What is the #MeToo Movement?
The #MeToo first gained popular momentum in October of 2017 when the New York Times reported on allegations of rape and sexual assault against American film producer Harvey Weinstein. Actresses and former employees of Miramax Films and The Weinstein Company, where Weinstein worked, came forward with stories of sexual abuse by the producer. This investigation inspired sexual assault survivors across the United States to speak out about their own experiences, using the hashtag #metoo. However, the #MeToo movement did not originate with Weinstein's victims. It was activist Tarana Burke who founded MeToo over a decade earlier and dedicated her life to helping survivors of sexual assault and ending sexual violence. In 2017, after stories about Weinstein went public, actress Alyssa Milano was the one who turned the hashtag viral by encouraging her followers to use #metoo and open up about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault.
#MeToo Was a Major Step to Eliminating Sexual Harassment in Our Society
Because of the #MeToo movement, 2017 saw a wave of women publicly sharing painful experiences of harassment and rape and calling attention to gender-based discrimination in the workplace. As a result, a number of high-profile perpetrators, in particular men in the entertainment industry, were accused of sexual assault and harassment. Harvey Weinstein now faces a criminal trial in New York for raping a woman in 2013 and sexually assaulting another woman in 2006. Actor Kevin Spacey, best known for his role in Netflix series House of Cards, was accused of sexually harassing an underage boy in the 1980s and of groping a young man in 2016. In response, Netflix dropped Spacey from its final season of the House of Cards. Comedian and actor Louis C.K. was accused of sexual misconduct by several women and disappeared from public life for two years.
Beyond individual cases, #MeToo had a widespread impact in the United States. For example, several states have passed laws banning the use of non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment cases. These agreements were used by men like Weinstein to keep victims silent about their experiences. A group of Hollywood women founded Time's Up, a fund to help survivors of sexual misconduct to find legal representation. This fund has helped over 3,600 people. States like New York and California expanded worker protections to cover independent contractors, who previously had little legal power to report sexual harassment. In this way, #MeToo has encouraged conversations about sexual harassment and gender equality and made our society more conscious of unbalanced gender dynamics.
Despite its positive aspects, #MeToo has faced a backlash from advocates, activists, and politicians who think the movement has gone too far. Because of #MeToo's power and popularity on social media, it has enabled people to accuse men of sexual harassment without providing any evidence to back up their claims. In addition, the court of public opinion has condemned a number of men for actions that are not obviously criminal or wrong. For example, the website Babe.net published an anonymous account by a woman who went on a date with actor Aziz Ansari and said that he made her uncomfortable with his sexual advances. Though there was an outpouring of support for the victim, the story was criticized for providing little evidence, and Ansari's actions were not seen by all as constituting sexual assault. In another example, during his confirmation hearing, U.S. Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh was accused by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford of having tried to rape her at a house party when both were in high school. Dr. Ford testified before Congress and earned praise and support from many women, sexual assault survivors, and the Democratic Party leadership. However, many people, particularly on the Republican side of the aisle, felt that the allegations were blown out of proportion and politically motivated.
The backlash to #MeToo has had widespread consequences in the American workplace. According to a 2019 survey by Harvard Business Review, 19% of men said they were more reluctant to hire attractive women after #MeToo, and 21% said they were reluctant to hire women for jobs that required interpersonal interactions with men. In addition, 27% of men said they now avoided one-on-one meetings with female colleagues. Some media outlets have even dubbed this phenomenon the "Pence effect" after Vice President Mike Pence who refuses to dine alone with a woman who isn't his wife. This backlash has had a detrimental effect on women, too: Men's reluctance to interact with female colleagues deprives young women of valuable mentorship opportunities and can make career advancement more challenging.
#MeToo movement's cultural impact in the United States and across the world is undeniable. Conversations about gender, sexual harassment, and navigating challenging workplace situations have become a norm for Americans. But, two years after the movement gained its momentum, and over a decade after founder Tarana Burke coined the term, people are still grappling with its consequences. Now, in 2020, as the Weinstein trial unfolds, the debate about the power and reach of #MeToo will undoubtedly continue. Ultimately, it is up to each individual to learn the history of #MeToo and decide: Has #MeToo gone too far or not far enough?