Tarana Burke first founded the Me Too movement in 2006, but it wasn’t until more than ten years later, in October 2017, that #MeToo went viral, coinciding with the news of Harvey Weinstein’s atrocious sexual misconduct that had remained hidden for decades. By December, TIME Magazine had named the “Silence Breakers” the 2017 Person of the Year. As the ball dropped concluding yet another eventful year, 2018 was greeted by the emergence of Time’s Up, a coalition of over 300 women currently working in the film industry to end sexual mistreatment of women.
To briefly distinguish #MeToo from Time’s Up, #MeToo uses “the idea of ‘empowerment through empathy’” in order “to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly young women of color from low wealth communities, find pathways to healing.” This movement became popularized by actress Alyssa Milano upon her insistence that women use Twitter as a channel to connect victims of sexual abuse and harassment through the spread of #MeToo.
Time’s Up “addresses the systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace that have kept underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential” through the promotion and partnership with groups to enact legislation aimed at eliminating sexual misconduct across a multitude of work environments.The pioneers of Time’s Up also strive to help women who have suffered through sexual abuse or harassment access “legal and public relations” aid. This initiative is driven by the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund and administered by the National Women’s Law Center.
Photo Credit: DPA
The combined missions and impact of #MeToo and Time’s Up have significantly assisted the growing awareness of sexual violation women are exposed to within America and other parts of the world. In the past 6 months alone we have witnessed the stunning exposures of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Lawrence G. Nassar, the team doctor for the US women’s Olympic gymnastics team, and many other previously renowned professionals.
With these revelations, the world has watched in awe and amazement as punishment was doled out. Harvey Weinstein was fired from his company as a class action lawsuit was filed against him. Matt Lauer was dismissed from his longtime position as an anchor on The Today Show. Kevin Spacey was fired from both House of Cards and Oscar-nominated All the Money in the World. Nassar is now serving 40 to 175 years in prison for crimes including his repeated sexual violation of gymnasts under his treatment as well as child pornography.
This is a highly positive start on the journey for equality and elimination of sexual abuse towards women, particularly in the business of film and acting. Women with the credibility, resources, and mobility to catalyze change are forming groups such as Time’s Up to promote and finance safer work conditions for women. What must we now ask ourselves is, how can we help? How can we use our resources as students, educators, parents, siblings, business owners, doctors (the list could go on and on) to work with this heightened thirst for change? How can we assure that the goals of these movements target not just women in film but across all careers, classes, and demographics?
Photo Credit: TIME
For starters, it is important that we don’t let ourselves forget. Apart from Trump’s barrage of tweets and the sickening number of mass shootings that characterize our political, social, and cultural environment, it is safe to say that a lot is going on in the United States right now. So it is our job, as proponents of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, to make sure that they remain at the forefront of news and to continue to push for greater measures that enhance gender equality. Instead of naming these movements as the benchmarks of 2017 and 2018, let’s allow them to become the groups that transcend the months, years, and decades after their arrival.
It is also crucial that we educate those around us on the mission and goals of #MeToo and Time’s Up, so as to garner support and a culture of collaboration across industries. As many beloved celebrities were exposed for sexual harassment in the wake of these movements, it’s not surprising that common backlash centered on fears that justice would soon transform into a witch hunt.
Photo Credit: Time’s Up
What needs to come from the events following #MeToo and infiltrate into workplaces across the spectrum, is the understanding that sexual assault and harassment is a universal, objective atrocity. The sexual violation of women, or anyone regardless of their gender or sexual identity, should possess a severity that surpasses the importance of wealth, fame, or class.
Cases like that of Harvey Weinstein should serve as an example that fame and credibility don’t buy your way out of punishment. In her 2012 Golden Globe acceptance speech, Meryl Streep referred to him as “God.” He was inducted as a Commander of the British Empire (an honorary title ranked just below knighthood) and was renowned for his many humanitarian accolades. Yet one must remember that these accomplishments and titles carry no weight when sexual harassment is mixed in. A gifted actor, producer, or well known professional is not exempt from the rules and should not receive lighter repercussions because it is hard to come to terms with the fact that they are morally reprehensible people.
