In Massachusetts, Patriot’s Day is celebrated annually with the mother of all marathons. Growing up, I assumed that every American schoolkid had Patriot’s Day off, to commemorate the first battles of the Revolutionary War; later, I learned that it’s about as common as calling a water fountain a “bubbler.” Regardless, this Patriot’s Day was a fine one for American women, and days later, I am still glowing from the gynophoria.
My national pride comes not just from an American woman powering through frigid headwinds and pelting rain to win the Boston Marathon for the first time since Geraldine Ferraro was on the Democratic ticket, but from other triumphs this Patriot’s Day. Those victories remind us that with the law and a free press on our side, new revolutionary battles can be fought and won.
Over the course of a few hours this week, Dana Canedy, the first woman and first person of color to administer the Pulitzer Prizes, awarded the Public Service Award to The New York Times and The New Yorker for investigations into sexual harassment and rape. Stormy Daniels stood before a judge and then delivered a statement reporters outside the courthouse, saying she refused to be silenced by the president and his barely legal lawyer.
In another courtroom, Andrea Constand wrapped up her seven-hour testimony about allegedly being drugged and raped by the retired Dr. Huxtable, supported by other Bill Cosby rape survivors, many of whom were finally permitted to take the stand. And a crew of workers removed a statue in Central Park of the “Father of Gynecology” who experimented on enslaved women, stories that were brought to light through the reporting of writer Harriet Washington.
This is our country. The sun is breaking through.
“What a glorious morning for America!” Samuel Adams said, upon hearing of victory at the battle of Lexington in 1775. I felt much the same this week. Our most powerful weapons of justice were forged in the aftermath of those revolutionary battles ― jurisprudence and journalism. And damn, we’re using them to bring about progress, despite the formidable power and historical antecedents of what we are facing.
I’m not a believer in astrology (except for Scorpio men; watch out for those dudes). But there was some poetry in Mercury ― named for the Roman god of profit and trade, of tricksters and thieves ― moving beyond its retrograde phase on this Patriot’s Day. What has long been retrograde is finally skulking into the shadows.
For years before this moment, the silencing of women was the discourse of gender studies seminars, a topic for a certain type of woman ― in overalls and Doc Marten’s, maybe, like myself ― who was a punchline for certain swath of society. She and her theories ― and that’s all they were understood to be, theories ― were dismissable, laughed at, ghettoized. Our gender-wide gag order has been issued from the highest levels, not just by cultural power, but by attorneys and bank transfers and signed contracts.
No longer. This Patriot’s Day, stories about the silencing of women won prizes, took the stand and toppled statues.
When Bill O’Reilly threatened reporter Emily Steel in 2015, well before the hashtag heard around the world, it was a different era, one that is beginning to feel as distant as the pre-revolutionary days (or at least the ’90s). “I am coming after you with everything I have,” O’Reilly told her in an on-the-record phone conversation when she called for comment after uncovering millions of dollars of settlements paid out to women he’d harassed in exchange for their secrecy. Steel took him down with hard reporting, of course, backed up by a battalion of editors and fact-checkers, and financed by an army of subscribers. And now she has the further validation of a Pulitzer Prize to show for it.
That was even before Times reporters Meghan Twohey and Jodi Kantor unraveled Harvey Weinstein’s royal robes. As Twohey said in a speech at the Times office when the Pulitzers were announced, “We didn’t want to publish a first story that set off debate about what had really happened. Our aim was to publish a story that would cause debate about how so many allegations had accumulated at all.” They did this knowing Weinstein had hired former Mossad agents to terrify and muzzle the women who knew what he really was.
Kantor described their “discovery of what now seems like an entire system of silencing women and erasing their experiences. Settlements that prevent victims from warning others,” and “nondisclosure agreements that intimidate witnesses.” She later posted on Instagram a picture she took while she was writing her half of the speech, of her toddler wearing a baseball hat embroidered with the word “FACTS.” The facts have always been there, but as Kantor describes, they’ve been systemically suppressed.
We have decades of facts about Cosby, obscured from memory with his stash of blue pills. Pills that could not only knock a woman out while he raped her, as Janice Dickinson described in court, would but silence her first. “Were you able to verbalize and tell him to stop?” a prosecuting attorney asked Constand. “I couldn’t say anything. I was trying to get my hands to move, my legs to move and the message just wasn’t getting there,” the former star athlete replied.
Constand filed her claim just days before the 12-year Pennsylvania statute of limitations would silence her forever. The 60 other women who say Cosby raped them ― and any more we don’t yet know about ― will never be able to see him take the stand for his crimes against their lives. The night before opening statements, Cosby’s lawyers even attempted to get the judge kicked off the bench, due to his wife’s work as a college therapist who counsels students who have been sexually assaulted.
Similarly, we have decades of facts about our pussy-grabbing president, whose own ex-wife accused him of raping her in rage because he was unhappy with how his hair looked. And who, through his “fixer” Michael Cohen, has muzzled even consenting adults with hush money and threats. Who believes that he controls the courts enough to bend the law to his will. Who thinks, like a proper dictator, that he is the law. Unlike Cosby, or Weinstein, or O’Reilly, or other powerful men in our vast firmament of abuse, this man has the power to appoint judges. For now, he and Cohen are stuck with Kimba Wood, who graduated from Harvard Law School when just six percent of her class was female, became one of the first women to break into the boys club of anti-trust law and who President Bill Clinton had considered for Attorney General.
In the onerous game of respectability politics, the winners have long been those fastening the muzzles. For now, at least, credibility has shifted to those who have torn them off. No matter Stormy Daniels’ 419 porn credits on IMDb, or the live act where she strips, lotions her body and rolls in dollar bills; she is still more respected than the president of the United States. Because facts matter, like the facts that are hidden under shady non-disclosure agreements. Or the fact that 994 of 1,000 accused rapists go free. No longer are allegations the prurient whispers of scandal. They are the stuff of public service. They are the stuff of patriotic journalism and justice; the silencers are off the guns.
Lauren Sandler is a journalist and the author of Righteous, One and Only and a forthcoming book about a year in the life of a young homeless mother.