04/01/2017 12:29 GMT | Updated 05/01/2018 05:12 GMT

For Every Feminist Step Forward In 2016, We Were Dragged Two Steps Back


Despite being the dumpster fire of the decade, 2016 was the year women clapped back. We stopped nodding politely to men's patronising lectures, we said no more to manspreading and called out fuckboys on social media. And yet for every rebellion against everyday sexism, 2016 was a damning indictment of the level of male sexual aggression and entitlement that is still considered acceptable.

2016 saw Ched Evans' conviction of rape quashed following a retrial that dug up the victim's sexual history and used it against her. Evans now returns to his football career, earning a cruel £2000 per week playing for Chesterfield - a deal signed back in June before he was found not guilty.

Similarly, in September, Brock Turner was released from prison early. Turner had been convicted of three felonies which carried a maximum of 14 years imprisonment - assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. The prosecutors asked for six years, the judge gave him six months, he was out in three. I've had courses of antibiotics that lasted longer.

The narrative surrounding both cases was defined by what both men had lost or stood to lose. Evans' career was considered to be in tatters and his salary an insult while Turner had received remarkable leniency due to the impact a prison sentence would have on his promise as an athlete. Both cases were judged on the men's potential merit rather than the actual harm inflicted on the survivors.

Despite every t-shirt that invited people to ask the wearer about their feminist agenda, rape culture in 2016 prospered. Rape culture is the cultural norms and practices that dismiss, belittle and excuse rape, even though each individual finds rape and sexual violence detestable. It's a culture in which the victim is blamed, either overtly or implicitly for their own rape. It promotes the concept of the "good victim" - a victim who is aesthetically and behaviorally modest is one to be believed. They mustn't be perceived to be "asking for it" in any way, they should take precautionary steps to avoid their own rape and they behave appropriately afterwards by reporting it immediately.

Rape culture is allowed to persist because as a society we still value the political, economic and cultural contributions from men higher than those from their female counterparts. It persists because gender roles are still reinforced - boys will be boys, after all. We still have rape culture because women are continually objectified and reduced to sexual commodities. It's why Bernardo Bertolucci was perfectly comfortable directing Marlon Brando to sexually violate Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris in 1979 and equally comfortable admitting to it in 2016. Schneider's bodily integrity was considered a fair price for his art.

11 years ago Donald Trump was caught on tape proudly telling TV show host Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women, "...when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything." he bragged. In little over a week after the recording emerged there were at least 14 further allegations of Trump assaulting and raping women. This is in addition to him making inappropriate comments about 10 and 14-year olds, slut shaming women, mistreating female employees, admitting he hires women based on appearance, and trying to get a woman fired for being pregnant.

In 2016, Trump issued a dismissive apology before getting elected to the most powerful position on the planet. Everything about Trump's election screamed that, unlike Hillary, he was being judged on his promise rather than his past.

America is now being promised as a place where "men know who men are and women know who women are". This isn't a pledge of equality, it's a threat of outdated and damaging gender roles and norms. It says "boys will be boys", excusing their behaviour and affording them an entitlement over women. It tells women that if their boss tries to fire them for getting pregnant or grabs them by the pussy, there won't be any protection or redress.

For every feminist step forward we made in 2016, we were dragged two steps back. While Beyonce and Solange brought the fight for equality into popular culture, and Felicity Jones landed a major win for pay equality in Hollywood, the victims of sexual assault were undermined in the press and the perpetrators were made President.