This story reflects the views of this author, but not necessarily the editorial position of Fast Company.
On November 9, 2016, Hillary Clinton, fresh from defeat by a pussy-grabbing misogynist, predicted better times ahead for women: “Now, I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday someone will–and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.”
One year later, the glass ceiling remains intact, especially in politics. Women currently make up only 19.6% of the House of Representatives, 21% of the Senate, and only 20% of President Trump’s cabinet.
But while men still hold most of the power, the country’s faith in men is starting to shatter, with every shard reflecting back a seemingly endless array of famous sexual predators. Every day, more prominent men in politics, entertainment, media, and tech are revealed to have sexually harassed or assaulted women.
Perhaps–just perhaps–the political power structure is due for a change.
America is not experiencing an epidemic of sexual predation so much as an epidemic of revelation, as a wave of rage and validation propels survivors to step forward. A national conversation is now happening. As a country we’ve had this conversation before– in 1991, when Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas brought the term “sexual harassment” into the mainstream; in 1998, when Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky spotlighted male abuse of power over female subordinates (additionally, he was accused of rape); and in 2016, when Donald Trump–who over multiple decades has been accused of raping his first wife as well as a 13-year-old girl, sexually assaulting 15 women, peeping on teenage girls as they changed their clothes, and other acts of misogynist abuse –became president. These “national conversations” generally ended with the women being publicly disparaged and the men facing few consequences.
This time feels different.
For the most part, women are actually being believed. Lifelong sexual predators are being forced to resign, undergo investigations, and even face criminal charges. Feminist writers warn, rightly, that a backlash looms. But in the meantime, a lesson is being driven home: Don’t put male politicians on pedestals, unless you want to clean up the damage when they fall.
This was not the lesson the male-dominated media wanted to teach us. Following Trump’s win, a flurry of editorials were written on the fallacy of “identity politics” and the importance of centering the needs of beleaguered white men, so that they would not elect an emotionally unhinged white supremacist sexual assaulter in the future. This was the wrong takeaway from 2016; what we really needed, to borrow a phrase from the Groper-in-Chief, was extreme vetting.
Imagine a world in which these powerful male predators had been outed earlier: the pain that would have been avoided, the lives that wouldn’t have been destroyed. Imagine what women could have accomplished in a society where they assumed they would be believed, that abuse would not be tolerated, that their workplace was safe. Imagine if Congress weren’t infamously sexist. Imagine if the public trusted women politicians as much as men.
Democratic senator Al Franken is being pressured to resign in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, and Republican senate candidate Roy Moore’s own party is calling to for him to drop out of the race after multiple accusations that he has preyed on several teenage girls. One can reasonably assume, given recent revelations on the pervasiveness of sexual assault on Capitol Hill, that more allegations about elected officials are to come.
What to do with a polity of perverts? The answer is clear–they have to go. After all, it’s not as if it’s difficult to replace them. For every vile man, there are many talented women who have been hesitant to enter a sexist political arena. It is time to clean the House–and the Senate, and most of all, the Oval Office.
That Trump, whose record of misogynist abuse is long and documented, still presides over this nation as other powerful men face consequences is a travesty. He is unfit to lead for multiple reasons, as the many articles of impeachment filed against him indicate. Trump’s abuse of executive privilege and his abuse of women are not unrelated–like many powerful men, he committed horrific acts in part simply because he could. For decades, he has gotten away with horrendous, likely illegal, behavior. Now, perhaps, he will face the reckoning he deserves.
In the meantime, women are running for office in record numbers. This is no surprise. Survey the wreckage, and the stakes are clear: in Trump’s America, women are running for their lives.
Sarah Kendzior is a journalist and scholar of authoritarian states.