The hashtag #MeToo is a global movement of millions of women who share stories about abuse and shine a light on an unfortunate reality of our society.
It was originally used in 2007,, but it became viral when Alyssa Milano shared it on Sunday to discuss sexual harassment and assault following the Harvey Weinstein scandal. In 48 minutes, the hashtag was shared nearly one million times. Facebook reports 45% of its users are friends with #MeToo. This is because women shared their thoughts and experiences on the workplace, culture and how it should be improved.
We explore these issues with Fatima Graves. President of the National Women’s Law Center, she is also a lawyer. Lisa Senecal shared her personal experience with the Daily Beast. Her affiliation is with the Vermont Commission on Women. Melissa Silverstein, the blogger and founder of Women and Hollywood.
Thank you for being here.
Lisa Senecal. I will start with you.
You have experienced sexual harassment. This is part of what attracted you to the #MeToo campaign.
Please tell us briefly what has happened.
LISA SENCAL, Member of Vermont Commission on Women: Yes.
I, like most women, have experienced sexual harassment. It all started with my first job when I was 15 year old. It’s been an ongoing threat throughout my professional career.
The most serious offense was actually an assault on a male executive. An NDA (and we will get into the evils that are nondisclosures later) means that there’s not much I can say.
Sex harassment is a topic that many women have been able to see from their own experiences. It’s been a wonderful experience, particularly with #MeToo, for both men and women to see just how widespread this issue is.
So, from your perspective, it was business.
Melissa Silverstein: You have been writing for 10 many years about Hollywood women. That’s how Harvey Weinstein was born.
If this has been happening in Hollywood for years, then why haven’t we been talking about it more?
MELISSA SILVERSTEIN, founder, Women and Hollywood, said: I believe there was silence around him and in this industry.
People were afraid. Fear is a common fear among people. This is a highly relational field. If someone blacklists you, it will stop you from getting your next job.
I believe the only way a person could conduct themselves for 30 many years was to create a culture fear and make everyone sign confidentiality agreements. Then, they would shut down.
Fatima Graves is here in Washington, with me at the National Women’s Law Center. We have been discussing Hollywood. We have been discussing the workplace. This is a common practice in any industry.
Harassment and assault is a problem that’s seen in Hollywood, but it affects everyone. This affects all industries, regardless of whether they are high-wage or low-wage, and both male- and female-dominated.
Restaurants are some of the areas where you have some of the highest rates of EEOC charges. This is not a field dominated by men.
Lisa Senecal. Some people say they are uncomfortable with the #MeToo movement. They are saying, again, that women are being asked for their stories, and that nothing is happening. What do you think?
I don’t believe women should be asked to speak up.
I believe this is an occasion to speak up if it’s something women are interested in doing, however, there’s no requirement to. There has been lots of support to let women know that even if it’s not something they feel comfortable doing, there is no obligation to share their stories. No one can force you to do so before you are ready.
The stories are essential. We know this is true for men because of the stories. It also happens to transgender people.
This problem is not limited to women but it most often affects men. We need to have enough women to be able to make men understand the problem and get them to take action. This is not a woman’s issue. This is an issue of violence and power. The problems will continue until those who primarily hold power (primarily men but also primarily white men) act.
Melissa Silverstein. How do you view that? How do you see this changing?
The fact that we’re having a global conversation about sexual harassment — I have been doing media for the last week all over the world.
People are really fascinated by it and desire to see changes. It is an international issue. Hollywood, too, is a worldwide industry. 70 cents out of every dollar spent on Hollywood studio films are produced outside of the United States.
People are asking Hollywood to take a stand. Today, Kathleen Kennedy from Hollywood was the leader who said that we needed a cross-industry commission of people to investigate this issue and stop it.
And take up that Fatima Graves. It’s going to be a challenge across all areas.
We know there are some things that could make a big difference. Employers would have processes in place that employees use. This would eliminate harassment. Most people won’t tell anyone about harassment right now. They don’t believe their employers will do anything or that they’ll be retaliated against.
And that’s because it’s what’s happened.
And that’s it. It’s right for them to think that they will be retaliated against. They are shamed. They are blamed.
But, employees can make a big difference. You are right? You can. Take it seriously, and tell your workplace. You can have policies in place. Finally, employers could make it clear to anyone who comes forward that they are serious about the matter and will not tolerate any retaliation. These are not things employers do often enough.
Lisa Senecal. As someone who has had this happen in their workplace, what needs to change? What needs to change?
