2017: A year for women

At midnight tonight, 2017 will come to an end. And what a year it has been! Especially for women.

Again and again in 2017, women in Australia and abroad rose up to expose toxic cultures of sexism, sexual harassment and domestic and family violence that had been protected for too long in a range of institutions.

The resounding message, bolstered by the media, was that the abuse and silencing of women in our entertainment industries, halls of power and Christian communities will no longer be tolerated.

Here is a timeline of some of the key events:

JANUARY: The women’s marches

I can’t help but smile when I recall that it was, in fact, Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States that breathed new life into the fourth-wave feminism that really took off this year. Ironic, given his reputation for misogyny and many allegations of sexual misconduct.

Following the epic Women’s March on Washington on 22 January to protest Trump, a further 600 public rallies took place across 60 countries in support of women’s rights, including thousands of Australian protesters.

The massive turnout was a sign that Trump’s policies would be highly scrutinised in his first year of office, and that powerful, misogynistic men were already in the firing line.

APRIL-JUNE: Media milestones

On 26 April the highly acclaimed Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s novel by the same name, first aired in the United States, and was later streamed in Australia on SBS Demand from 20 July.

Many saw the series as a prophetic warning about the potential erosion of women’s reproductive rights under Trump, while others lauded its stark portrayal of the dangers of Christian fundamentalism, for women and more generally.

Hot on the heels of The Handmaid’s Tale came the Wonder Woman origin film, which broke box office records as the highest grossing female-directed film in its opening weekend in the US, in late May.

Released in Australia on 1 June, the film’s compassionate yet formidable lead was a character with whom many women identified, despite considerable criticism of the film for being ‘less feminist’ than it seemed.

While Wonder Woman was not without fault, it was certainly a breakthrough in an industry, and a genre, that remains highly male-dominated, and its message of female comradery, strength and empowerment was welcome on our screens.

JULY-NOVEMBER: Skeletons in the vestry

Starting in July, the ABC published a series of investigative pieces by Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson exposing a hidden undercurrent of domestic and family violence in Australian churches that had been swept under the carpet.

Following the initial expose, the authors received hundreds of further reports, 20 of which were subsequently published in a follow up article. A further report in November focused on the experiences of clergy wives.

Responses to these articles from Australian churches were mixed, with some disputing or playing down the claims, while others publicly apologised and committed to do better. One Christian organisation, Common Grace, later published Safer, an online tool help churches respond to domestic and family violence.

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER: Another one bites the dust

In early October the first of more than 80 accusations against acclaimed Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, began to emerge, painting him as an aggressive misogynist who routinely used his position to subject young actresses to unwanted sexual advances.

The high profile of his accusers drew considerable publicity, prompting similar allegations against other famous men, including Kevin Spacey (although his alleged victims were men).

The litany of highly publicised falls from grace also breathed new life into the ‘Me Too’ campaign, a social media movement calling out sexual harassment. Promoted by actress Alyssa Milano in the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein affair, the #metoo tag went viral on Facebook and Twitter.

Millions of people worldwide, predominantly women, used #metoo to share their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, and express their solidarity with other victims. The popularity of the hashtag brought to light the worryingly high prevalence of sexual misconduct.

Given the sheer scale of the response to, and fallout from, the ‘name and shame’ campaign, TIME Magazine’s naming of the so-called ‘Silence Breakers’ as person of the year for 2017 was very fitting.

In late November, Australia was enveloped by its own ‘name and shame’ scandal, when Aussie icon and TV star Don Burke was outed by the press as committing multiple acts of sexual harassment and assault.

Like his Hollywood counterparts, Burke was denounced by many ‘big names’ in the entertainment industry, and a protracted history of abuse was revealed.

What next?

With Trump still in office, facing his own allegations of sexual misconduct, one can only imagine that the theme of powerful men abusing women will remain in the international news well into 2018, especially given Trump’s record for offensive tweets.

In Australia, the December release of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s final report will also likely ensure that sexual misconduct maintains headline status into the new year.

As 2018 dawns, let us celebrate the exposure of injustice and the empowerment of women that occurred this fateful year, and commit to keeping it on the agenda in the coming months so that the ‘creepy old man’ we’ve all had to deal with at sometime or another becomes a thing of the past.

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