Let’s Talk About What The #MeToo Movement Did For Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is measured by three dimensions: gender harassment, unwanted sexual attention, and sexual coercion. The World Health Organization estimates that sexual violence affects one-third of women worldwide.
The #MeToo Movement was originally founded in 2006, but went viral in 2017 when demonstrating the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in the film industry. Its purpose is to empower, especially the young and vulnerable, through empathy.
1. Other than Hollywood, #MeToo made an impact in many industries:
The New York Times first published testimonies alleging sexual harassment and abuse by former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. This kick-started a movement aimed at holding men accountable for their abuse of power. As of February 2020, Weinstein was convicted of third-degree rape and first-degree criminal sexual act. Though the jury acquitted him of the two counts of predatory sexual assault, Weinstein still faces accusations of sexual assault while serving time.
Actress Alyssa Milano encouraged those who were sexually harassed or assaulted to reply ‘me too’ to her tweet. This sparked discussion surrounding sexual harassment, objectification, and degradation of women that still exists in the media industry. This led to eight women reporting that television anchor Charlie Rose made unwanted sexual advances towards them, and he was fired shortly after.
A study conducted in June 2018 by Temin & Co found that 417 high-profile executives and employees were outed over a period of 18 months. All but seven of the 417 were men, and only eight were in consensual relationships with their accusers. Accusations spiked after the Weinstein exposé. 193 people had resigned or were fired; 122 were suspended.
The case of USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar encapsulates the power of our voices (150 of them) coming together. Nassar was sentenced to 175 years in prison for sexual abuse. Despite complaints surfacing about Nassar as far back as 1998, no action was recorded. It was discovered that the organisation has a history of downplaying such complaints. Nassar’s conviction emphasised the need to change their culture from within.
An article in The Atlantic shared that sexual misconduct claims ended 25 political campaigns in 2018: these included 12 Republicans and 13 Democrats, first-time candidates and seasoned incumbents. Eight were running high-profile campaigns for positions at the federal level, while 17 were state-level candidates. During Roy Moore’s race to become Senator, six women accused him of pursuing romantic or sexual relationships with them while they were still teenagers. Two accused him of assault. Although these accusations were denied, Moore lost the special election.
2. What changed?
A follow-up survey in September 2018 gathered the responses of 263 women. In 2016, 25% of women reported being sexually coerced in comparison to 16% in 2018. Women receiving unwanted sexual attention declined from 66% to 25%. In contrast, there was an increase in reports of gender harassment — from 76% of women in 2016 to 92% in 2018. #MeToo also contributed towards an increase in self-esteem and decrease in self-doubt among women.
Although blatant sexual harassment may be declining, workplaces were also experiencing a “backlash effect” — increased hostility towards women.
Two studies published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly suggests that the increased frequency of victim-blaming is due to a greater empathy for the perpetrator; men initially showed greater empathy for the male perpetrator. After reading more information on the perpetrator’s point of view, both men and women showed greater empathy. This study brought to light that a greater empathy for the male sexual harasser was the consistent element in victim-blame, not necessarily the lack of empathy for female victims. A contributor for The Guardian wondered if women were being faulted as these consequences seem to quietly put women back in their place.
In 2019, Professor Leanne Atwater and a team of researchers conducted anonymous surveys with hundreds of men and women across various industries. It was revealed that one-fifth of men felt reluctant to hire attractive women, while more were reluctant to hire women for roles requiring close interactions with men. More than one-quarter of men said they tried to avoid meeting women colleagues one-on-one. This figure is an increase from Atwater’s 2018 survey.
3. What can we do?
Unity can create strength. However, we too need to be educated on what sexual harassment is and how we can stand up against it.
Although men may experience sexual harassment at much lower rates than women, male sexual assault is still very real: men can be victims too. Instead of shaming, we should listen and express our concern, regardless of gender.
In addressing sexual harassment in the workplace, employers need to take initiative to provide a safe environment for employees to report misbehaviour. Clear consequences and penalties for such actions should be established to maintain accountability. Everyone should be educated on ways to respond when witnessing unacceptable behaviour.
The #MeToo Movement has challenged us to not only empower victims of sexual harassment — it has also reinstated the importance of accountability for perpetrator and witness alike. However, we must remain mindful to not take the impact of this movement for granted. Calling out such behaviour must become a life-long movement, not just practiced when it is in trend.