2017 was the year of hashtag protests. Making waves far beyond Hollywood, Time Magazine named “The Silent Breakers” from the #MeToo movement their ‘Person of the Year’. By the end of 2017, people began to question the legitimacy of the movement’s impact, putting through the wringer the objective it was trying to achieve. After the Harvey Weinstein affair, famous and remote women have come forward to tell the media how they faced harassment and sexual violence from male counterparts, be it in the workplace, household violence or institutionalised, hierarchical inequality. #MeToo has become a ticking time bomb, bringing to light the injustices that persistently make democracies inherently undemocratic. Over time, the phenomenon that started with a hashtag grew into change. As a result, some sort of social metamorphosis did take place, administering confidence in women to speak up about their experiences, however, as the dynamic grew, the core principle of “feminism” as an ideology was lost in the process and shifted focus. Does third-wave feminisim hold a chance at legitimately bringing about change?
The question remains: what happens with the tsunami of testimonies? And moreover, could a movement like #MeToo reinvigorate democracy and lead to long-term change? It had the potential to transform the feminist movement into a driving force for political change, uncovering the structural inequality which was previously concealed. However, an unprecedented backlash of rhetoric emerged, castigating feminism of taking on an anti-male agenda – a weapon of an emerging gender war. It has almost become an issue that does not have an actual accusation at the center of, just an incidental plot device in the grander narrative of feminism.
If looking at this issue from a purely political lens, then undoubtedly, citizen participation has changed in the past decade. Whilst traditional political parties worry about membership decline, a decreasing confidence in democratic party leadership, as well as an increasing distance from citizens, social media movements fueled by protest seem to be the new political forces to be reckoned with. Social movements have historically been critical in pressuring regimes to democratize. Feminism is no exception. Considering the timeline of achievements women have accomplished in validating their status in society, it is hard to argue otherwise. In today’s digital information age, women as an entity are increasingly successful in carving out political space, with new agendas, techniques and discourses that promise greater representation and more meaningful participation.
Socially, the power of the narrative in the post-Weinstein era is undeniable. Why did the Weinstein story open the floodgates to a movement when similar revelations about comedian Bill Cosby, Fox News chief Roger Ailes, and then-presidential candidate Donald Trump did not? The key ingredients were there: a highly profiled figure, a distinguished platform, respect as well as the sole weight of the allegation in itself. Nonetheless, the causes ungracefully parachuted in the air and landed as quickly as it emerged. Why? Jordan Peterson, as well as allies of a more right-wing principle, argue that the credibility of a single testimony loses its integrity when women use the hashtag 20 years later. While this in no way signifies that the allegation does not hold weight, bringing up “dirty laundry” only following the ripple-effect, or with the aim of bringing down a male counterpart as a political tactic alludes to “male hatred”, which at the core, obscured what feminists have been fighting for – equal opportunity.
Looking back at the history of feminism, first-wave movement focused on the right to vote, second-wave on equal pay and the recognition of the female force, where does that leave third-wave feminism? The 2017 Global Gender Gap report concluded that, globally, gender parity is shifting into reverse and can be closed in exactly 100 years, compared to the estimated 83 years in 2016. This includes the political dimension which looks at women in parliament, in ministerial and leadership positions. The way society views women is directly correlated with the “image” that is depicted on social media, and indisputably, the feminist agenda is one that remains to be criticised and trifled.