The ‘Silence Breakers’ Are Another Sign That a Groundswell Is Forming

This morning I couldn’t help but remember that last year, when Time Magazine announced that Donald Trump was their person of the year, the president-elect couldn’t even be gracious about getting the kind of adulation he is addicted to. Instead, he took his usual decent into divisiveness.

I have no idea of the process Time uses to determine their person of the year, but their announcement today took direct and decisive aim at that kind of sexism. Their choice this year is the “Silence Breakers” of the #MeToo movement.

The writing and reporting on this story from Stephanie Zackareck, Eliana Dockterman, and Haley Sweetland Edwards is stunning. For example:

When movie stars don’t know where to go, what hope is there for the rest of us? What hope is there for the janitor who’s being harassed by a co-worker but remains silent out of fear she’ll lose the job she needs to support her children? For the administrative assistant who repeatedly fends off a superior who won’t take no for an answer? For the hotel housekeeper who never knows, as she goes about replacing towels and cleaning toilets, if a guest is going to corner her in a room she can’t escape?

Like the “problem that has no name,” the disquieting malaise of frustration and repression among postwar wives and homemakers identified by Betty Friedan more than 50 years ago, this moment is borne of a very real and potent sense of unrest. Yet it doesn’t have a leader, or a single, unifying tenet. The hashtag #MeToo (swiftly adapted into #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, #Ana_kaman and many others), which to date has provided an umbrella of solidarity for millions of people to come forward with their stories, is part of the picture, but not all of it.

This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don’t even seem to know that boundaries exist. They’ve had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can’t afford to lose. They’ve had it with the code of going along to get along. They’ve had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women. These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought.

From that and the video they produced, you can see that they didn’t confine themselves to the stories of famous actresses and journalists. The women they included ran the gamut from entrepreneurs and college professors to hotel maids and dishwashers. This is exactly the kind of reporting that I suggested yesterday is necessary in order to signal that these issues go beyond race and class to include all women.

I can’t help but think of something Franklin Foer wrote back in March 2016.

Donald Trump holds one core belief. It’s not limited government. He favored a state takeover of health care before he was against it. Nor is it economic populism. Despite many years of arguing the necessity of taxing the rich, he now wants to slice their rates to bits. Trump has claimed his nonlinear approach to policy is a virtue. Closing deals is what matters in the end, he says, not unbleached allegiance to conviction. But there’s one ideology that he does hold with sincerity and practices with unwavering fervor: misogyny…

Trump wants us to know all about his sex life. He doesn’t regard sex as a private activity. It’s something he broadcasts to demonstrate his dominance, of both women and men. In his view, treating women like meat is a necessary precondition for winning, and winning is all that matters in his world. By winning, Trump means asserting superiority. And since life is a zero-sum game, superiority can only be achieved at someone else’s expense.

As we begin the process of reflecting on 2017, we will remember that it began with the twin events of Donald Trump’s inauguration and the swelling of the resistance demonstrated by the Women’s Marches all over the country. From the women who are following that up by organizing in their living rooms and running for office to the emergence of the #MeToo movement, a groundswell is forming to take direct aim at the kind of misogyny this president represents—and a theme appears to be emerging that ties it all together.

As I’ve often quoted, Rebecca Traister nailed all of this back in 2015:

Whatever their flaws, their political shortcomings, their progressive dings and dents, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton mean a lot. They represent an altered power structure and changed calculations about who in this country may lead…

This is our country in an excruciating period of change. This is the story of the slow expansion of possibility for figures who have long existed on the margins, and it is also the story of the dangerous rage those figures provoke.

Pay attention. History is being made. The 2016 election was definitely not the last word on this struggle.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.