Part of what has made the Me Too movement — though “phenomenon” is a more apt descriptor — so gripping is the contagious hope that things are finally turning around for women.
Time’s pick for Person of the Year came complete with characteristic schmaltz — a disembodied elbow representing all non-famous “silence breakers” — and the implication that “the fastest growing social change … in decades” is the start of something permanent.
Not so fast.
First, “silence breakers”? This is news to history’s countless women whose howls for justice have been lost upon the cold, ancient breeze of societal indifference.
From Daisy Coleman, the teenager who detailed her rape by schoolmates that included a football player and grandson of a local politician, only to be rewarded with insult (skank, liar) and further injury (her house was burned down); to Anita Hill, who broke her silence close to 30 years ago, only to see her alleged harasser, Clarence Thomas, confirmed to the US Supreme Court.
Still, it is thrilling to see powerful predators fall like proverbial dominoes, providing you ignore that pesky voice listing the convicted and alleged perpetrators that remain so very untouchable.
Apart from its uneven application, the fundamental and fatal flaw of Me Too is precisely what makes it so exciting; it is a spectacle and like all spectacles, it has the capacity to become a distraction.
What of the stories that disappear as soon as they surface?
This week Matt Damon is once again the biggest story in feminism, while two other recent news reports that surfaced only to submerge immediately. This contrast has crystallised my Me Too malcontent and is a sharp, stark rebuke of a reminder of where the frontline of women’s rights is, was, and always will be: reproductive justice.
First, an El Salvador court upheld a 30-year prison sentence against 37-year-old Teodora del Carmen Vásquez, who, following a miscarriage in 2007, was accused of inducing an abortion. She is one of dozens of women serving incomprehensibly long sentences in Catholic Church-influenced legal system that has criminalised abortion in all circumstances.
Meanwhile, Tanzania’s president, who has just pardoned two child rapists, is calling for pregnant schoolgirls to be banned from school. His regional commissioner is going even further, suggesting that pregnant schoolgirls be arrested, ostensibly to force them to testify against the men who impregnated them.
Yes, I know Australians have an easier time relating to mega rich, mega famous Hollywood stars than they do their economic and social equals in non-English speaking lands, but this is a matter of grave concern for western women, both in terms of solidarity and because our own rights are by no means concrete.
The US has been criminalising pregnancy for years now, Ireland has already proven itself willing to let a woman die rather than abort the pregnancy she was already miscarrying, and the Greens bill seeking to decriminalise abortion in NSW was soundly defeated earlier this year.
Let me be clear that I am not comparing reproductive autonomy to sexual abuse. We can and must fight on (many) more than one front, so no, I’m not suggesting we choose one over the other, not least because the two are inextricably linked.
Rather, I’m sharing my gnawing fear that perhaps we already have, that as our attention is devoured by Hollywood’s insatiable thirst for the limelight, women are pinning their hopes for a brighter future on the wrong people.
Women in Hollywood are indeed subject to harassment and abuse, and it is pleasingly proper to see them expose that. But their privilege ensures they will retain access to abortion and reproductive autonomy, whether or not it is accessible for the rest of us.
Meanwhile, we endure our own harassment and assault without fanfare or photo shoots, even as we rapidly lose ground on the reproductive rights battlefront.
Social and legal progress is neither linear nor uniform. Me Too will create some positive change, even if overwhelmingly for privileged women, but a Hollywood-obsessed “movement” cannot succeed as the future of feminism when reproductive justice is the barometer of where women’s rights stand as a whole.
From Tanzania to El-Salvador to Sydney to Texas, this war for control of our reproductive capacity is not one we have the privilege to stop waging. How sobering then, that it appears to be one where we are being duped into discarding our weapons.