The Staying Power of the #MeToo Movement
By John D. Winer
February 13, 2018
As sexual harassment bombshells continue to shake up the corporate, political and entertainment industries, victims’ advocated are cautiously optimistc that the #MeToo movement has real staying power and will not blow over like just another hashtag meme.
The latest executive titan to fall is Steve Wynn, who recently stepped down as CEO of Wynn Resorts, after reports surfaced about his alleged involvement in decades of sexual misconduct against hotel casino workers. This is an important milestone as Hollywood, the media, and the Silicon Valley have all had their #MeToo moments. It was just a matter of time before the mistreatment of low-wage workers in the hospitality industry gained more attention.
While the #MeToo movement actually started more than a decade ago by activist Tarana Burke, it didn’t take off until after the sexual abuse accusations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein triggered an avalanche of complaints. The energy of #MeToo connected people and gave victims permission to come out of the shadows, share their stories and find support.
One way this moment can morph into a lasting social movement is to begin reacting to the survivors’ stories in a strategic and coordinated way. The first step is to stop downplaying the impact of noncriminal sexual encounters. Sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace can cause extreme emotional and financial damage and must be taken seriously.
It’s also important to stand up for due process. Those who have experienced harassment, mistreatment or sexual misconduct in the workplace must have the support of the legal system. Lawmakers are scrambling to pass legislation that addresses sexual harassment in Congress and at the state capitols around the nation. The goal is to overhaul outdated and arduous procedures that prohibited victims from coming forward. A bill recently passed by the House of Representatives is aimed at protecting the victims and not the perpetrators and would expose lawmakers who have used taxpayer money to fund secret settlements.
Another critical step is to push back on so-called “rape culture,” which results in normalizing sexism and violence against women. This is perpetuated on TV, in the movies and in music. By glamorizing sexual violence, society is more inclined to respond to allegations of sexual misconduct by blaming the victim, trivializing sexual misconduct, tolerating sexual harassment and refusing to take rape and sexual assault accusations seriously.
As a society, we must stand up against victim-blaming and speak out if we hear someone else making an offensive comment or trivializing violence against women. Sexual harassment and sexual abuse happens to both men and women of all ages, races and economic classes. If a person who has experienced harassment tells you about it, believe them and help them connect with resources that can help. If you are a witness or bystander to an incident involving sexual harassment, be active and intervene. By confronting the harasser, you can help get that person out of a dangerous situation. If you have experienced workplace sexual harassment and are not getting the support of your company’s HR department, seek legal help.
Some observers see parallels between the #MeToo movement and the Civil Rights Movement which connected people who were just learning about what was happening with actual organizations and a coordinated agenda. If #MeToo can continue to mobilize its supporters to sustain high levels of engagement and participation, then this movement has the potential to be part of a lasting solution.