#ThereButFor and #WhatNext

I am nowhere near as angry as many women have the right to feel. I had a supportive and admiring father; I've never been sexually abused; I can't think of desired experiences blocked because of my gender. I give thanks I can't consider myself a #MeToo which is not to say I haven't encountered sexist jerks or perhaps worse, had to suffer sexist behaviour and comments from men whom on the whole I wouldn't have deemed to be jerks.

Sexism is just like racism in that it is there, underneath the surface, poisoning the groundwater of our culture, no matter how hard individual enlightened families, caregivers, teachers, and politicians may swim upstream, -isms contaminate the young in their formative years and confirm adults in their biases. Being a member of the group discriminated against is no inoculation. Personally, I have yet to talk myself out of my own impressions after almost 47 years on this planet that women are our own worst enemies and that the sisterhood is but a myth. Cumulatively the real or imagined wrongs I've suffered at the hands of other women hurt far more than anything men have inflicted on me. But as I've affirmed above, I am well aware that many and perhaps most other women's mileage may vary.

I also have the advantage of passing my most formative years in a brief (and admittedly still briskly heteronormative) moment in time, the United States of the early 1970s. My small cohort are the ones who reaped the most undiluted benefits of the anti-war, bra-burning, civil rights upheavals of the 1960s. We were born at a singular moment when more parents desired daughters than sons. We were innocent to the machinations of Vietnam and Watergate, too innocent to disbelieve the propaganda that we could be anything we wanted to be, regardless of gender. Later, Bill Clinton cynically manipulated us when he talked of working hard and playing by the rules; I apologize for supporting him but was among the many who wanted to believe his administration would represent a necessary pendulum swing after 12 years of Reagan-Bush. The world we actually faced as young adults ("slackers" they called us then, as we came of age) jars painfully with our childhood memories of the last gasp of a kinder America because it seems every hard-gotten gain starting to come to fruition in our childhoods got slammed back into submission by Reagonomic Californication and bedded in by the Clintonian slant on the Third Way. Between our childhood and adulthood greed became good while the actual earning power of all but the 99% eroded precipitously.

On the pop culture front, the pink toy store aisles came back with a vengeance. Girls and young women today all seem to have the same (impractically) long hairstyle and wear equally impractical shorts with hems barely below their crotch. (Yet, just as distressing, at New Zealand and Australian schools I see too many young women trapped in long uniform skirts that wouldn't look out of place in the late 19th century.) Women have gone back to changing their names when they marry. Perhaps these cultural steps backward are the inevitable flotsam of the most symbolic shipwreck of all, the thwarted promise of the Equal Rights Amendment. Authored by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman and first introduced into the US Congress in 1923, as Wikipedia puts it, "it seemed headed for ratification until Phyllis Schlafly mobilized conservative women in opposition, arguing that the ERA would disadvantage housewives and cause women to be drafted into the military." By the early 1980s ERA was in its death throes, not even to be revived in the platform of the first female major party presidential candidate last year.

And instead an avowed and unrepentant pussy grabber was elevated to the highest office of the United States. And then Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are terminated irrevocably as their transgressions finally came to light. It seems fair to say we live in especially confused times. We observe a predictable resort to black and white thinking. "Any man that abuses a woman, let alone commits rape, deserves a lifetime of hell," commented a former high school classmate on social media. But men must avoid these sorts of 'us and them' traps.

β€œIt’s not bad people I fear so much as good people. When a person is sure that he is good, he is nearly hopeless; he gets cruel -- he believes in punishment.”
― Clarence Darrow

Men, even men of colour and men of the working class and men who are gay or trans or disabled, men who consider themselves allies, men who are supportive fathers of daughters and proud husbands of achieving wives, ALL men, need to understand their privilege. Men have ALL benefitted from male privilege to some degree. The ability to walk down a street in your city and not give a thought to your safety shouldn't be a privilege, but it is. To tell a funny joke and be rewarded with an appropriate amount of guffawing shouldn't be a privilege, but it is. To not have to give a thought to whether there is enough toilet paper in your household to last another day shouldn't be a privilege, but it is. Even though the default setting for fetal human development is actually female, we modern people have it all backwards with everyone from our monotheistic god on down to the banker and accountant on the corner being presented as male. It shouldn't be this way, but it is. This sort of privilege, and it is the same phenomenon for race, has until recently been largely invisible. It is often characterised by lacks: a lack of a sense of safety and security, a lack of laughter, a lack of support, and it is especially hard to prove a negative. Men must do women the courtesy of listening and believing in the truth of their #MeToo experiences. Every person deserves the simple human courtesy to tell their own story to make sense of their experiences as they see fit.

We now have accounts from a unique group of people who began life with female anatomies and have undergone gender reassignment surgeries to live as males. These accounts corroborate what women have been saying and are poignant to read.

Over the past few decades some pioneering women have proven we can "succeed", whatever that really means, even in this hard neoliberal world. "We've got doctors, lawyers, politicians too," Lennox and Franklin, but it remains a man's world and I fear many women have forgotten that it has never been good enough, especially those women who managed to join the privileged establishment where they clearly enjoy exercising a degree of power (e.g. Hillary Clinton and her scary surrogate Madeleine Albright). How can this world ever be good enough when both genders remain constrained and unable to achieve their full individual human expression and potential? When humans have been deemed at peace for just 8% of recorded history?

The #MeToo cascade could be the start of something really big, but the #NotAllMen who are ostracising the most egregious offenders without wanting to look at the very institutions of patriarchy that preserve their own privilege are, as the Darrow quote suggests, the ones to truly fear.

We have to keep going, bravely into a new world; what more evidence do we need that our mad acquisitiveness is killing the most primal and precious woman of all, our Mother Earth? It is past time to bring down the patriarchy. Let's use all of our collective wisdom and experience to remake our institutions to better serve all of us and to try to salvage a continued existence for our troubled species. I can think of no more pressing collective project that all people of good will could collaborate in.


An American expat living in Auckland since 2000, Julia Schiller is a graduate of Washington University in St Louis, a former ESOL teacher, a Labour Party volunteer, and a self-employed entrepreneur.