The latter half of 2017 will be remembered as the time that women all over the globe drew a line in the sand.
No longer will sexual harassment be endured silently. No longer will abusers operate with impunity. No longer will men dominate discussion and decision making in board rooms, capitol buildings and households across the country. And no longer will the people who hear these stories demean the accusers and pick through their lives like vultures in search of rotten meat.
Everyone in this country remains innocent until proven guilty. But the onus is now on those who have been accused of heinous acts — accused by people with nothing to gain but to bring some sense of justice.
It’s an admirable, dangerous time.
Beware the court of public opinion. And beware a moral flattening — where years of predatory behavior require the same punishment as a poor choice of words or a momentary lapse. Or a thoroughly reported article is given the same weight as a Twitter accusation.
The sword is coming for people we admire for their art, or athletic prowess, or their control of a corporate board room, or for their political views that mesh so well with our own.
Beware then, too, the desire to make sexual assault and harassment just another partisan division. Find no additional joy from the demise of an enemy, and do not give those whom you admire unfair protection from claims of abuse. That’s how this issue became so prevalent and so powerful in the first place.
Politics certainly did play a part in the arrival of this moment. Donald Trump’s electoral victory, despite his deeply problematic relationships with women and his televised brags of sexual assault, helped usher in this age. Charlotte Alter of Time Magazine wrote during the campaign that “the 2016 election was a referendum on what women could achieve and what men could get away with.”
A majority of Americans will no longer stand by the results of that referendum and want immediate action to remedy the situation. The 2.6 million-strong Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration put the pressure on.
That movement wasn’t just about sexual harassment and assault. It’s ultimately about a fair society in which all viewpoints are considered, and women are not held back when they choose not to play games with powerful men.
And that has made us look at our own back yard.
There is a noticeable dearth of female voices in Eastern Oregon. Although Grant County was once led by County Judge Lorene Allen — a true Renaissance woman who was also the county’s civil defense coordinator, an author, a pilot, a ham radio operator and a multi-talented musician — the county’s current commissioners are all men. While women serve on most city councils and boards, they are generally outnumbered.
No woman has ever represented Eastern Oregon in the statehouse. Oregon has only elected one female U.S. senator in its history. And five of Oregon’s six current representatives in the U.S. House are men.
These are deeply distressing statistics.
There are woman in positions of leadership in education and business in Eastern Oregon, but to have so many levers of power in the hands of men is dangerous and limiting. If we only include half of our population in important decisions, those decisions are bound to be half as good.
Eastern Oregon can do better. Women across the region should follow Allen’s lead, demand their rightful power and take it.