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  • Writer's pictureHolly Corbett

The #MeToo Movement Six Years Later: What’s Changed And What’s Next

Nov. 16, 2023

Woman holding a sign that reads "#MeToo"
This autumn marks the sixth anniversary of when the #MeToo movement went viral. GETTY

This autumn marks the sixth anniversary of when the #MeToo movement went viral. While activist Tarana Burke originally coined the phrase ‘me too’ in 2006, it was the year of the Women’s March in 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano’s ‘me too’ tweet started a domino effect where survivors stepped forward en masse. Within 24 hours, more than 12 million women who had also experienced sexual assault and harassment responded. Shortly after came the launch of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which was created to help shift more power back into workers’ hands by giving them the resources to fight legally and to amplify the voices of survivors.

While some people may argue that #MeToo is dead or is not needed anymore, the truth is that change with any social movement is slow, nonlinear, and doesn’t happen all at once. The #MeToo movement of 2017 and 2018 grew with survivors finding community and resulted in holding hundreds of powerful men accountable. It’s clear that sexual harassment isn’t only an individual issue; it’s also a systemic issue. It requires protections in the form of laws to help prevent it from happening in the first place, or to put better structures in place to create accountability. In 2023, the movement continues to push to make broader systemic changes to protect survivors in the workplace through law and policy updates, as well as continuing to change our culture at large.

“This was never overnight work,” says Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of National Women’s Law Center and co-founder of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. “The work to end sexual violence and to address the structures that allow it to thrive has been work happening for generations. But this moment [when #MeToo went viral] was a critical acceleration moment, and we will not be the same.”

Movements Take Time

Since the TimesUp Legal Defense Fund launched, 5,000 people have come forward asking for legal help, with more than three-quarters of those people self-identifying as low-paid workers, says Jennifer Mondino, director of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. One reason the Fund was created was to make it easier for people to access justice when they might not be otherwise able to due to financial and other reasons.

“It was like opening a faucet when the Fund first launched and people started hearing about #MeToo and seeing the headlines in the news, and it has not slowed down since,” says Mondino. “When I think about what kinds of cases we’ve supported, it has ranged from people in Hollywood and in C-Suites all the way to people working in the fields, janitors, fast food workers and home health aides—people that are oftentimes in the shadows, but who enable our economy and our country to function. The fact that so many continue to come to us seeking help tells me that sexual harassment and abuse is still an urgent issue.”

The #MeToo movement showed survivors there is power in the collective and courage is contagious, enabling survivors to feel like they had greater support to speak out, even if the odds seemed impossible. It also helped them find the language to be able to describe what they were experiencing and realize it was against the law.

Policy Change Happening At The State Level

As more and more survivors came forward, it helped inform the areas where existing policy and legislation were falling short in terms of protecting survivors. Six years after #MeToo, 24 states and the District of Columbia have passed more than 80 workplace anti-harassment bills, according to a new report by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).

The largest anti-harassment policy trend has been limiting non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that prevent workers from speaking out about workplace issues or conditions. Another trend to watch is that several states have adopted what are known as “Anti-SLAPP” laws to help protect survivors who are targeted with defamation claims when they speak out. This is important because more than 70% of workers who report abuse are retaliated against in some way—whether they are fired, demoted, given fewer hours on their schedule, denied a promotion, or threatened with legal action, according to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

“It is still the case that people who come forward—even if they're coming forward quietly rather than publicly and dealing within their own institution—face retaliation,” says Goss Graves. “The odds are against them, and yet they continue to come forward. I believe the framework of #MeToo, and the energy from the last six years has been sometimes quiet and sometimes loud support as a reminder that people are not alone, and that they deserve this sort of accountability and healing and justice.”

More Institutions Are Being Held Accountable

Movements require tenacity and brave people to come forward not for the benefit of themselves, but for the benefits of the greater good to create change. Though there is much more work to be done, the #MeToo movement has helped create some progress in terms of accountability for sexual harassment at the larger institutional level in male-dominated industries and organizations, such as in the trucking industry, in the military, and in the National Football League (NFL).

One win happened earlier this year after a years-long battle against the powerful NFL franchise of the Commanders when franchise owner Dan Snyder was forced to sell in large part due to ongoing sexual harassment claims.

“I grew up in the DC area, and the Commanders, the team formerly known as the Redskins, seemed untouchable,” says Mondino. “This enormous change could only have come from more and more people speaking out and slowly pushing against stereotypes, norms, and deeply-entrenched practices.”

Former Commanders employee Emily Applegate came forward in a 2020 Washington Post story to disclose the culture of harassment and verbal abuse, along with the accounts of 14 other former women employees of the Redskins. In that article, Applegate was the first survivor of the Redskins harassment and discrimination to use her name and be publicly identified, helping to inspire a group of 40 other survivors to come forward to make the public aware of the culture of harassment within this NFL franchise. This helped eventually lead to a House Committee on Oversight and Accountability report that “shows sexual harassment, bullying, and other toxic conduct pervaded the Commanders workplace, perpetuated by a culture of fear instilled by the Team’s owner.”

Sexual harassment is ultimately about power; who has it and who doesn’t. Part of the progress of the #MeToo movement has been to help shift more of the power back into employees’ hands.

“I think the power lies in the fact you're able to take away the power from somebody that shouldn't have that power,” says Applegate. “In this situation, Dan Snyder had all the power in the world, because, as the owner of the Commanders, whatever he says goes. But when there was a whole group of people, a whole force behind the message that we were sending about the harmful workplace culture he helped create, his power slowly diminished until it was no longer existent in this space. We see things like that a lot with the #MeToo movement, those times where many people get behind it and it's more powerful than any one person can ever be. That's when you actually see the change that you want.”

At the same time, the sale of the Commanders is also an example of how our larger culture is shifting, such as fans speaking out at the games and on social media against the culture of harassment. “Of course we had people that had negative things to say, but the majority of feedback I received from people—whether that's on social media or just reading stuff on the internet—was very positive,” says Applegate. “When it came out that Dan Snyder offered us hush money to stop speaking out, for example, it upset the fans more and more. It inspired us to keep going, because we could see the support from people who were able to separate the sport from the fact that we are all humans and deserve to be treated with respect.”

If there is one overarching lesson from the #MeToo movement, it’s about people’s ability to come together as a source of power to drive real cultural progress. Using your voice and finding community is critical to drive change in regards to all the intersecting issues impacting gender equality, from workplace harassment to wage gaps to abortion bans to childcare cliffs. All of these things impact whether women are financially secure and have access to health care, shaping the trajectory of their lives and, collectively, our society.

“If I've learned nothing else over these last six years, it is that fixing laws and policies alone won't be enough, and that taking on our culture is going to have to happen alongside it in terms of how it is that people see and understand the issues of gender-based violence in this country,” says Goss Graves. “It will require all of us talking about things that people don't want to talk about. It's going to require continuing generation after generation to ensure that this is an issue that stays front and center, rather than in the shadows.”

*Article originally published in Forbes


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