It was only in October of last year that the Harvey Weinstein stories started to hit, yet it already has the unmistakable feeling of epoch-making history. Predatory men, perched on the ruling rungs of highly visible professions, fell one after the next. They continue to drop. In droves, women they’d harassed, raped, abused, flashed, pinched, and embarrassed—often over decades in power—confessed these long-hidden workplace nightmares and dream-killing disappointments. There’s no stopping it, per the dizzy refrain.
You can call it a “warlock hunt” (as essayist Claire Berlinski did in an incisive critique of #MeToo—an article half a dozen journals turned down); a righteous excision of perverts, power-abusers, and predators; or an unwinnable war for women’s freedom from worrying about sex at work. Whatever you call it, there’s no denying its purpose. What #MeToo’s critics all seem to miss is that the movement now underway represents a practical reorientation of the struggle for women’s equality. At its core is not a partisan argument, but an exceptionally American one: that we’re past due our equal freedom.
An amnesia afflicts the current feminist revival if its proponents think “second wave” is a slur. Hard as it is to see from where Katie Way writes, the career women of the 1960s and ’70s had the same inviolate goals as those of the #MeToo era. Understanding the historical reality of women’s evidently still-unequal status requires we listen to the past to perceive what, after more than a century of struggle, still stands in our way.