History is often marked by moments that sometimes seem instantly recognizable as world-changing, while others only seem significant in retrospect, gradually rising in memory until we see how big they really were. Either way, in centuries past, these were often great battles, the coronation of certain kings, the signing of certain documents. In more recent centuries, great speeches and other events were sometimes recorded and remembered as pivotal moments. In the 20th century, these became prominent newspaper and television stories.
Today I think of a few such moments. And as always happens with such great moments, none mark the end of something so much as a turning point. Events leading up to them mattered, and events that followed mattered, but these moments stood out in such a way that no one can look at them and say they did not mark a seismic shift.
Long before the 21st century, one epochal moment was the signing of the Magna Carta, which at the time seemed little but a document that a defeated King signed in a moment of desperation to keep his crown, but which historians now generally recognize as the moment when certain fundamental rights were acknowledged to belong to people whether the governing powers liked it or not. The ideas expressed in that document sparked a change in how people thought of the very idea of “rights,” first in England but slowly spreading across the world from there.
When Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, it was almost 10 months after he had issued his Emancipation Proclamation, which had been an important but flawed document, for it did not free all slaves but merely slaves in rebel territories. And when he did give his speech at Gettysberg many months later, hardly anyone could hear him; people only noticed it after it was printed in newspapers. Furthermore, while he gave that speech a great and horrible civil war still raged around him. And slavery itself was not formally abolished universally in the United States until more than a year later, followed shortly thereafter by Lincoln’s assassination.
Yet despite the strange circumstances of a speech few people even heard spoken, and the many significant related events that happened before and after, few historians today would question that the Gettysburg Address was a pivotal point in American politics, changing forever the history as we remember it; there was Before Gettysburg and After Gettysburg.
Another such event, a few years before my birth, was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963. Casual students of history tend to unthinkingly behave as if somehow that speech was given and this was the end of the civil rights struggle for black Americans. But of course it was not; there had been nearly 100 years of civil rights activism for blacks after slavery was abolished, and King was only one of many who had come before him. Furthermore, by the end of 1963 King himself had already given many speeches in his career—in fact, had given variations on that very same speech before. Furthermore, after that speech, the world did not change overnight; it took another year or two for important civil rights legislation to seal the deal, and even then it was still not over, for within five years after there were race riots, the beginning of something called “white flight,” and more. Some 50 year later, all racial divisions have not been healed in America.
Yet no one can hear that speech and not say, “This was a pivotal moment, a turning point where it became clear that change was not just desirable but inevitable, and on balance the world was better for it.”
Of course, not all great events involve one single person. When the mostly-male (but some female) clientele of the Stonewall Inn began openly rebelling against the police in what eventually became known as the Stonewall Uprising in 1969, respect for the right of gay people to live their lives unharassed and unmolested did not break out across the world. Yet it marked the first time in modern history that gay people stood openly defiant against the establishment elite and said, “No, enough,” refusing to back down. And it set in motion events that culminated in where we are in 2014; in the developed world most people now acknowledge that gay people do not require anyone’s approval, and acknowledge that they should not be harassed, beaten, jailed, or killed, and should instead be free to live their lives as they choose, unmolested.
Still: if you were gay, there was Before Stonewall and there was After Stonewall.
In 1990, Nelson Mandela walked free after 27 years in South African prisons, surrounded by his controversial wife and a throng of admirers. The struggle to end apartheid did not end that day; it had raged for decades before that, and in the years after, there was still much to do, and a lot of dirty laundry had to be aired. A searingly difficult truth and reconciliation process lanced many boils, causing shame not only to those who had enforced apartheid but in many cases also exposing horrible excesses by some who had opposed it; Mandela’s own family was not spared some embarrassment and discomfort. Mandela was a human being, not a god, and like King, like Lincoln, and like all of history’s greats, he was not flawless.
