The Women's March on Washington, DC, January 21, 2017
The Women's March on Washington, DC, January 21, 2017 (Photo: Getty Images)

POLITICS

2017: the year women and young people fought back

Trump’s victory shocked the world and the Women’s March galvanised opposition. But that was just the beginning, says Gaby Hinsliff

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By Gaby Hinsliff on

Poor old Nigel Farage. The man who did so much to give us Brexit now says it has come at some personal cost, leaving him facing 2018 “separated and skint”. Which is an amazing coincidence, given that’s where his efforts will probably leave the nation, too.  

But dry those crocodile tears, everyone, because outside the Farage family this hasn’t been half as awful a year as it sometimes looked. If 2016 felt like the year the world basically went to the dark side, then this was the year the resistance started getting its act together. Let’s just say it’s not a coincidence that 2017 began with hundreds of thousands of women in pink pussy hats marching against the election of Donald Trump and ended with the news that this year’s most-looked-up word was “feminism”, according to the US-based online dictionary Merriam Webster

It may have felt, back in January, as if marching achieved nothing beyond making people feel better. But, in retrospect, it looks like the beginning of something – a backlash against the backlash, a determination not to let woman-hating and race-baiting politics take hold without a fight. Trump’s victory shocked even high-achieving American women into realising that they hadn’t come nearly as far as they thought, because if admitting to sexual assault and being endorsed by the KKK doesn’t disqualify a man from high office, then clearly the battle for equality is very much not over. Sometimes, it turns out, just “leaning in” isn't enough.

And it’s impossible to separate that wake-up call from the global pushback against sexual violence that had, with hindsight, begun even before actresses began breaking their silence over Harvey Weinstein.  

Back in the summer, a string of Silicon Valley women spoke out about being routinely propositioned and hassled by men in tech, prompting some high-profile resignations. By autumn, post-Weinstein, millions of ordinary women around the world were telling their stories via the #MeToo hashtag and the ripples were spreading into politics. In November, the British defence secretary, Michael Fallon, resigned after allegedly trying to kiss journalist Jane Merrick following a work lunch and the Labour activist Bex Bailey bravely disclosed that she’d been raped after a party event, but advised to keep it quiet. (Investigations are still ongoing into several claims of sexual impropriety by MPs, including Theresa May’s close Cabinet ally Damian Green and former Labour frontbencher Kelvin Hopkins.) We're not out of the woods yet. But if nothing else, all that frantic googling of the F-word suggests a lot of women who hadn’t previously considered feminism relevant to their lives are starting to get curious.

By autumn, post-Weinstein, millions of ordinary women around the world were telling their stories via the #MeToo hashtag and the ripples were spreading into politics

Over here, meanwhile, the Oxford Dictionaries picked “youthquake” as its word of the year. Alright, so it’s a word literally nobody uses in real life. But it captures something of what happened this spring, when an over-confident Theresa May called a snap election to consolidate her grip on power. Instead, she very nearly lost to Jeremy Corbyn, as younger voters, furious at having their interests trampled over by pensioners, surged to the polls.

It was the under-40s who transformed Corbyn’s standing at Westminster and sent millennials’ priorities – from the housing crisis and student debt to eco-friendly taxes – shooting up a panicking government’s agenda. And they’re starting to change the terms of the Brexit debate, too.

The referendum is still very unlikely to be reversed. But the fact that so many younger voters obviously didn’t fancy the hard Brexit on offer has boosted the confidence of Remainers in all parties. Now, some Labour shadow ministers are pushing Corbyn, a lifelong eurosceptic who campaigned only reluctantly for Remain, towards a softer form of Brexit or maybe even to back a second referendum. Meanwhile, a group of hardcore Tory remainers nicknamed the Rebel Alliance – and, like their Star Wars counterparts, led mainly by women – scored its first real victory earlier this month by securing MPs a meaningful vote on the final deal.

It would be pushing it, frankly, to say we're ending the year on a high. Money’s still painfully tight for many people and the numbers sleeping rough in a freezing December has become a very tangible sign of everything that’s still wrong with this country. After Manchester, London Bridge and the murder of a policeman on parliament's doorstep, nobody needs reminding of the terrorist threat hanging over us. Public life is still awash with abuse, with women and those of colour invariably getting the worst of it.

But, if nothing else, at least there’s one unifying national event for which we can all get out the bunting – and I don’t mean Prince Harry’s wedding (although the royals embracing a proudly feminist, mixed-race woman who doesn't yet have British citizenship sure feels like some sort of milestone). No, the one thing that should bring pretty much the entire nation together as one is the news that Trump may visit London in February, creating the perfect opportunity for the biggest public protest in years. Pink hats on, people.

@gabyhinsliff

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The Women's March on Washington, DC, January 21, 2017 (Photo: Getty Images)
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Politics
Feminism
harvey weinstein
women in politics

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