The Last 2 Years Have Showed Just How Little This Country Cares About Women

Lessons from the busiest two years of my professional life — and arguably the worst stretch of modern American history

The Women’s March in New York City, 2018. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images

I’ve been writing columns for years; sometimes once a week, sometimes a few times a week, sometimes (back when I was blogging a million years ago) a few times a day. No matter how infrequently I publish, finding subjects to write about can be tough. There’s always a week when the news feels sparse or inspiration just doesn’t strike. That hasn’t really been the case of the last two years, the time I’ve spent writing at GEN.

Between Donald Trump’s presidency, the resulting rollback of hard-won reproductive rights, and a global pandemic, there’s been no shortage of headlines to stress over or dissect. Being the person that needs to react to the news — often within hours of it happening — can be incredibly overwhelming. I’ve sometimes longed for the days when I had nothing in particular on my mind.

So for my last column at GEN, I thought I’d share a few truths, as pessimistic as they might be, that I’ve learned in the busiest two years of my professional life and arguably the worst two years in modern American life. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are the lessons that have stuck with me the most.

This country does not care about rape

Our country has never really grappled with the fact that the then-president was accused of rape, sexual abuse, and harassment dozens of times over. Sure, we’d get an article every now and then — usually in the form of a new allegation — but soon after everyone would just go about their day. In part, it’s because of who gets to frame the national conversation (men), but it’s also because Americans have come to see violence against women as a given rather than an anomaly.

I write about misogyny for a living, so it doesn’t surprise me, necessarily, but it’s still deeply depressing to get tangible proof that those in power — publishers and editors of national newspapers and magazines, cable news heads, political leaders, and more — see sexual violence against women as something not worth talking about.

America runs on women’s unpaid labor

Women are losing their jobs at an unprecedented rate, and instead of talking about the expectation that women will do all the cooking and childcare and senior care, much of the media coverage just passively asserted that Covid pushed women out of the workforce. Not their husbands who simply refused to do their fair share of parenting, or the government who could help but didn’t, or the culture that teaches us that it’s women’s job to take on everything and anything men don’t want to do. The next few years post-Covid will tell us just how much damage the pandemic year has caused a generation of women, but we don’t need an economist or a political scientist to tell us it will be massive.

“Civility” is dangerous

America’s most powerful remain hell-bent on convincing the rest of us that we need to be polite. Even as they strip away our rights, even as they put babies in cages, even as they quite literally enable a murderous coup. We’re supposed to rise above, keep civil, and somehow act as if these issues aren’t a matter of life and death. The conservative trend toward complaining about cancel culture and supposed free speech infringements is part of this, and it’s only getting more dangerous by the day. The worst mistake those on the left could make is going along with the idea that everyone is owed politeness or civility — they’re not. Not when there’s this much at stake.

Disinformation and conspiracy theories are only getting worse

You’d be hard-pressed to find an American who doesn’t know someone — be it a friend, family member, hairdresser, or teacher — who hasn’t bought into some wild conspiracy theory. Whether it’s that vaccines cause autism, or that Democrats are running a satanic child-abusing cult, conspiracies are everywhere and their mainstream-appeal is spreading (and too often women are at the forefront of this movement against truth and logic). This is the first time that I’ve ever been truly afraid of disinformation on a broad scale. Please don’t discount these people as kooks or outliers, and listen to the people who have spent years warning about them. Which leads to my last thought…

People won’t ever heed our warnings

It’s been striking to see how many of the predictions that writers and activists made over the years — warnings for which they were often scolded as being histrionic — have in fact come true. Imagine how different this country could have looked if more people listened about the true danger of Donald Trump, or about climate change, or sexual assault, or racism. Imagine if people stopped believing that everything will always be okay, that we’ll all “get through this.”

I know I sound like the ultimate downer here, but the truth is I’m still optimistic — I think to be a feminist, or any kind of activist really, you have to be. You need to believe things are capable of getting better, otherwise, what’s the point of the work? That doesn’t mean any of this is easy; we know it isn’t. But injustice is not inevitable. And I hope if you’ve taken anything away from my columns over the last few years, it’s that.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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