BY VIVIAN GORNICK
What is never properly understood by those who do not experience it is how deep the rage over inequality goes once it is made conscious, how far-reaching it can be and yes, how unforgiving. At the moment, the hated imbalance between women and men, the one that all men, everywhere, have exploited for centuries, is in the dock, and women in the thousands have risen up to bring charges against men of power with the crime of having looked not at them but through them for as long as any of them could remember. These women are not yet Madame Defarge knitting at the foot of the scaffold, but half a century of insufficient progress, on the score of sexual predation alone, now fills their heads with blood and leads them to lash out at its ongoing pervasiveness, branding men to the left and to the right with accusations that include acts of real evil as well as those of vulgar insensitivity. As James Baldwin might have put it, an oppressed people does not always wake up a saint; more often it wakes up a murderer.
For many of us, it is dismaying to behold, in a movement meant to correct for social injustice, the development of what can seem like vigilante politics; the dismay, in fact, is being accorded disproportionate attention, as though its existence is more important than what gave rise to it. But if we stop for a moment to think rather than react, we soon come to realize that the courageous demand that begins with a visionary’s declaration of rights can, and usually does, descend quickly into the maddened belligerence characteristic of those who cannot stop rehearsing a grievance that feels very old and reaches far into the past. That is the course history has usually taken, and for the moment, we in America are all trapped in its turmoil.