16 Apr Introducing the Evidence
“We are looking into a broader pattern or strategy to buy the silence of the women.” That’s the phrase law-enforcement officials used to define the reason they were seeking court approval for the FBI raid on three New York premises of Michael Cohen, Trump’s secret-keeping fixer.
Granted judicial approval, they then swept those places for evidence of bank fraud, wire fraud, obstruction of justice, and campaign-finance violations. None of this stated or implied a search for any direct connections between the Trump campaign and Russia; in fact, when Special Counsel Mueller’s probe uncovered signs of this evidence, his superior, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein properly reassigned it elsewhere, to the Southern District of New York, where it fell under the authority of the Trump-appointed DA—who sent the FBI to raid Cohen’s stashes.
So far only glancing clues are available. But we know that probable cause would’ve had to be very strong for a number of magistrates and judges to permit the raid. This investigation seems to relate to suspicious timing just before the 2016 election, when Trump’s grotesque Access Hollywood tape hit and everyone thought it spelled the end of his candidacy. But within 48 hours, a flood of emails hacked from the Clinton campaign was suddenly released, pushing everything else from the headlines. We now know the hacking was done by Russian trolls, with WikiLeaks as the middleman and the Trump campaign “coincidentally” predicting pre-release knowledge about the hacked emails. Such dense convoluted webs are what law-enforcement officials are disentangling. To do so, they’re pursuing what other efforts Trump’s henchmen made to squelch or distract attention from stories like the Access Hollywood tape, stories about hush-money payoffs to women with whom he had sex, consensually or forcibly—women who, if not silenced, would have destroyed his candidacy. Especially since, hmmmmm, where did that hush money originate? Wasn’t it in effect a campaign donation? And how about the hacks—weren’t they in-kind donations—by Russians?
Press and pundits were braced for charges of campaign collusion with Russia, obstruction of justice, acts of corruption, and a host of other illegalities. Not many people saw this one coming, this focus on “the broader pattern or strategy to buy the silence of women.” Women? Sexual behavior? Sexist behavior? Something as commonplace, omnipresent, politically inconsequential as that? Only a few feminists took seriously a broader strategy to ensure the silence of women, because they perceived women as the center of the labyrinth; they saw women as the key that, once turned, would bring Trump down.
Yet feminists have been saying all along that “a broad pattern or strategy to ensure the silence of women” defines patriarchy itself.
That strategy is no longer working. Let me introduce into evidence the #MeToo phenomenon, now bearing the fruit of consciousness after 50 years of contemporary feminist truth-telling, educating, and organizing, finally unstoppable, now worldwide and affecting every corner of society.
Exhibit A: #MeToo has moved now into the field of architecture, where even such powerful celebrity architects as Richard Meier are crumbling after multiple allegations of long-time sexual misconduct.
Exhibit B: #MeToo has rolled into the publishing industry, with a growing list of prominent authors now unable to edit themselves out of harassment and assault scandals—and that includes best-selling children’s book authors. The result? Canceled book deals, pulped copies, bookstore boycotts, and expulsion from writer’s conferences. Henry Holt Company stands almost alone as it continues to publish Bill O’Reilly—with Steve Rubin, the president, claiming, “The corporate stance is that it’s not our job to judge our authors.” But Sherman Alexie cleverly asked his publisher to delay the pub date of a forthcoming paperback edition of his memoir, titled You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, following a recent NPR report in which three women accused him of sexual harassment, after which The American Indian Library Association withdrew their award to him.
Exhibit C: We know that a record number of women filed as United States House of Representatives candidates this year—309,topping the previous high of 298. And that’s not counting the historic number of women running for governor, and for state and municipal offices. This in itself shatters the erasure strategy. But something more profound is going on. Politico’s Heather Caygle reported on new nationwide research that female candidates are taking on taboos in campaign ads, turning norms and long-held gender stereotypes inside out. The flurry of never-before ads highlight once forbidden topics and images: breast-feeding on camera, sharing intimate stories of sexual abuse. This is cause for double celebration—because while quantity certainly makes a difference, quality is what makes lasting change. If women were to continue to run as imitation men, hiding or denying their feminism, conforming to slick, sleek, compromised, boring patriarchal standards of what a candidate should be, it’s fair to ask, “What have we really won?” But. Women running on “women’s issues”—which have always been all issues, anyway—and repositioning those issues accurately as affecting everyone; women running unafraid to place so-called “womanly values” front and center; women refusing to conceal the righteous rage felt by the abused; women, who comprise half of all other oppressed and despised groups; women ready to question everything, to redefine power as power to, not power over—a record number of those women is transformative. It can change the world.
Still, we need to be more alert that ever before, because even our adversaries will want to elbow in on the winning, and the days are definitely not yet over for them to employ those “strategies to ensure the silence of women.”
Exhibit D: The new Federal law against classified advertising for sex trafficking. It’s been a decades-long fight by the Women’s Movement to shut down Backpage, when it was a classified section in print, even before it became the more wide-reaching and lethal Backpage.com. Last week, a 93-count indictment charged Backpage.com with facilitating prostitution and revealing details about victims, including minors as young as 14. The silencing? Trump, who signed the bill with fanfare as a “defender of women” got the coverage he angled for. So did the religious Right, crowing for having backed the legislation. The press also reported extensively on the opposition, mounted by lobbyists and representatives of the sexual exploitation industry, notably so-called “sex-workers” groups, who claim that this legislation negatively affects their employment. Rarely was there mention of the years and years of feminist activism, still ongoing in the battle against prostitution. Silenced. While a confused public was offered a bankrupt, binary choice between sex-industry pawns demanding their right to be bought and sold, and religious fanatics who hate sex, not sexism.
In the long run, though—and more and more even in the short run—the boys’ strategy just isn’t strong enough to smother the screams and shouts of women. Trump and Cohen can’t get away with trying to buy—or threaten, cajole, trick, or bully—women, and neither can architects or authors, politicians or pimps. There is no way to ensure the silence of women anywhere, anymore.
Women are moving now, radiating from the center of the labyrinth. We are calling to each other as we move through the maze, move toward the edges, and then out into the world. We finally know that we are the key. And we are turning.