The hashtag created a global debate about sexual harassment and gender relations, but how much has it really achieved? The whole panel agreed that the discourse has genuinely changed, and that a sense of momentum and possibility has opened up: “The end of the silence – that’s its importance,” said Winterson.
It has truly been global moment, joined by women across Latin America, which has also had its own online social movements like Argentina’s 2015 movement #NiUnaMenos, as Budasoff pointed out.
However, backlash and counternarratives have gained some force, and the women of Hollywood who exposed Harvey Weinstein have been criticised for 'flashing their privilege. “Any woman who has a platform or a voice – she should use it – that’s not privilege – it’s solidarity,” said Winterson.
“When they opened their mouths, that lead very quickly to women in factories in Detroit opening their mouths – all of a sudden, there was a new story from a new corner which seemed to take power from the other testimonies,” Gornick agreed.
Gornick was a Second Wave feminist in New York in the 1970s, and told of a moment of similar hope and expectation: “My parents were socialists and communists. I grew up in an atmosphere in which people thought revolution was around the corner.”
Generations later, however, the same things are being said, and the same abuses of power continue. “Progress has been made, millions are enlightened, but changes have not been sufficient and do not go keep enough,” she said. “Rage has gathered because too little progress was made.”
“The zeitgeist and the feminine psyche have changed,” Sullivan said, but “we are not at the tipping point.” Huge realisations have not yet occurred within society: particularly relating to the intersection of types of power - Trump being emblematic of this: “Why is the sexual predation of men not connected with the predation of power? A bully in politics, economics, sexuality – it’s all connected.”
The problem functions at numerous levels, and so must its solution: change will need to be holistic – including economic empowerment, said Winterson: “Love is so tangled up with power and we’re still in a situation where women earn less at every level. Money is power: think how far we’ve come in 100 years - and a lot of that is economic power. If we’re economically equal, it’s hard to create these distortions of the erotic.”
It starts with the political and economic, but we must go deeper into our psyches to create real change, and eroticism will be a key element of that. “I want women to begin to rethink their notion of what the love story is: we are going to start again. We have to sabotage it. This version of the women as the muse and supporter not the artist oneself,” Sullivan said.
Education of children will be key to breaking the binaries, which are already ‘crumbling at the edges’ said Winterson, but men need to be included too. “The women’s movement has always wanted liberation for men as well. That hasn’t changed and won’t change.”
“An important role for men is to be silent and listen, and ask themselves why their first reaction is aggression towards these ideas. We need to re-socialise ourselves,” added Budasoff.
At a domestic level age-old problems are still rife: men still do not see themselves as natural participants in the task of keeping a home and raising a family, expecting praise for small contributions, said Gornick. Winterson agreed, pointing out the lack of social conventions and structures in place for equality in childcare: “For many young people in relationships – it’s fine until childrearing, and then it all starts to change: she’s on her own.”
There is hope though, although global politics looks challenging, the possibility of the fight is in a woman’s mind now, particularly for young women, “I hope for the future that young people will say no – we have built this ‘no’ step by step. We have to push and push and push. We could win this. We could,” said Winterson.