It all started with one woman raising her voice, and like wildfire, it spread across the country. It toppled institutions, destroyed political campaigns and turned the film industry upside down. Immediately after the public disclosure of sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, the #MeToo social media campaign began as an outcry for justice.
The two-word hashtag went viral on virtually every social media platform, demonstrating the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. The #MeToo movement is a product of the “Weinstein Effect” or the “Weinstein Ripple Effect,” the global trend in which people come forward to accuse famous or powerful men of sexual misconduct.
Tarana Burke, an American civil rights activist, first coined the phrase “Me Too” in 2006 to raise awareness of the extensiveness of sexual abuse and assault in society, and to help survivors realize they are not alone. Since then, the idiom has developed into a broader movement. Burke is currently Senior Director at Girls for Gender Equity and was chosen among several other prominent female activists, dubbed "The Silence Breakers," as Time’s ‘Person of the Year’ for 2017.
Actress Alyssa Milano is credited for popularizing the phrase again this past year when she encouraged women who had been assaulted to tweet “#MeToo” in order to "give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem." Since then, the phrase has been posted online by millions, often with an accompanying personal story of sexual harassment or assault.
The Twitter response included high-profile posts from several celebrities with their own stories of sexual violence, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon, Lady Gaga, Ellen DeGeneres and Simone Biles.
Movements like #MeToo are incredibly valuable because they lead to awareness and — most importantly — accountability for the individuals who commit legal and moral wrongdoings. However, they can become problematic when they facilitate identity politics, the tendency for people of a particular identity to form exclusive political alliances. This includes the way people’s politics are shaped through their different identities based on age, race, gender, religion, social class and many others.
Identity politics can become an issue when membership in that particular demographic group begins to equate with victimization, which is believed to generate wisdom. This wisdom is then assumed to be progressive and uniform across each victimized group. The result is destructive, as it can only be maintained through excessive loyalty and bullying. In turn, those who oppose are punished, diversity is suppressed and accountability is transformed instead into a ‘blame group.’
We live in a hyper-politicized time, and as with every social movement, #MeToo is at a crossroads. It must retain its focus on justice rather than becoming another partisan movement that attempts to shape America into ideologically-driven interest groups. Luckily, exposing the mistreatment of women has become a unifying opportunity in our society, because it’s not a political or ideological issue. It’s not about Republican versus Democrat or conservative versus liberal; it’s about right versus wrong.
Men from almost every industry have been accused of sexual harassment. From Politicians and entertainers, to business professionals, and academics, it’s clear sexual harassment is a prevalent issue in America.. The problem in our culture is with individual males, not all men. Consequently, women aren’t the answer to the problem either. Across the board, individuals who seek justice will be the ones to solve the issue and change our national mentality. Any other approach risks real cultural progress for the sake of short-term political gain.
Efforts to takeover this powerful movement for ideological purposes threatens that momentum. It would be disappointing if women, who don’t ascribe to the victimization narrative or support new regulations, leave the conversation because of where the movement is being led; it's even worse if real victims feel like their pain is being used for politics.
An example of this is the budding “Time’s Up” initiative, which officially began on Jan. 1, 2018, by Hollywood celebrities in response to the #MeToo movement and the Weinstein Effect. Throughout the beginning of the 2018 awards season, actors and artists could be seen carrying white roses or sporting pins on red carpets everywhere in solidarity with the movement.
Singer Janelle Monae gave a striking speech at the 2018 Grammy Awards stating, “to those who would dare try and silence us, we offer you two words: Time’s Up. We say Time's Up for pay inequality, discrimination, or harassment of any kind, and the abuse of power. And just as we have the power to shape culture, we also have the power to undo the culture that does not serve us well. So, let's work together, women and men, as a united music industry committed to creating more safe work environments, equal pay and access for all women.”
The Time’s Up initiative has some worthy goals, including trying to promote more women in their industry, and establishing a $14 million dollar legal defense fund that blue-collar women can use to pursue legal action for sexual harassment in their workplaces. However, their lumping of socio-economic goals into the fight against sexual harassment and assault stretches the movement to include issues that should be addressed separately. How did equal pay become part of the conversation on sexual assault? Although the Time’s Up initiative is a product of the #MeToo movement, the #MeToo movement itself should not be allowed to evolve into a partisan tool, rather than a bipartisan platform for change.
The effects of the #MeToo movement can already be seen around the country, exemplified by the dozens of high-profile male executives fired or forced to resign in the wake of sexual harassment claims. Despite potentially being a topic of identity politics, the #MeToo movement has established a global community of survivors, no longer deemed ‘victims,’ of unwanted sexual encounters. More than a hashtag and more than a movement, it has become a campaign for justice moving away from broad-based party politics and demanding restitution.