There is a stunning suddenness to these moments: Something that seemed immovable doesn't just move but shatters. What seemed inevitable and eternal falls apart, explodes, and in an instant, change is possible. But of course, even an earthquake isn't sudden; it's the result of tension built up over decades or centuries. So it was when apartheid ended in South Africa, when the Berlin Wall fell, when the Arab Spring broke out. So it was when Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 about being sexually harassed by Clarence Thomas. No, that did not halt his nomination, but it did revolutionize our understanding of sexual harassment. There was a crack produced by civil society pushing against injustices, by voices heroic enough to ring out even when winning was nowhere on the horizon.

It's easy to say that a pair of articles revealed decades of monstrous behavior by one depraved Hollywood producer and frame it as though it all came out of the blue. But feminism had laid decades of groundwork—has evolved the culture to a point at which significant numbers of women are assignment editors, TV and movie producers, and legislators in charge of deciding what the story is and whose story matters. And because plenty of men have also been transformed by the work feminism has done, they are increasingly in the habit of listening to women and treating them as at least as credible as the men they accuse.

I have watched this era unfold with both horror (at the stories of violence and hate) and joy (that at last we are doing something about it); I have seen myriad small actions build a bridge arching across the chasm to bring us into a new era; I have been moved to see women overcome shame and fear and defeat to break their silence. My grandmothers were born into a world that didn't let them vote. My mother's young adulthood took place at a time when marriage made a wife a husband's subordinate. I grew up in a better world, but still one that devalued women, often forcibly. When I look at my beautiful 10-month-old great-niece, with her cloud of dark hair and wide eyes, I hope we can do better for her.

A deeply moving aspect of the recent revelations is the way women have come forward to support one another—to say this or that victim is not a liar, because this also happened to me, and neither of us wants it to happen to another. Lifting each other up and holding one another's truths: That generosity toward strangers is, already, a triumph over the rigged value system from which predatory actions arise.

One of the greatest dangers is that in resisting your enemy, or defeating him, you become him. This is why, though punishment of sexual harassers may be necessary and appropriate, punitiveness and retaliation will not take us where we need to go. What will is ensuring that everyone has an equal voice—bosses, interns, pants wearers, actors, farmworkers—and that we hear one another.

There will be more earthquakes. In between, we all can do the slow, subtle, crucial work of love and generosity. And deepen the commitment to building a system, a society, a culture in which women are powerful, men are kind, and children are allowed to grow up whole and free.


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