Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, much has been spoken of sexual harrassment, the ordeals women face at the workplace, in domestic settings and otherwise. A three article series seeks to explore the foundations of and the reactions to the movement that has ensued.
This series has been written by a Perennials intern and has been edited by Perennials’ editors who also gave their support in providing inputs and guidelines.
The world is changing, and so are the voices. People around the world have started to realize that voices matter, raising ones’ voice is key to revolution. Therefore, one experiences the everyday hum-drum of multiple protests, strikes, movements, campaigns. Unfortunately, the one with the capacity to produce life finds it difficult to sustain her own. The widespread success of the ‘Me Too’ movement and ‘Times Up’ campaign reveal the atrocities women face across the globe. These movements have awakened the global consciousness about the hurdles in both personal and professional lives of women, with their focal point being – lending a voice to the otherwise oppressed and silenced women.
The #Metoo was brought up by Alyssa Milano in October 2017, in the wake of Harvey Weinstein being accused by New York Times of sexually harassing several women.1
“If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
She attached with the tweet a screenshot sent to her by her friend Charles Clymer, a sexual assault victim, who influenced her step. The tweet, made on 16 October, received 55,000 replies by next morning, making #Metoo on the top of the list of trending hashtags on Twitter. Since then, #Metoo has taken over the world. Milano states that she is blessed to be the vessel, the messenger of this ‘perfect storm’. The movement that she kindled, has resulted in the formulation of an army of women worldwide, including Uma Thurman, Bjork Sheryl, Lady Gaga, Molly Ringwald, Ilama Glazer to name a few, speaking out against harassment.2
Although #Metoo hit the limelight immediately after Milano’s tweet, it was not the first time it was used. The term was originally coined by Tarana Burke, who almost 12 years ago established an activist group called ‘Me Too’ with the aim to help survivors of sexual violence, mainly black women. Her work, however, was not meant to be made public, since Burke believed that the task she undertook must be ‘done in the dark’, a thought which served to initially frighten her out of her wits when the tweets broke. Nonetheless, she was later invited to the Golden Globe Awards and was also felicitated with the Person of the Year award by Times Magazine featuring the ‘silence breakers’. Burke said that ” I don’t think that every single case of sexual harassment has to result in someone being fired; the consequence[s] should vary. But we need a shift in culture so that every single instance of sexual harassment is investigated and dealt with…”. For twenty years, Burke has been silently coming up with programmes to help victims of sexual abuse, without any revelation to the world. Her experience with the victimized makes her aware of the sheer intensity of the problem. At a ‘Me Too’ workshop Burke ran, for high school age girls in Tuskegee, Alabama, she handed the girls a worksheet, asking them to note three things they hadn’t known before, and write ‘me too’ on the top of the paper if they needed help. The results were shocking. She had expected 2-3 “me toos” from the 30 girls, whereas she received 20. She believes that the line must be drawn between self-esteem and self-worth. It was important for the girls to realize their importance as GIRLS. They need not be beautiful, but they need to understand their worth and preserve it.1
The response to the #Metoo movement comes in the form of the Times Up movement. On 1st January 2018, a small group of Hollywood celebrities initiated this movement, through an open letter published on the Times Up website. It was influenced by an open letter published in the Times from Alianza National de Compesians, noting the sexual harassment among more than 700,000 female farm workers. It was addressed to women around the world and called to unite on the stand of helping victims across professions and disciplines, and to support those with lesser means to stand up and speak out.3
Looking at the massive success of these movements, one might wonder why were such issues lost in the dark, to begin with? Why do women hide their struggles? At the workplace, it is reported that 35% i.e. more than a third of the female workers, claim to encounter sexual harassment. This throws light on the reason for the humongous success of these movements. They empower women with agency, which otherwise stands lost for multiple reasons. It must be noted that being subject to such trepidatious work conditions women are likely to suffer from social and psychological disorders. Sexual harassment at work can typically comprise of trade-offs such as a manager demanding sexual favors as a barter for giving an employee a better assignment or altering their working hours, in blatant abuse of their position and power.4
According to a study, 75% of workplace assault victims in America faced reprisal when they spoke up, which supplements the reason why this social evil has been shamelessly flourishing all this time. Cultural conventions, fear and shame pave the way for sexual harassment to go understated. Harvey Weinstein’s case of victimizing actresses, journalists, musicians, etc. and intimidating them into silence has unveiled the cyclic structure of the perpetual trauma women face at the workplace. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a government agency in charge of processing reported complaints of sexual harassment, reveals that 30,000 of the total 90,000 complaints received in 2015 incorporate a harassment charge; however, the number reported, is far lesser than the actual figures. Formal reporting is the most unlikely response among men and women who have experienced harassment in the workplace.5
Therefore, the #Metoo and Times Up movements have acted as a catalyst to the uprising of hidden female voices. It has also, to some extent, enabled men who have faced harrassment at work, notably in the entertainment industry, to speak up as well. Stories that had been tucked away in fear have now not only revealed the hideous nature of assaults, but also the ensuing struggles of victims; calling to attention the imperative necessity for action. There is hope that the torch will continue to be borne globally in putting an end to the terror of harrasment.
CITATIONS AND REFERENCES