On October 5, 1997, the New York Times published an article detailing decades worth of allegations against Harvey Weinstein. From there, Weinstein lost his position in his company, other victims of sexual assault and harassment began to come forward and the #MeToo Movement came into prominence. Now, a year later, in the throes of the Kavanaugh allegations, #MeToo is carrying on, and, while it has initiated the much-needed conversation about sexual misconduct, the movement now needs to adapt and grow more intersectional more if more progress is to be made.
#MeToo may have become famous from the Weinstein allegations, but the hashtag itself has existed for about a decade. The movement began in 2007 as Just Be Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to helping sexual assault and harassment victims, and its founder, Tarana Burke, was an African American woman.
However, Me Too would not become a household name until 2017 when white actress Alyssa Milano requested that women tweet their own sexual assault and harassment stories with “#MeToo” to convey how widespread the problem was. It earned half a million replies in 24 hours.
The faces of #MeToo have predominantly been affluent white women coming from the entertainment industry, be it music, athletics or theater, and this, unfortunately, is not an accurate representation of the victims of sexual misconduct. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that black women file about three times as many sexual harassment complaints as white women, and one in 17 women who have filed sexual harassment charges also said that they faced discrimination based on their race.
Additionally, the working class are the ones who file the most sexual harassment charges. The industries that have the most sexual harassment charges filed include food services, retail, manufacturing and waste management, and 43.9 percent of sexual harassment complaints actually come from employees of small businesses. And, even after a year of #MeToo seemingly shaking the foundation of business and the industry, 60 percent of women feel like their work environments still have not changed.
The fact of the matter is that #MeToo does not fully represent all those who have been affected by sexual misconduct – which is especially problematic as this is a movement meant to put the power back into the victims’ hands.
Most of the representation issue comes from the media coverage of the #MeToo Movement. In short, high-profile harassers and accusers garner more publicity, so these are the cases that get coverage. Anyone who remembers #OscarsSoWhite remembers how greatly the American entertainment industry favors white actors over ones from other ethnicities. However, that does not mean that the working class or other races have not faced this same discrimination – or been idle victims. Employees at McDonald’s hosted a one-day national strike to protest its attitudes towards workplace harassment, and those behind the aforementioned #OscarsSoWhite also started the hashtag #WOCAffirmation, a movement alongside #MeToo meant to be recognition to the struggles of women of color with sexual harassment. These problems exist everywhere, and the media should begin to place at least equal emphasis on the struggle of the average woman and the famous.
This is not to say that progress has only been for the upper class. Policies are changing and for the better. In some states, such as New York, Arizona and Washington, the use of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) are facing new limitations; for example, in Washington,
NDAs can no longer be a requirement for employment, meaning that a company cannot preemptively prevent an employee from speaking out if there is a problem. Additionally, several of those Hollywood stars have united to form the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which raised 21 million dollars in a single month to support victims of sexual misconduct in the workplace, especially women of color, members of the LGBT+ community and women in low-wage jobs.
However, when all the cases that get emphasized in the media and the movement are typically high-profile, it does give the opportunity for smaller businesses and lower-profile cases to get swept under the rug and therefore avoid necessary change. Out of the 125 policies proposed in 30 different states, most of those policies are internal regulations for the legislature’s own conduct – not policies meant to help those facing harassment from other fields.
#MeToo is a crucial part of the reformation of culture, and it has taken that first step into bringing sexual harassment into the spotlight and breaking down rape culture. But if we are to make more progress, we need to refocus by putting the everyday people and businesses into the spotlight. The movement is making it clear that no woman is alone – it is called #MeToo, after all. Now it is time to truly put that into practice.