Was 2018 a turning point for women? Yes, it exposed what we’re up against

‘We can win. We can beat the fundamentalists.’ Celebrations at Dublin Castle after the Irish abortion referendum in May. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
‘We can win. We can beat the fundamentalists.’ Celebrations at Dublin Castle after the Irish abortion referendum in May. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A pale, slouching Harvey Weinstein has so far escaped criminal charges for the allegations of sexual assault against him. A “millionaire” is given a three-year jail sentence for killing a woman, who died from the 40 horrific injuries he inflicted on her, including having bleach poured over her face, because this was said to be “consensual” rough sex. The incredibly brave Kurdish women who have faced down Islamic State have now been totally abandoned by Trump’s policy on Syria. This is how we end the year, and though there are those reluctant still to give up the narrative of sunlit progress, it’s not been a great one for women.

We live in conservative times and that conservatism is woven into the left, too. Labour still operates as a boys’ club helmed by the magic grandpa, with Corbyn’s most ardent fans persistently going after some of our most effective female MPs on social media. The Tories have a female prime minister, but seek to punish woman and children through cuts to frontline services. Rape convictions in England and Wales are at a 10-year low. And remember the start of 2018: we saw an exposé of the behaviour of rich at the Presidents Club, where men paid to grope young women for “charity”. Was anyone really shocked?

But I want to talk about some of the good stuff, too: Emma Gonzalez emerging as an incredible figurehead for the anti-gun lobby. The women from the Democratic party, such as Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who were elected in the US midterms, and give us hope. And the truly joyful moment that saw Ireland decide in a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment to its constitution that effectively outlawed abortion. Armies of young women and men from the Irish diaspora flew in with their wheelie bags to vote for female autonomy. What a moment that was. All the money that the anti-choice lobby had thrown into Ireland could not thwart the will of the people. Now we have to fight for those rights for the women of Northern Ireland, too.

The #MeToo movement reached its apotheosis around the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford at Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing. A semi-circle of grim men judged the perfect victim to be a liar. She is now in hiding, he is a supreme court justice. They endorsed a hysterical man who will never vote to impeach the president, and will be key in taking away the rights of women.

Consent strikes me as the issue of the year. Monica Lewinsky retold her story in a way that should make every Clinton advocate feel ashamed. What happened to her she said, rightly and simply, was a “gross abuse of power”. From the everyday micro-aggressions to the widescale rape and torture we see globally from Myanmar to the Congo, the idea that gender is merely a construct seems a shockingly privileged way to think.

The trans wars rumble on: instead of seeing rights as competing, we are now told sex is a spectrum. Science is being ignored as a conspiracy against reality. Trans people should live as they like, but the issue here is male violence. I hope in 2019 we can ally and not split further. I was reminded myself of the importance of female biology as I reported from Uganda, where women have 10 kids by the age of 33 through a lack of contraception, and on a visit to Armenia, where it is common to abort female foetuses. There are so many ways to destroy women, yet sometimes its feels like the Gilead is just around the corner.

A royal wedding provided retrograde distraction, but already the tables have been turned, with Meghan now being tainted with the uppity black woman trope. And the trophy wives Melania and Brigitte met and stalked about on lawns in stilettos, as equality is trodden down.

Thank god for Anna Burns winning the Booker with her novel, Milkman, and talking about class, and for Maxine Waters, the congresswoman who will not yield a second of her time to reactionaries. Thanks also for Charlotte Prodger, Christine and the Queens, Rosalía, Roxane Gay, Viv Albertine, Deborah Levy, Janelle Monáe, Manal al-Sharif, and the indomitable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to name but a few women who have brightened my year considerably.

But to go forwards, it is vital to understand how much we have gone backwards. Austerity has hit women, and hit us hard. The mental health statistics for young people, and girls in particular, are frightening. Mental health is a feminist issue. When girls cannot move freely in this world they suffer. But the complicity of women in our own subjugation – the handmaidens of the patriarchy who deny harassment is a problem, and the women who lie for Trump and excuse his behaviour – is hard to stomach.

But there are so many great and good women out there who shine light into the darkness. So many. I raise a glass to you for 2019, and to #MeToo, and to a world in which we keep fighting for basic freedoms. Because we can win. We can beat the fundamentalists. Think of that glorious day in May in Ireland when women finally won the right to control their own bodies. Think about how that felt … and hold on to that feeling. We are just beginning.

Suzanne Moore is a Guardian columnist.

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