Sitting in a roomful of blustering men, Nancy Pelosi was the calm, cool center. As Donald Trump and Chuck Schumer jabbed each other with one-liners and Mike Pence sat in stricken silence during a White House press-op meant to show legislation in action, Pelosi kept briskly to the point: What’s best for the American public. After, she strode out of the White House in a flame-throwing orange coat and explained herself to reporters: “I was trying to be the mom."
Pelosi, in a moment that exemplified her mastery of negotiation and political power, likened that mastery and power to that of a mom. Indeed, all around us, from the confident freshman class women elected to Congress this year to the hard-working women who replaced some pretty terrible men in the wake of #MeToo, to the already powerful women flexing their muscles in fresh ways, the ascent of women to power has been about being the mom — calling the shots, fed up with the nonsense, and here to make everything better.
And “moms” have the skills to do it: They are used to efficiently cleaning up messes and efficiently delegating assignments and efficiently making sure everyone is fed and swaddled and clean and dry and wearing shoes on the right foot. There are calendars to be synced and bills to be paid. Moms are used to managing difficult bosses and difficult employees and difficult Bobs in another department who just wanted to give some feedback based on his extensive expertise. They are used to babies and crybabies and bullies and mansplainers and dickheads. They are used to it all because it is a long road to travel from being a little girl to being a woman, and when you throw in gestating and/or raising other humans, often in multiples, there is just a lot to manage, and you figure out how to do it pretty quickly because if you don't you'll sink slowly into the bathtub and possibly just stay there.
At the end of this bruising, vexing year, the message may just be: the matriarchy is coming.
Damn, has 2018 made that long road clear — but in an amazing, forceful, and dare I say, hopeful way. Because even as that road has been littered with Trumps and Kavanaughs and Moonveses and surprise return sets by Louis CK, somehow we've marched over it all to a place where the power of women cannot be ignored. It's the power of women leading, doing the work, organizing, activating — and winning. And at the end of this bruising, vexing year, the message may just be: the matriarchy is coming.
I might be biased, since I’m a mom. (Single, sole-breadwinning mom to boot.) But I’m also a veteran of the last decade-plus of gender activism, and despite an, er, setback in 2016 (pause to hyperventilate into a paper bag), women have been decisively on the rise. Yes, it was a painfully rude awakening when we went out to vote for Hillary in our white pantsuits in November 2016 and woke up the next day to President-elect Trump. But wow was it galvanizing.
Just as elections have consequences, elections are consequences — in the case of the 2018 midterms, the consequences of tireless organizing, marching, phone-banking, donating, amplifying, and running. (Hello, 119th Congress and your 126 women.) It's not just in government, though—it's everywhere. In 2017 we saw men of eye-popping power and privilege be swiftly cut down by #MeToo; in 2018 we saw almost half of those men get replaced by women. We saw the almost too-big-to-fail Les Moonves topple after literal decades of abuses despite a board that was prepared retrench around him like so many GOP Senators approving a Trump judge.
We saw TimesUp pulling in a massive haul and we are slowly and painfully seeing women demanding more opportunities and autonomy and recognition in entertainment and media. We are seeing women band together in networks meant to pull each other up, we see women highlighting each other and investing in each other, not just angling for a seat at the table or even schlepping their own chair, but in many cases building their own damn table. And we're seeing real money flowing to the above, in grudging recognition that women have the financial power to want to see themselves represented everywhere.
No offense to the progressive gents out there (#NotAllMen!), but if you saw women being elected then you saw women being propelled upward by the forces of other women—angry and inspired. The monstrous and still-gut-wrenching 2016 election gave us the silver lining of the historic and undeniable Women's Marches and orgs like Run For Something, and gave new urgency to pre-existing groups like She Should Run, Higher Heights, Vote Run Lead, NARAL, Moms Demand Action and Emily's List — all founded by women and built into powerhouses for their candidates of choice. It also brought us a galvanized cohort of women doing the consistent grunt work of change-making — 86% of all those calls to Congress we all exhorted each other to make were made by women. Shocker.
