All these years, “woke” was a perfectly fine word. It came in handy while describing how humans began a day; or reluctantly encountered the rough facts of life (“isn’t it time we woke up to reality?”). It then became a way of describing those among the powerful who were more attuned to the inequalities in societies. Not surprisingly, like all illusions go, that ended swiftly: “Woke” has now evolved into the sniggering, poisonous smirk that rises like bile when women need to flag men whose sexism is carefully sheathed, and whose feminism is a spectacular performance, signifying nothing. The brotherhoods of woke men are everywhere, mansplaining equality to women still waiting for the corner office, or hiding their regressive views till they become fashionable again.
The leading politicians of Iceland, one of the most gender-just countries in the world, including a former prime minister, were having lunch at a restaurant, when a man sitting at the next table recorded their conversation. The woke boys were heard talking about their female colleagues in the sexist, sexually charged and dismissive locker-room language that would be right at home in the current White House. They were heard running down the #MeToo movement, evaluating the attractiveness or the lack of it of women, and, most shockingly, laughing at a disabled woman legislator.
What does this tell you? Perhaps, that sexism and patriarchal superiority are deeply, dauntingly, ingrained; that pretenders-as-defenders are an epidemic and we should ask from them action and accountability, and not judge them by hollow words. But it’s also a relief to note that there might be a cost to such offensive behaviour. Iceland’s giant strides in gender equality over the last decades — its current PM is a woman — have meant that the tapes have snowballed into a royal scandal, with loud calls for resignation of the leaders. It’s a measure of the political power of Iceland’s women, that they cannot be mocked without consequences. In this age of misogyny redux, of how many countries could you say that?