Women are finally reaching critical mass in decision-making roles and what was accepted behavior in the past is no more.

Share story

Strangely, in this weird moment in history that we are all living in, it’s a good time to be alive.

I’ve been a feminist most of my adult life, at least since I realized the power imbalances that were rampant in present and past societies. After dedicating most of the 1990s and 2000s to fighting “the good fight” in the trenches, I burned out and left women’s issues to fight other injustices.

During my time in the women’s sector, I spent a lot of time researching women’s history, and advocating and raising money for research into issues of violence and abuse. I have to admit, I left because although I saw incremental changes, I never saw the kind of change I was looking for: fundamental systems change.

At least not until the #MeToo movement came along.

#MeToo gave crusty old Gen-X feminists like me hope for a better future — for women and for men. And it all came down to the question of consent and power imbalances.

The focus on consent has made men all over the world stop and think. Have I ever pushed a woman too far for sex? Did I ever say something that made the women in my life uncomfortable? Am I one of those men?

In fact, I’ve often wondered where the flip side to the #MeToo movement was — where’s the #IRegret movement? Should this profound societal change be driven completely by those who experienced harassment, violence and abuse? Or do those responsible for their own behavior not need to acknowledge their part in this too?

I’m convinced that consent — in all its forms — will drive real change.

When two (or three or more, whatever your jam is) people enter into a mutually consensual sexual encounter, it’s bound to be better for everyone. In this, the Bondage Domination Sadism and Masochism (BDSM) community actually has a lot to teach us. Every single act has to be consensual, and individuals need only use a safe word or symbol for the activity to stop. So it’s not impossible — it just takes forethought and not just foreplay.

When the focus is on consent, it’s funny how easily other inequities also rise to the surface.

Think about the recent BBC gender-pay disparity, or the actors Claire Foy in the Netflix series “The Crown” and Michelle Williams in the Hollywood film “All the Money in the World,” who both fought for and won equal pay after discovering otherwise.

While some worry change is only occurring in the entertainment industry, the ripples are already starting to be seen elsewhere. Perhaps we needed an industry locus to point the spotlight, if you will, on the power imbalances that exist elsewhere, and everywhere.

Why is this happening now?

Many reasons, but also the simple passage of time and the maturation of the women’s movement play a significant role. Women are finally reaching critical mass in decision-making roles and what was accepted behavior in the past is no more. And with these female leaders in place — in business, in sports, in politics — other women are feeling empowered and are rising, and they are taking some men with them.

Witness the powerful #Repealthe8th and #HometoVote movements that dominated the recent Irish abortion referendum.

This is all bound to confuse some men. Roles and rules are changing under their very feet. What was solid ground is now quicksand. But within a generation, the new rules of consent will be understood by everyone, and things will calm down.

I’m thrilled I’ve lived long enough to see this moment in history. As a historian, I am acutely aware of how future historians may analyze this moment in time. This could well be the beginning of an entirely new historical period.

Welcome to the Age of Consent.