The nomenclature Moms Demand Action is significant (full name: Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America). It's not Moms asking for gun sense. It's not Moms suggesting that hey, maybe we can think about doing things differently. The Twitter handle is @MomsDemand — a statement unto itself. This is what we are demanding. This is what we will take. 2018 has not been a year about asking gingerly. We tried that in 2016 (raise your hand if you were in a secret group to talk about supporting Hillary Clinton because it was too toxic and exhausting posting publicly about it. I was). In 2018, women were done just asking for change. The best meme of 2018 was the "Me in 2016 vs. Me in 2018" — marking the shift from open-hearted and hopeful to grizzled, tensed and resolute. It's not a coincidence that one of the most-shared versions of that meme was Robin Wright as princess vs. Robin Wright as warrior.
Can we define Matriarchy as not-Patriarchy? If we can, we're about to get to see this in real time.
This all may be wishful thinking. Systems are entrenched for a reason, and men, especially white men, aren't just going to hand over their power voluntarily, and the women who benefit from patriarchy aren't giving up their power without a fight.
The Trump Administration does a good job of hiding behind female figures who sell empowerment but are empty vessels, fully complicit in the patriarchy of Trumpism. Ivanka Trump, self-proclaimed patron saint of women and children and families (remember that campaign ad, “The most important job any woman can have is being a mother?”), weakly protesting her father’s horrific child-separation policy while posting carefully-curated moments of privilege with her toddler son. First Lady Melania Trump, whose putative attempt to remake herself as a crusader against bullying was revealed as utter farce when she visited the border in a jacket that proclaimed loudly and intentionally (and forever just so weirdly) "I DON'T CARE, DO U?' The White House and its apologists and sanitizers are and will be forever tarnished by this, especially Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Sanders, both of whom have used their motherhood as a shield against criticism. And let’s not forget all the white Republican women who voted for this.
The Trump administration doesn’t just exemplify patriarchy — it represents anti-matriarchy due to the utter absence of the qualities associated with motherhood — nurturing, caring, loving. The Trump Administration is a black hole where those qualities are concerned, rotting downward like the proverbial fish head. Maybe that is why the GOP is losing its hold on women, who are more likely to identify as Democrats — specifically young women, boding well for dreams of a next-gen matriarchy. The pink wave did not hold true for Republicans, as the number of GOP women in Congress actually dropped following the midterm elections (and one Republican lawmaker just switched sides to Democrat, citing untenable GOP policies).
But now, of course, we are about to see more women in Congress than ever before. Think of how much more Maxine Waters might have gotten accomplished in the last two years if she had a quorum of progressive, hard-charging DGAF women backing her up. Change ratios, change outcomes. Can we define Matriarchy as not-Patriarchy? If we can, we're about to get to see this in real time.
So maybe it's not so wild to think of a not-so-distant future where we might, in fact, find ourselves living in a matriarchy.
And here's another secret, nurturing flame of hope I haven't yet put in writing, but if you've read this far, then what the heck, let's go all in: If matriarchy just means "a woman at the top," then we may not be far from that, too. Because Nancy Pelosi — that motherfucking boss of a mom — is poised to become the next Speaker of the House. And the blue/pink/orange-wave infused Democratic Congress is about to take office. And Robert Mueller sure seems to be busy, and Michaels Cohen and Flynn sure seem to be chatty. And after the Vice-President, the Speaker of the House is next in line for the Presidency. Gee, I wonder if the super-competent woman who delivered the House to Democrats by the biggest margin in decades and has outplayed every adversary who's tried to trip her up while she confidently strides over them, backwards and in heels, has thought of that.
So maybe it's not so wild to think of a not-so-distant future where we might, in fact, find ourselves living in a matriarchy. Where women have power and agency, and a voice. Where women have money and influence and collectively raise each other up. Where justice and fairness and compassion and law and order are not mutually exclusive, but actually align. Where economic freedom and reproductive freedom and the link between the two is acknowledged and respected. Where "like a mom" is seen as a mark of respect and aspiration. Or, put more bluntly: Where bitches get shit done. It's been a bruising 2018. But at the end of it, damned if it doesn't finally seem possible.
I, for one, welcome our new mom overlords.