I completely agree with the above statement.
Too many times, workplace education is inadequate. Companies want to prove that they have completed their sexual harassment training. It isn’t something that companies believe is an issue and it is a human right for all employees to not be harassed.
Until it is taken seriously and when someone makes an accusation against you, we must take it seriously. The knee-jerk reaction, which was mine, is to shame the woman. It’s not fair to her that she brought this about herself. This puts women in the position of being victims again because they aren’t taken seriously.
Melissa Silverstein: Yes, please.
I just wanted to add, one of the things that’s so fundamental about this is how this — how it’s so normalized for all of us to go through this kind of harassment, especially in Hollywood, and how people kind of laugh off, oh, you know, that’s locker room talk, or, you know, this is the movie business, get used to it. We need to break through the veil that has been created around this type of behavior. It starts with the comments and can quickly escalate.
We need to change attitudes, and eliminate toxic masculinity. Hollywood is not known for its sexism. Sometimes I feel that we should just start all over.
Leigh Gilmore is a Wellesley College professor who has written a book on why, “Why We Doubt what Women Say about Their Lives.” “
Leigh Gilmore: Why don’t women believe and are taken seriously about this? Could we be in a time when women can do that?
LEIGH GILLMORE, Wellesley College
It’s good being with you Judy.
I think there is a culture that doubts what women have to say. This is especially true when they are bringing forth accounts of harm in the public sphere. These premade cultural default narratives about women’s reliability are what we have. He said/she spoke, which is false equivalence.
We believe that no one knows the truth. It is a belief that women can be trusted. These statements are not based on fact but are part of an umbrella that allows us to question any woman’s motives before they speak up.
It’s very intimidating. If we are truly at the point of change, I believe we are in a position where we can increase the visibility of the women speaking up.
There is solidarity in the fact that we have this opportunity. More women can bring about change.
Fatima GOSS GRAVES: As someone who deals with these issues legal, can we reach a turning point or are things just getting more complex?
Culture change is often linked to policy and law enforcement. We are at an important tipping point in culture change. However, I can tell you that the National Women’s Law Center has a hotline. We have received twice as many cases regarding harassment in the past two weeks.
We have also created a network called The Legal Network for Gender Equity. This means that we are now able to bring in attorneys who will take on these cases. However, those who make these calls and contact us show that there are many people willing to speak up on social media. There is power, but there seems to be others who want to do the same.
I want to go quickly and question each of you about your role in this.
I believe it is crucial for men to support women and be allies. Men must also be willing to point out others men. This can happen in one-on-one or group settings within companies, as well as socially. Men need to show courage and resolve to confront other men if they hear or see someone engaging in inappropriate behaviour.
Until there are other men involved, it is impossible for women to do this alone. A Call to Men is an organization that I love. One of their slogans states that if women had the power to stop abuse and assault they would.
That’s true. This is not something women can do on their own. This is not a problem that should be treated as if it were a woman’s matter. This isn’t a woman’s problem unless people see it on a bigger scale.
It’s a human problem.
Melissa Silverstein – what do you think?
Men are often victims of abuse and sexual harassment.
I feel that this is on men.
The perpetrators are mainly men. These men are also collaborators. Their board at The Weinstein Company was all male and all were complicit in creating the environment for this company to flourish.
Hollywood is dominated by men, with only a few exceptions. It’s also about getting women in leadership roles and getting men to report.
The men working in this sector need to take a stand. The men in this industry need to speak up. We want this industry to allow women to thrive.
We’re talking awareness and accountability.
Although it’s wonderful to be visible, it allows us to make connections and see long-standing histories of sexual abuse and harassment. We need to hold ourselves accountable.
I agree with Harvey Weinstein’s board knowing about the allegations. He was not charged by the DA. There are many examples of failed prosecutions.
And what is really important here? To correct them. This is where men play a crucial role. They can only be witnesses and show up minimally.
And, lastly, Fatima GOSS GRAVES, about the roles of men and ways to prevent them.
We have had some conversation about survivors but not about abusers and enablers in our workplaces. We now have the cultural opportunity to have that conversation. This culture will have to reach policy makers. To make real changes, it will have to reach where the employers are.
Everyone is hopeful that this will be a turning point, and that the tides will turn. We will find out.
We appreciate you all joining us in the conversation. Fatima Goss graves is here in Washington with Lisa Senecal and Melissa Silverstein. Leigh Gilmore also thanks for being there.
We thank you all.