by senior futurist Richard Worzel, C.F.A.
The growing number of men being outed for sexual harassment and assault will lead to one of the most profound changes in society in decades, perhaps centuries. Women, who compose the majority of the population in virtually all developed countries, will, I believe, conclude that the only way that they can achieve equal status for pay, advancement, and most especially, for personal security is to take the political power that their majority should afford them.
This will come during a period of great upheaval, as revelation after revelation exposes a past where a surprisingly large number of men in positions of power and influence over women, abused their positions, and will now finally be called to account. There will be many such cases, and the revelations will rock all of our institutions, including government, entertainment, business, religion, education, and especially the media.
The real changes, though, will come once the novelty of such revelations has worn off, and such cases no longer make the front page of newspapers and websites.
When Did This Start?
It’s hard to identify a specific beginning. It might have begun with Andrea Constand, the woman who started the public accusations against Bill Cosby in 2015, which grew so that Wikipedia now lists 59 women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault over a period of decades.
It’s certain that the accusations against Harvey Weinstein, beginning with the Italian actor Asia Argento in September of 2017, inspired a growing movement towards naming and shaming sexual predators as women encouraged one another to come forward, and go public with such accusations. To date, more than a dozen women have reported various degrees of sexual assault against Weinstein, ranging up to full-out rape. And that, in turn, has inspired other women, who had been silent, in some cases for decades, to come forward with allegations against other men.
Weinstein was just a trigger for much more to come. The highest profile case so far after Weinstein is Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alabama – not counting Donald Trump. I suspect that this time, the allegations against Trump will catch up with him.
But What Happens Next?
I believe this is the beginning of a cultural revolution beside which the recognition of gay rights will seem calm. I believe women are just realizing that when they act together and in concert with those who support them, they can significantly improve how they are treated, their rights to work, equal pay, advancement, status, and security. And I also believe that from there it’s a short, and inevitable, step to their realization that they are the majority – and should have the political power that goes with that.
The number of men who are outed is growing as women are realizing that they are not to blame for being victims. And as more women come forward to support the accusations of others, this emboldens even more to do so, producing an avalanche of accusations of sexual assault. This is the first effect, but by no means the last, even though it will go on for a long time.
How Widespread Is Sexual Assault?
I used to work in the investment business, and while most men in that industry were good people, there was a significant minority who were pigs, pure and simple, particularly in the more macho, gun-slinging occupations, like bond and stock trading. So-called locker room talk was the norm, not the exception, and off-color, misogynist, racist, sexist, and bigoted jokes were far more common than the ones you could tell at home.
And, in retrospect, I’m quite sure that sexual assault of varying degrees was widespread. This would have ranged from risqué remarks, to “chasing your secretary around the desk,” to outright rape.
Moreover, while the investment industry, with its focus on money, influence, and its gun-slinging mentality, may have been unusually nasty in this regard, it was by no means alone. Indeed, if there were some way to investigate the past, I think we would find that any situation where someone (almost always a man) who exerted power or significant influence over someone they desired (typically, but not necessarily a woman) could have produced sexual predation, and, not infrequently, did.
And since politics and entertainment live and die by power and influence, they are high on the list, and will produce disproportionate numbers of outed predators in the days and weeks to come.
So, I believe we are going to see a rising crescendo of women stepping forward with accusations against predators, some fresh, and some running back decades.
But Then What?
Right now, these kinds of sexual allegations are all the rage among news outlets. They provide all the right ingredients for clickable headlines: sex, power, revenge, righteous indignation, and ax-grinding against people you don’t like. And that will initially produce, as it already has, political brickbats as first members of one group (say Republicans like Donald Trump and Roy Moore) are accused and put on the defensive, and then their opponents (like Al Franken and New York Times White House correspondent Glenn Thrush) are outed and accused.
Eventually, though, everyone will realize that no large group will escape unscathed. For too long powerful men have been able to assault people in subordinate positions with impunity, so that the temptation to do so infected lots of people in positions of power or authority, and in all walks of life.
When people realize this, criticism of one group of men by another will gradually become muted, for the brickbats you hurl today may come back at you tomorrow.
But eventually, the headlines will gradually fade away, except when the name of someone particularly newsworthy pops up. Just one more sexual predator won’t be newsworthy any more, we will eventually reach a point of satiety.
