I wrote this opinion piece soon after the Golden Globes and sent it to the Albany Times Union, but since they haven’t published it, I decided to share it here. Reading it now, nearly a month later, I stand by what I said then.
Awards shows are one of my guilty pleasures, and the Golden Globes has always been one of my favorites. I love seeing the celebrities partying at their round tables, ogling the fabulous gowns, wondering who will win, who will trip mounting the steps, who will drink too much and make embarrassing over-the-top speeches. But this year, the unrelieved blackness of all those dresses and the mandatory solemnity of the righteous cause of ending sexual harassment cast a pall over the proceedings. In a way, it was a funeral—for casting-couch Hollywood, for its routine harassment of women, and for its ingrained habit of shoving women out of the way in favor of men.
I’ve been a feminist ever since reading Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique when it came out in 1963, during my senior year of college. In August of 1970 I strode down Fifth Avenue with over 20,000 other women in the Women’s Strike for Equality, which culminated in fiery speeches by Friedan, Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem and others in Bryant Park. That fall I joined an early Redstockings consciousness raising group, where we railed against all the injustices perpetrated on our sex by the males of the species.
There’s been positive change since then, but many of the issues we rallied against in 1970 are still with us today, including inequality in the workplace and sexual harassment. The #metoo campaign that kicked off with the outing of Harvey Weinstein in November has thrust these problems front and center, and rightly so. But never before have I encountered the divisive animosity that afflicts us today.
Weinstein is a creep and a criminal. And many of the men who have been brought down in his wake were guilty of heinous behavior toward women, or in some cases toward boys or men. Calling them out and shaming them in the public square may be an appropriate way to bring about change, but why the wanton destruction of careers in the rush to justice? Why single out and scapegoat only wealthy, powerful men when the same injustices exist at every level of society? Women in minimum-wage service jobs are afflicted by sexual harassment and intimidation every bit as much as millionaire actresses.
Al Franken’s resignation from the Senate troubles me most. A liberal Democrat and a devoted public servant, he was called out for behavior when he was a comedian, years before he entered politics. Pretending to touch a sleeping woman’s breast? Snaking an arm around a woman’s waist during a photo op in a public setting? Bill Clinton survived the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but nowadays far more innocuous behavior is grounds for instant condemnation. And it was women in the Senate, especially Kristin Gillibrand, who drove him into exile. I had always admired her, had high hopes for her political future, but she’s lost my vote. There are plenty of sanctimonious prudes on the far right; why must Democrats fall in line?
Before I became a feminist, and later a wife and mother, I was a single artist living in a loft in lower Manhattan, and I took full advantage of the swinging sixties. Did men ever make unwelcome advances? Occasionally, yes. Did these encounters traumatize me either emotionally or physically? No. I stood my ground, talked them down or—rarely—fought them off. I believe most women could say the same.
Today’s puritanical climate casts women as fragile flowers, men as predatory monsters. Even a casual pat on the shoulder can bring a career crashing down overnight. We’re becoming a polarized nation—left versus right, black versus white, immigrant versus born in the U.S.A. And now man versus woman, in a toxic escalation of the battle between the sexes.
Maybe we should banish all temptation by donning monastic robes, like the women in “A Handmaid’s Tale,” the award-winning show based on Margaret Atwood’s novel. I’m delighted Frances McDormand won the award for best actress in a drama, but she may also have made the most prophetic fashion statement of the evening with the long, shapeless black dress that totally disguised her body. No doubt cheap knock-offs will be available online any day now, so that millions of women can hide from the predatory male gaze.
Though the Golden Globes are old news, the issues I raised are still very much with us. Let me know what you think—let’s start a dialogue.