But when Nelson Mandela walked from prison, the world changed, in the blink of an eye, and none can deny this:
As I’ve noted, not all great events involve one single person or group; often they are the result of a simple mass uprising. To this day, possibly the single most remarkable moment of joy for the world that I can remember is this one:
Was the fall of the Berlin Wall really one moment? Not exactly. Years of change within the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations preceded it. But then a series of carelessly ambiguous statements by some East German bureaucrats and some confusion by some wall guards all came together in one startling set of events, and over a period of weeks people began walking through the gates, climbing over the wall, and finally, just plain tearing the damned thing down.
As a student of history, and a genuine hater of totalitarianism, I cannot watch film clips of the Berlin Wall falling without my eyes becoming wet. In a museum, I once got to touch a gigantic slab of that horrible wall that had been preserved for posterity; one side of it was solid gray with nothing but some large stenciled block numbers on it, and the other was colored with wild graffiti, letting you see immediately which side had been the free side and which the prison side. I put my palm flat to its cold suface, on the wildly colored side, and where I suppose others would have felt nothing but stone, I felt a shudder through my whole body, and I teared up.
Was the fall of that wall a “moment?” Yes, though it went on for weeks. Furthermore, did its fall make Russia and Eastern Europe sudden paradises on Earth? Certainly not. Reunifying Germany alone involved a lot of bitterness, recrimination, disappointment, and frustration. A quarter century later, events are unfolding in that part of the world that are not all positive. But no one can look at the fall of the Berlin Wall and deny that the world was one way before, and another way after, and that on the whole the world was better after.
And today I think I another such a great “moment” is upon us. Right here, right now.
Many decades of struggle led up to it. And there will be more struggles to come. But in 2014, a mainstream media feminist organ, the Huffington Post, commissioned a poll and found to its dismay that the overwhelming, crushing majority of women and men do not identify as feminists. And try as they might to hide their ideology behind the weak and inadequate dictionary definition, they could not avoid the fact that countless people who are not feminists believe in equality—and don’t believe feminists when they say they do.
A conference was held amid protests and threats of boycott, vandalism, and death, while the most of the mainstream media laughed and mocked, with only a few taking it seriously—but it was held anyway, without apology and with women and men of different races, creeds, colors, and sexual orientations all agreeing that the rights and needs of men and boys matter, and that they are as deserving of compassion as anyone else, and that painting them as privileged oppressors is a hateful lie.
And to a person they agreed: no, feminism does not have all the answers.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, another wall came tumbling down.
If written documents and speeches were what we tend to remember of the great moments before the 20th-century, and great televised moments in the late 20th century are what we most remember, I think the great moments of the 21st century will be those seen first on the Internet. And one such “Berlin Wall” moment, in 2014, is something we’re watching unfold as I write this. Like pictures of the Berlin Wall crumbling, it is not one event but a series of them, unfolding over time, in images that we can only catch glimpses of as more come in daily.
These pictures, these “selfies,” signal the end of something old and the beginning of something new. The ancien régime in the mainstream media and academia tremble, whipping between fear, confusion, condescension, and rage, none of which is going to make it stop. And it’s expanded beyond Facebook to Tumblr to Twitter.
Is the struggle over? Of course not. The establishment has known for a while now that the vast majority of women (and men) do not believe that feminism is about equality. But now the establishment has to face the fact that increasing number of people of all races, creeds, colors, orientations, and sexes are not afraid to say so. They won’t be hit over the head with a dictionary and told to shut up; they’re calling a lie a lie and they won’t be cowed into silence anymore. It’s the dictionary that needs to be updated to reflect reality, and the feminists and their apologists who need to be educated about it.
Will we see sexual equality and perfect relations between the sexes tomorrow? No. But this is an undeniable signal that a better world is on the way.
Feminists: you can stop the huffing and puffing and pouting and mocking and frenzied denials. None of that will work anymore. These women owe you nothing, and they know it. They owe you no deference. They owe you no particular respect. “No means no,” and they have said “no” to your ideology. We are the overwhelming majority, and we are not feminists.
So, what part of “no” do you not understand?
Women don’t owe you anything. Neither do men. We thank you for nothing, and we won’t let you use the dictionary to hide behind your lies and abuses anymore.
I have spent many years hoping that the world might change when it comes to these issues. And if anything, here’s your sign of the times: