The #MeToo campaign started by actor Alyssa Milano in response to revelations about sexual harassment by producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017 generated millions of responses from women reporting sexual assault or harassment. It generated even more hits than #EverydaySexism that started in England[i] with millions of responses from women reporting sexual assault or harassment (more than six million hashtags were posted from October to December). Women around the world joined in to post their stories on social media, including in Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan and India. French women called their campaign “Expose Your Pig” (#AlanceTonPorc) Muslim women started #DearSister to express their voices. In Pakistan, the controversial film Verna (2017) tells the story of a teacher who is abducted and raped by the son of a governor. The Central Board of Film Censors banned the film for “maligning state institutions,” but an appellate board lifted the ban due to the #UnbanVerna campaign. (Saving Face about the victim of an acid attack and A Girl in the River, about an attempted honor killing, also addressed violence against Pakistani women.)
Public awareness of sexual harassment was sparked in 1991 when Anita Thomas was seen on TV testifying to the all white male Judiciary Committee about Clarence Thomas, which incited more women to enter politics especially when the committee wouldn’t allow other women to testify against Thomas. Currently about 40% of women say they have experienced unwanted sexual attention or coercion at work, but one study found three-quarters of people who spoke up about harassment faced retaliation. What makes women vulnerable is their low status and lack of power at work: Women are 35% more likely to live in poverty than men. In Scandinavia women have more independence because the “nanny state” provides cradle-to-the-grave security. The #MeToo Twitter campaign again raised public awareness around the world and resulted in some prominent harassers like Harvey Weinstein being fired; articles about him published in October of 2017 resulted in action. The movement also encouraged the 19 women who accuse Trump of harassment to speak out and one of them, Summer Zervos, filed a suit against me for defamation of character for calling her and the other liars.[ii] Some solutions are stronger and more unions, raising boys differently, more women in power, and restricting nondisclosure agreements. The TIME Magazine persons of the year were the “Silence Breakers.”
Over 300 women prominent in the entertainment energy, featuring women of color (i.e., Shonda Rhimes, Eva Longoria, America Ferrera), developed “Time’s Up” announced on January 1, 2018. They secured $13 million in donations to a Legal Defense Fund to help blue-collar women, promote legislation to penalize companies with ongoing harassment, and a push for gender equality in the entertainment industry. Their webpage with resources is https://www.timesupnow.com. They asked women to wear black at the Golden Globes film awards and to talk about the problem rather than who designed their dresses. Leaderless, they organize in working groups in Los Angeles, New York and London. Rhimes explained, “We just reached this conclusion in our heads that, damn it, everything is possible. Why shouldn’t it be?”[iii] Rheese Witherspoon said, “We have been siloed off from each other….We’re now locking arms in solidarity with each other….”
[ii] “The 19 Women who Accused President Trump of Sexual Misconduct,” The Atlantic, December 7, 2017.
[iii] Cara Buckley, “Powerful Hollywood Women Unveil Anti-Harassment Action Plan,” New York Times, January 1, 2018.