Way back in 2017, when I marched in Washington alongside hundreds of thousands of angry people in the inaugural Women’s March, there was one particular message that drew rueful chuckles: These signs were usually carried by older women, and they read, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this garbage.” Except the word wasn’t “garbage,” because that was a demonstration, not a family newspaper.
The mood was angry but hopeful that day, as I’m sure it was at the hundreds of women’s marches that took place around the world. Yes, a misogynist accused of sexual assault by various women had been elected to the most powerful position in the world, but righteous fury was in the air, set to the music of Madonna, who danced on a stage in the Mall and told us she’d thought about blowing up the White House (but only in a metaphorical way).
We were emboldened. Women were being recruited to run for political office in record numbers. The #MeToo movement, delivering justice to those who had been harassed at the workplace, was about to break wide open. It was a dark time, but there was light on the horizon.
Perhaps that was a false dawn. If you’d told me then that things would only get darker, I probably would have snorted with disbelief. I couldn’t have imagined that the Supreme Court justices appointed by Donald Trump would ever be on the verge of overturning American women’s right to abortion, or that a misogynistic and racist Great Replacement Theory would be both a vehicle for homicidal massacres and a quite normal thing for politicians to hint at. I could not have pictured a world that let the Taliban regain power so they could once again ban girls from going to school. If I had known these things, I would have hijacked the nearest boat and pointed it toward Antarctica.
Today, I find myself having the same conversations with friends: Is this really happening all over again, or am I imagining it? I wish we were imagining it. But no: We all watched Johnny Depp successfully sue his ex-wife Amber Heard for defamation, while an army of his enraged minions made up lies about her, even as she told the story of her abuse to an uncaring world. One of those crazed fans threatened to microwave her baby. Nothing unusual there, folks. Just another day in the social-media colosseum.
The violence is not only online, and it’s not just theoretical. This week I’ve been following the coroner’s inquest in Renfrew County, Ont., into the 2015 murders of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam by a man they knew. This man, who is currently serving life in prison for their murders, had a long history of domestic violence against various partners. One of the women he killed was so afraid of him she had a panic button installed in her house. None of these red flags prevented catastrophic violence. That’s the theme of the inquest so far: We know the answers to stopping this kind of crime, we just lack the will to make it happen.
This is a familiar and dismaying process. There is progress and then vindictive reaction to that progress – or, as Susan Faludi so memorably titled her 1991 bestseller, Backlash. That book outlined the angry attempts to quash feminist gains in the 1970s and 80s. In the foreword to a recent edition of the book, Ms. Faludi argues that the new backlash is worse, in some ways. “Whatever level of acceptance feminism has reached in our age, feminism’s revilers are still legion and loud, and on the largest of public stages.”
I’d like to tell you a little story. I mentioned Ms. Faludi’s book in the very first column I wrote for The Globe and Mail, back in the summer of 1993. At the time, The Globe had just introduced a Men’s column – please hold your laughter until I’ve finished – and one of these Men’s columns highlighted an anti-feminist newsletter called “Backlash.” A backlash to Backlash, if you will. My column pointed out the ridiculousness of a dedicated column for men, when men also ruled the rest of the paper. I included various statistics on domestic violence and pay gaps. I like to think that I used humour to make these points, and for some reason the men in charge decided that I, a snotty twentysomething, should have a regular column.
In many ways, I’ve been writing the same column ever since (although mercifully I Got You Babe has not played on my radio every morning). There have been tremendous advances in women’s rights in that time, large and small. The movement has integrated and centred voices it should have been listening to long ago. There will be no going back now. Tarana Burke, founder of #MeToo, said that the movement would outlast the Depp verdict for good reason: “It means something to millions and millions of folks. It means freedom. It means community. It means safety. It means power. You can’t kill us. We are beyond the hashtag. We are a movement.”
That brings me to my final and most painful paragraph. This will be my last Globe column. After nearly 30 years, it’s time for a new chapter in my life. I will be eternally gratefully to those who read this column, or spoke with me for stories, or sent me e-mails or letters. Every one of them spurred me on (except for the ones written in all capital letters). I know you’ll continue the fight, and so will I. Don’t make me come back here in 30 years and write this column again.
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