On the day before the Alabama election, I found myself explaining that I needed to get to work despite the bombing at my subway station because there were women coming in to talk about having been sexually assaulted by the president.
Really, we live in interesting times.
The bombing — in which no one was seriously hurt but the bomber — has already faded from the memory of New York’s hardened mass transit riders. But the rest of the story is reverberating. We’re in the middle of a women’s uprising that really does feel like a new wave, maybe the one that could actually get the country within shouting distance of power equality.
Think about it. This week Roy Moore got skunked in Alabama, thanks in great part to female voters who went for the Democratic candidate instead. Then the U.S. Senate got ready for another female member — Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith is going to replace Al Franken, who is resigning in the sexual harassment scandal.
We have a revolt against sexual harassment that’s running through the political, entertainment, restaurant and communications worlds. And we’re finally trying to focus on the Donald Trump sleaziness sagas that the nation didn’t deal with in 2016. Trump is really behind everything — his election jarred and frightened women so much that there was nothing to do but rebel and try to change the world.
“I think it’s very much because of President Trump,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. “For me the Women’s March was still the most extraordinary political moment of my lifetime.” Gillibrand is a leader of the anti-harassment campaign in Congress. This week, as some of the women who had stories about Trump’s own hands-on history were talking to the media, she called on the president to resign.
Trump responded — as only he can — with a Twitter attack, calling Gillibrand a political “lightweight” who used to come to him “begging” for campaign contributions “and would do anything for them.”
“I think it was intended to be a sexist smear, and it was intended to silence me and every woman who challenges him,” Gillibrand said in a phone interview.
The White House retorted that only a person whose mind was “in the gutter” would think the president was talking about anything but the way political fundraising means “special interests control our government.”
What do you think, people? Perhaps we could just do a calculation on how much time Trump has spent in his public life discussing girl-grabbing versus campaign finance reform.
Also, no one in Washington seems to have missed the fact that when the president tweeted, Gillibrand was at a congressional Bible study meeting.
It’s for sure that when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton it triggered a visceral response in masses of U.S. women, and that trauma may be turning into a political uprising more powerful than the Tea Party. Female voters delivered Alabama for Democrat Doug Jones — 57 percent came down on his side. The critical mass actually came from the African-American community, where women vote more faithfully than men, and virtually all of them went for Jones. (Hard to know what triggered their outpouring — Roy Moore’s creepy sexual history or his enthusiasm for the good old days of strong families and slavery.)
“I see black women as the heart of the Democratic Party,” said Gillibrand.
Other women aren’t exactly standing still. A new Monmouth University poll has Trump’s job approval rating down to another new historic low, 32 percent. The decline, Monmouth said, came mostly from Republican and independent women. All in all, women gave the president thumbs-up only 24 percent of the time. He’s their political equivalent of overcooked broccoli.
We truly could be seeing a new wave of feminist reform. The United States has had moments when it looked as if women were finally taking their rightful place in the public world. But things had a way of stalling. After suffrage wars, politicians were worried about pleasing their new female constituents. But they then concluded that women were going to pretty much vote like their male relatives and lost interest. The “Year of the Woman” in 1992 added four more U.S. senators to the pair of women who were already there. But now, in the 21st century, the Senate still has only 21.
There could be a lot more if this revolution continues. And while we have no earthly idea who the Democratic presidential candidate will be in 2020, it’s likely that a bunch of women are going to be in the mix — Gillibrand probably among them.
Think about it. The only Democratic woman who’s ever been a top-of-the-pack presidential contender was Hillary Clinton, a former first lady. And I can remember being around when it was a big deal that Margaret Chase Smith got her name put into nomination at the Republican convention after a campaign dominated by dissection of her muffin recipe.
It’s not necessarily bad when the times get interesting.
Gail Collins joined The New York Times in 1995 as a member of the editorial board and later as an Op-Ed columnist. In 2001 she became the first woman ever appointed editor of the Times’s editorial page.