So if these women can push aside power relations and the elite hierarchies of Hollywood to expose “God,” then we can use the status we have within our own social circles to fight for protective measures at the grassroots level. We can start by reading stories brought to light by the #MeToo movement. Often those who tweet #MeToo attach their own personal story to it, thus providing us with genuine insight into the invisible sufferings that many women have been subjected to. This will expand the interconnections of the empathy that #MeToo promotes. With our new knowledge of the prevalence of and hardships stemming from sexual misconduct, we are more likely to recognize it in a situation as well as take measures to prevent it.
If you have never been touched by a story of sexual assault, you should not feel unjustified in wishing to become involved with this movement. The eradication of sexual misconduct requires all of us to become more enlightened on the topic. If you have never tweeted #MeToo because you are not a victim, you aren’t isolated from the issue, you are simply lucky to have not been put through that experience.
Photo Credit: Mashable
Allow me to provide a few brief facts provided by Time’s Up in order to kickstart our education:
- “1 in 3 women ages 18 to 34 have been sexually harassed at work. 71% of those women said they did not report it.”
- “Nearly half of working women in the U.S. say they have experienced harassment in the workplace.”
- “More than one-third of the world’s countries do not have any laws prohibiting sexual harassment at work—leaving nearly 235 million working women vulnerable in the workplace.”
Women will be more likely to report sexual harassment if they know they will receive understanding, support, and that their testament won’t be discounted by employers. Understanding will evolve from increased awareness of what it is like to live through a painful experience, which is why we all must show open support for those tweeting and who are still not comfortable tweeting #MeToo.
However, throwing our support behind these women is not enough. There must be greater action to prevent the assault from occurring and immediate punishment when it does. The bureaucracy and complicated internal relations within a workplace, however, often don’t allow for swift or preventative measures.
An article published by the New York Times during the height of #MeToo revealed that the nature of an HR personnel’s employment within a company binds them to that company’s well-being. Someone working in human resources could find their career hindered by the exposure of a top professional or simply from attempting to pursue a report of sexual misconduct. “The result can often be that human resources personnel are more inclined to suppress allegations than get to the bottom of them.” The article also notes that “A 2016 study by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission reported that of all the options available to workers experiencing harassment…the least common response of either men or women was to take formal action.”
The New York Times article shows that sexual harassment and assault is not yet considered an objective violation but something that can be smothered to save face. Companies and businesses must, therefore, construct procedures that give HR departments more freedom and maneuverability to treat sexual harassment cases in manners that are efficient and beneficial to the victim. There must also be zero repercussions for the HR employee working the case.
Photo Credit: Thought Catalog
Lastly, it is important to expand protective policy and mindsets to undocumented women, many of whom never come forward with cases of sexual assault. Their silence is derived from fear of being reported to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an action that often runs the risk of deportation. Immigrant women are then faced with the fear that they will be separated from their children.
Organizations such as Legal Aid at Work provide information detailing that undocumented immigrants are protected from anti-discriminatory laws in the workforce, including sexual harassment, but reveal that should an undocumented worker come forward with a discrimination claim, they risk “retaliation” often in the form of exposure to the ICE.
For this reason, among countless others, undocumented women endure sexual harassment on a daily basis. The economic livelihood of their families and themselves take precedence over the safety of their bodies. And since there are only so many Ashley Judds in the world, it is our responsibility as professional, compassionate employers and employees to protect these women. As a society, we must treat cases of sexual assault with increased severity. In cases involving sexual assault or similar treatment, there should be policies in place that prevent an employer from utilizing the legal status of a worker as a weapon to facilitate silence.
So read and share stories that have impacted you. Educate yourself. Become proponents of #MeToo and Time’s Up. Use your mobility and resources to help others who are often stagnant and invisible. You can also donate to organizations such as Time’s Up and provide legal help to those in need. These movements are not merely about hunting for justice but seeking to implement positive and lasting change.
Cover Photo Credit: Facebook