims of sexual assault come forward, courageously sharing their stories to shine a light on rampant abuse – the full extent of which, no doubt, has yet to be seen – and, more importantly, being listened to and believed, and their aggressors facing consequences.

It has been a painful, necessary move toward accountability and – hopefully – the kind of world where less and less people will have to say, “me too.”

Politically, too, promising changes are afoot. As we head into 2018 and look toward elections, 354 House and 38 Senate candidates are women, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers. In the Senate alone, that’s twice what we saw at this time two years ago.

But we can’t forget that so much of this momentum, of women speaking out and running for office, happened in response to the very things that made 2017 not the best for women.

When President Donald Trump slashes birth control coverage, that’s bad for women. When he derides Sen. Elizabeth Warren and calls her “Pocahontas,” that’s bad for women. When he endorses Senate candidate Roy Moore, accused of sexually assaulting underage girls, that’s bad for women, too.

When someone that influential acts with nonchalant sexism in his highly-publicized life, it doesn’t do much to dissuade others from following suit. Sure, celebrities and beloved actors are coming forward with stories of their abuse and that is good, but what happens to those women who are unknown, who work quietly under the shadows of domineering men and suffer their abuses in silence because their livelihood depends on it?

When there are women still being assaulted, taken as sex slaves and child brides, and stripped of their dignity on the basis of gender, that is a problem. When female genital mutilation is still rampant and marital rape was just labeled a crime in some nations, there is a long way to go. When more than 60 million girls worldwide are unable to get an education, what are we celebrating? When there are women – especially trans women, especially trans women of color – being abused and murdered by strangers for turning down “compliments” or more commonly, by domestic partners, there are pervasive issues to be addressed.

Even in our everyday lives, sexism abounds. The exclusivity and “bro culture” of certain male-centric workspaces, such as STEM, keeps women from considering going into those fields. Pay disparity plagues working women and the gap grows wider as they grow their families – or simply reach the age when they’re expected to grow a family. And these issues are only made worse still if the woman is a person of color or part of the LGBTQ community or lives in a place with a scarcity of resources or oppressive leadership, or any combination of these factors. To see the true picture of the “year of the woman,” we must look outside our narrow worldview and see the systemic misogyny plaguing every region of the globe.

These problems are still present in 2017, so why should women remember this year with any fondness? What’s more, the idea of calling any single year the “year of the woman” implies a sort of fleetingness. When four women were elected into the U.S. Senate in 1992, that year earned a similar nickname. That was a huge achievement, but does it mean that good years for women are limited? Are there only so many to go around, with one coming every 25 years, saving the rest for men? Or do they come in rotations, like the zodiac?

It’s healthy to celebrate the movements that made a difference in a year. How else would we mark our progress? But adding a label like this likens women’s achievement to a calendar, or a contest which you can only win every so often. When a football player wins MVP, they’re lauded for it – but the award is treated like something to savor, a special moment that has no guarantee of being repeated. The same holds true for defining years – embrace steady, positive progress instead of one or two-time awards.

Not only is naming a year shortsightedly ineffective; it’s a superficial, potentially misleading gesture. The words, however unintentionally, convey a sort of decisive “win” for women, a façade of success that might encourage the uninitiated observer to kick back and relax because their work is done – when in reality, it’s just getting started.

However you refer to this year or the next, the momentum that’s been generated is undeniable. Use it. Follow it through. Make 2018, and the following years, even better for women by continuing to talk openly about women’s issues and advocating for change in meaningful ways.

The increase in women running for office is a smart place to start. Get to know the candidates, and familiarize yourself with their plans, their ideas. You don’t owe them a vote, just the chance to hear a voice that’s long been silenced.

On a social level, men and women ought to speak up when they encounter even casual sexism. When a woman calls another woman a derogatory term in a malicious way, or even when a woman tries to make herself more palatable by saying she is “not like other women,” it propagates the sexist expectations that are already unduly placed on women by society. Get more creative with your criticisms. When a man (or woman) criticizes sexual assault, only to put his concerns in the context of being a brother, cousin or boyfriend to a woman, his friends can step in and remind him that women have a worth that’s all their own – not one that’s dependent upon her relation to a man.

It remains important not to get too comfortable with the state of things. Let the strides made in 2017 be a drop in the bucket, the roots of a movement you can proudly take part in, not the be-all, end-all of women’s achievement – we can definitely do better. Unlike bell-bottoms or the en-vogue “millennial pink” of 2016, positive change that creates a more equitable world does not need to be a passing fad.

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.

December 11, 2017

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