A #MeToo rally outside of Trump International Hotel on December 9, 2017 in New York City.
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comment / justice

#MeToo is Undoing the Devil’s Bargain of the 1990s

Men accepted women’s rise to prominence, but used sexual coercion to maintain control.
Wednesday, several female senators used feminist tactics to take down one of their own. Through amplification, a technique developed by feminists in the Obama era, they called for Sen. Al Franken’s resignation, tweeting one after another and emphasizing similar points. Americans read these successive tweets after waking up to learn Time magazine had selected “The Silence Breakers” — the women who came forward to name the men who had harassed and assaulted them — as its Person of the Year.

In other words, a fairly typical day in #MeToo America.

Some skeptics criticize survivors’ timing: “Why did they wait so long?” Doubters allege the movement has “gone too far.” Others find men’s behavior the acts of individual monsters — a bunch of independent Harvey Weinsteins. After all, over the past 30 years feminists have successfully changed gender norms and the law to promote the fairer treatment of women. So how could sexual harassment be endemic in America today?

Though the sexual misconduct revelations span age and situation — from 23-year-old Aly Raisman’s charges against USA Gymnastics’s team doctor to older women’s reports about elderly politicians John Conyers Jr. and Roy Moore — #MeToo is, at heart, a conflict between Gen X and Xennial women, and male baby boomers. Since the 1990s, male boomers have celebrated female empowerment while also ingraining messages that young women had no recourse against sexual abuse. In fact, these two ideas depended on one another: empowerment, but not too much.

Young women in the late 20th century absorbed this double-edged lesson of empowerment and vulnerability in everyday life, politics and culture. In class, at parties, in athletics and at work, they learned to be ambitious but expect, and accept, men’s sexual advancements and misconduct. #MeToo is a reckoning for the victims of the 1990s and male baby boomers who have harassed them since their teens. It is women confronting the price tag — acquiescence to male dominance — men attached to access to equality, and finally challenging the core of men’s institutional power: sexual control.
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