It may have been a victory by the narrowest of margins, but last week voters in Alabama stood for victims of harassment and abuse. They stood for women. They stood for compassion. And they stood for decency. This good news from America was a rare moment to lift the spirits.
Because the way some people in Alabama treated the women who accused Roy Moore of making sexual advances (on girls as young as 14 when he was in his 30s) can be seen as a message to those who have been abused and/ or experienced sexual harassment, to those who someday will. A message that they are believed and have our support.
Roy Moore and his supporters called these women liars and whiners and worse. But against the odds and conventional wisdom, Alabama rejected that behaviour. Voters made a political decision that many found hard; a decision that put decency over party, character over tribe. They stood for its mothers and sisters and daughter and fellow human beings when many thought they would not.
They sent a message to women that the world may not always be a safe place. But it can be. As Dr. King once said, the moral arc of the Universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Even if sometimes it does feel like it’s taking its time.
“Women really do seem to be wanting to make their collective voices heard on this issue [of sexual harassment], and they don’t want to see it swept under the rug one more time,” said Jessica Leeds, who stepped forward last year to accuse Donald Trump, then the GOP presidential nominee, of having committed sexual misconduct.
With Trump’s election last November, this kind of reckoning seemed to have been pushed backward. But the Women’s March brought women and men across the globe together in a collective show of solidarity. And a strong sense of grievance remained, gathering force like a hurricane, as individual bad actors are being rooted out, starting with the toppling of movie producer Harvey Weinstein and once-revered figures in media and politics who have been taken down in his wake.
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Of course the biggest scalp for the #MeToo movement remains in the Oval Office. At least for the time being. On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders explained that the election of Donald Trump as president meant allegations of sexual harassment against him had been dealt with: “The people of this country, at a decisive election, supported President Trump, and we feel like these allegations have been answered through that process.”
Keeping the spotlight firmly on himself, Trump then went on to lash out at Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who has been calling on him to resign over these allegations. On Twitter – where else – Trump said the Senator “would do anything for” campaign donations. Yet another comment below the standards of human decency we expect from our leaders.
Gillibrand at a news conference stated: “It was a sexist smear attempting to silence my voice, and I will not be silenced on this issue, neither will the women who stood up to the president yesterday, and neither will the millions of women who have been marching since the Women’s March to stand up against policies they do not agree with.”
Gillibrand is more than up to the task of responding to Trump. The bigger question, however, is how will the Senate as an institution respond when the president verbally harasses one of its members? Will senators deal with his behaviour through the institution of the Senate? Or will they try to sweep this under the carpet as has happened so many times in our institutions?
The #MeToo movement will continue to root out and topple individual bad actors. But it wants individuals to be held accountable for their actions. It’s also seeking a far higher prize. Change in our institutions. The sort of change we saw here in the UK, following the publication of the MacPherson Report, the result of a landmark inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence, which addressed racism in the police..
As Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook COO said so eloquently in a message on Facebook:
“Sexual harassment has been tolerated for far too long in the halls of government and companies large and small. For the first time in my professional life, it feels like people are finally prepared to hold perpetrators responsible. I’m cheering.”
The defeat of Roy Moore at the ballot box may have been a victory by the very narrowest of margins. But it is nonetheless a critical victory in in the war against sexism and sexual harassment. After a testing year, there are encouraging signs that the face of leadership is changing. And that change is being led by women.
Question: What was your reaction to the Alabama election? I love reading your feedback so please do take a moment to share let me know in the comments box below.
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