Sustaining the #MeToo Movement

by Caitlin Panarella


In the months of the #MeToo movement, many have asked what the next step is— after exposing and uncovering the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace, a still ongoing process, what will be built in its place?  The only way to get there is to sustain the conversation.

On Thursday, April 19, Georgetown University hosted “The #MeToo Movement—Why Now Again? What Next?”  The panel of speakers came from varied backgrounds, all with different points to contribute about how to move forward.

The speakers were Maya Raghu, Director of Workplace Equality and Senior Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center; Lisa Singh, professor in the Department of Computer Science at Georgetown; Chai Feldblum, Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and Professor Deborah Epstein, Director of the Georgetown University Law Center’s Domestic Violence Clinic.  The event was moderated by Deborah Tannen, a member of the linguistics department faculty at Georgetown University.

Singh noted that social media has proven to be one of the most prominent tools of #MeToo; the movement itself is a hashtag.  The hashtag catalyzed a new consciousness, and helped women came together, support each other and believe each other. After Alyssa Milano tweeted on October 15, 2017 calling for users to reply #metoo if they had experienced sexual harassment or assault, half a million people had responded within 24 hours. By the end of November 2017, Twitter confirmed that over 1.7 million Tweets had used the hashtag or one of its translations worldwide.

Another poignant moment of the panel discussion occurred when Raghu noted that one of the most dangerous misconceptions surrounding #MeToo was that it is a “bad apple” problem.  “Surely, firing these male perpetrators will end the problem?” is a mindset that threatens to undermine the potential for sustainable change. It puts the emphasis on conflicts between individuals, and thus severs the connection between all of the cases of sexual harassment occurring in every industry.  It is a political sedative.

The problem, Raghu said, is not with individual people; it is a systemic issue that requires systemic change.  It is not enough to fire the perpetrators and expect everything to be equal; that solution ignores the fact that many people knew of Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose’s actions and failed to intervene.

Sustainable solutions must include punishment of perpetrators, but also must empower women (and all victims) to speak up for themselves.  It must systemically ingrain accountability so that bystanders can intervene. It must take preventative measures.

New institutions are being put in place as well.  The National Women’s Law Center started the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, intended to “[connect] those who experience sexual misconduct… with legal and public relations assistance.”  Women across sectors have reported misconduct, pointing again to the widespread, systemic nature of the problem. The NWLC also has a plethora of resources on what to do in the face of harassment, from fact sheets to employer materials.

If the #MeToo movement is to continue to make change, we must keep talking about it, support the new systems put in place to prevent sex discrimination, and most importantly, continue to believe those who come forward.