What happens after that will determine what follows. Here’s how I believe events will unfold.
Some accusations will be actionable, and many police departments will become more willing to listen to accusations of assault as it gradually dawns on them that women who have tried to register complaints in the past may have had reasonable grounds to do so, and should not have been brushed off. In those situations, it will depend on technical issues, such as whether sufficient evidence exists for prosecution, and whether a statute of limitations has been passed.
But many police forces will continue to discount such accusations, and will likely use the line of reasoning that a number of outed males have already tried: If this happened so long ago, why did you wait until now to say anything?
The answer, of course, is that until now, any woman who was brave enough to come forward would be guaranteed of verbal abuse on top of the sexual abuse they had already experienced, starting with the fact that they wouldn’t be believed, and would be slut shamed. Abused women know all about blaming the victim.
And once the press gets tired of reporting the same old, same old allegations of sexual assault, predators may believe that if they just tough out the initial revelations, they can get away scot-free – and may even be able to get back to the business of assault.
Awakening the Female Majority
If it happens that women get frustrated with recalcitrant police, and the waning PR effect of reporting sexual assault, then we move on to what I see as the next stage of the process: women will decide they have to take matters into their own hands.
There may be some vigilantism along the way: groups of assaulted women showing up at the homes and workplaces of their predators to confront their employers or wives, reporting the assault to the predators’ mothers (as one woman blogger did with online trolls), and generally confronting their assaulters directly. However, I don’t see this as producing the major shift in results women will demand.
Instead, I believe that women will conclude that they must take political action to make police pay attention, to pass laws that protect victims, to make prosecution of predators more feasible, and restitution to victims more realistic.
Up until now, women have largely relied on apparently supportive men, like Bill Clinton, to act for them. But the outing of even supposedly supportive men (like Bill Clinton) will, I suspect, lead to women deciding they must have women in positions of power to advocate for women’s rights. And so, a massive new political movement will be born: politically energized women standing up for women and every woman’s right to personal security.
And although existing political parties could, potentially, decide to join and support this movement, I think that conservatives in any country will find it hard to reconcile this with their past positions on abortion, gay and transgender rights, and, particularly, the whole concept of women as subservient.
If left-leaning political parties, such as the Democrats in the U.S., the Liberals and NDP in Canada, and Labour in the UK, want to ride this wave, they will not only have to support the goals of this new women’s movement, but allow women to lead it. This will transform these parties, and the old guard may not like that. But the risk is to have it pass them by. Notably, there is a very real risk that women will form completely new parties that don’t have the shackles of past policies and the deadweight of hypocritical men.
And After That…
None of this will go down well with the old guard in any party, particularly right-leaning parties, like the Republicans in America, the Conservatives in Canada, or the Tories in the UK. Indeed, I expect there will be a backlash. Some men will say that a women’s movement is unnecessary, that men can be effective advocates for women: “Trust us”.
But other men will rear up and advocate for that Old-Time Religion, where women knew their place, which is barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. And such people (including many women) will likewise discount and deprecate the women who come forward. Slut shaming will make a big-time comeback: “Enough, already. They asked for it!”
The battle lines will be drawn, and women will realize that although they do, indeed, constitute a majority of voters, they will accomplish more, and more quickly, if they have allies. And allies will be easy to find among the supporters of such groups as Black Lives Matter, LGBT+, and others.
In theory, immigrants could be allies as well, because they, too, are frequently abused by white, male-dominated institutions. However, immigrants frequently tend to be conservative, especially with regards to the status of women, so I’m unclear whether they will be supportive of this new women’s movement.
But at the end of the day, women will prevail. They represent too much political power, and possess too much supressed anger to be stopped. And if they can create mutually supportive alliances with groups that have been similarly abused, this shift will happen very quickly, indeed.
Is This Inevitable?
If existing political parties take the time to evaluate the future, and realize that this time the women’s movement will be a Juggernaut, and represents an existential threat to those who stand against them, such parties can change their policies, get behind the rights and security of women, and wind up as significant beneficiaries of what is about to become a major sea change in political life.
But I wouldn’t bet on it.
© Copyright, IF Research, November 21st, 2017.