As the #MeToo movement has matured if you are like me you have witnessed a familiar cycle. First comes the revelation. Then days of eye-catching headlines. Next, the moment of reckoning such as a powerful man losing his job. This cycle seems to be repeated ad nauseum.
When #MeToo first attracted public interest, we were all optimistic of change not just for the victims of the rich and famous, but also for those whose transgressions are never going to be newsworthy.
For many it is satisfying to see some big wigs get their richly deserved comeuppance, but it has its limits. Sometimes extracting a genuine expression of remorse and a promise to do better might be preferable than hanging them out to dry.
Short-circuiting the established process that has failed women for decades was core to the #MeToo movement, but it was only ever going to work against a handful of predators. As this is repeated month after month the revelations that emerged have lost their capacity to shock. Exposing a few famous men for what they are is probably not the most effective way of reshaping what men can and can’t get away with in workplaces far away from the media glare.
Let’s turn the clock back to 1961 and a copywriter named Shirley Polykoff who was working for the Foote, Cone and Belding advertising agency on the Clairol hair-dye account. She came up with the line: “If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a blonde!” In a single slogan she had summed up what might be described as the secular side of the Me Decade. “If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a ______!” (You have only to fill in the blank.)
This formula accounted for much of the popularity of the women’s liberation or feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps there are women who want to humble men or reduce their power or achieve equality or even superiority for themselves and their sisters. But what do the majority of women across the world really want?
I’m not qualified to speak with authority on behalf of women but for every one of the women who have chosen to speak out I believe there are a silent majority who simply dream of filling in the blank as they see fit.
“If I’ve only one life, let me live it as ... a free spirit!” (Instead of ... a house slave, a cleaning woman, a cook, a nursemaid, or a carer for an elderly relative.) But even that may be overstating it, because often the unconscious desire is nothing more than: Let’s talk about Me.
The great unexpected dividend of the feminist movement in recent decades has been to elevate an ordinary status – woman, housewife – to a new level where their voice is now being heard. Today, the very existence as a woman – as Me – becomes something all the world analyses, agonises over and at last takes seriously.