#MeToo movement: Where did it all begin?

A study by the World Health Organization shows that one-third of women globally are sexually assaulted and harassed, another 2017 study by ABC News and The Washington Post also found that 54% of American women report receiving “unwanted and inappropriate” sexual advances with 95% saying that such behavior usually goes unpunished. The MeToo movement was started to encourage women who were victims of sexual assault and harassment especially in the workplace to speak up so that the world can see how widespread it is. It started trending after the public revelations of sexual misconduct by Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein. This however was not the first use of the phrase as it had been used by Tarna Burke on the MySpace platform in 2006 as part of a grassroots campaign to promote “empowerment through empathy” among women of color who had experienced sexual abuse, particularly within underprivileged communities.  It became popular after Alyssa Milano encouraged people to get tweeting in order to give a sense of magnitude of the problem. It went viral and was accompanied by personal stories of sexual harassment or assault. It had the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon, Viola Davis, Ellen DeGeneres, etc. On November 12, 2017 a few hundred women, children and men participated in the “men participated in the “Take Back the Workplace March” and the “#MeToo Survivors” March to protest sexual abuse.

The original purpose of the #MeToo movement was to empower women through empathy especially vulnerable young black women. However, after millions of people started to use the phrase, the purpose expanded and began to mean different things to different people. The group now accommodates men and women of all color and marginalized people in marginalized communities.

Alyssa Milano in conjunction with 300 other women in the movie industry are now supporting Times Up, an initiative that aims to help fight sexual violence and harassment in the workplace through lobbying and providing funding for victims to get legal help if they can’t afford it. Times Up started with $13 million dollars in donations for its legal defense fund. The initiative also seeks to lobby for legislation that creates financial consequences for companies that regularly tolerate harassment without action.

In the wake of #MeToo, many countries such as China, India, France, Japan and Italy have seen discussion in the media on whether cultural norms need to be changed for sexual harassment to be eradicated in the workplace. It has also provoked discussions about whisper networks or “private lists of people to avoid” circulating many major institutions. Some say those lists may be used maliciously to spread unsubstantiated gossip, while others say the list helps others realize that they are not alone so they can identify with each other and speak out.

The #MeToo movement has been very instrumental in helping rape victims speak up so that they can get the justice that they need and understand that there is no need to be ashamed. It has huge potential to influence policy and eradicate sexual harassment especially with the kind of attention it has commanded thus far. Its methods are not without their criticisms but the overall utility of the movement is undoubtedly laudable.   

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