Opinion: An unexpected and inspiring Year of the Woman

Credit: Nedra Rhone

Credit: Nedra Rhone

It didn’t feel like this on Jan. 1, did it?

But 360-something days later, 2017 has turned out to be the Unexpected Year of the Woman.

A shocker, yes. Because remember, 2016 was supposed to be the official, glass-shattering Year of the Woman.

Hillary Clinton made history as the first female major-party candidate for president. Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson became the first woman to head a U.S. combatant command. Kathryn Smith was hired as the first female NFL coach. American women did the job at the Olympics, clanking home with the majority of the country’s medals. Harriet Tubman was picked to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Three women of color - a record number - were elected to the Senate. And at long last a woman, Samantha Bee, joined the dude-dominated lineup of late-night shows.

Then came the backlash.

Even though the majority of American voters elected a woman to the White House, the electoral college - a convoluted institution created by men - gave the presidency to a man with 2.8 million fewer votes.

And that man, Donald Trump, made a hobby of objectifying women, insulting women and openly bragging about grabbing women. And it felt as though 2017 might be the year that the massive boulder women have been pushing uphill for centuries rolled back down.

But no. It turned out to be the exact opposite, and, in a way, far more powerful than any of the milestones of 2016.

The year began with what was believed to be the largest march the country has ever seen. On Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration, women and the men who support them filled the streets, plazas and squares of Washington and cities across the country, as well as across the world. It was a breathtaking mass of humanity. On the ground in the nation’s capital, it felt as though no square foot of land was empty. From the office windows and balconies of those in power, it looked as though a tide was swallowing cities whole.

It was an amazing, powerful moment full of hope. But there was no unifying message, no concrete demand, no specific goal or 10-point action plan. Now we see: There didn’t have to be.

The women’s march ignited an energy that roiled and swelled through the rest of the year.

By the end of 2017, a seismic change in American culture began toppling dozens of sexual predators in the #MeToo movement. A surge of female candidates ran for office and won a stunning number of elections, from city mayors to the nation’s statehouses.

“Women claimed big victories” with the Nov. 7 elections “in a night that marked many firsts and could signal the start of a sea change for women in politics,” wrote Governing magazine, a publication not known for breathless declarations on culture and feminism. “The sheer volume of success for women candidates was a surprise to many, mainly because they were running against incumbents who historically win re-election 90 percent of the time. But not this year. Incumbents in Georgia, New Jersey and Virginia all lost their seats to women.”

The milestones women achieved last year were significant, for sure. But for the most part, they were seals of approval bestowed upon women by the patriarchy. Women made progress because men at male-led institutions scooted their chairs over a bit - just a bit - and let a few women join their circle of power.

But what happened in 2017? That was organic and driven by women. It was a massive shift in our culture. It was 51 percent of the population demanding long-overdue change in the way we are treated.

In one year, our nation went from a place where 46 percent of American voters didn’t mind having a commander in chief who brags about grabbing women’s genitals to a place where a celebrity chef who allegedly gropes his female employees isn’t considered fit to be in the kitchen.

We are officially traveling at warp speed, my friends.

The Unexpected Year of the Woman was breathtaking, and the momentum can’t be stopped.

Watch out, 2018.

Petula Dvorak writes for The Washington Post. Jay Bookman’s column returns soon.