What have we learned, and what have we done?
While originally coined in 2006 by social activist Tarana Burke, the #MeToo movement picked up global momentum on October 15, 2017 when Alyssa Milano tweeted a request to her followers: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
Within hours, there were tens of thousands of replies, retweets and likes. By the next day, the hashtag #MeToo was tweeted about 500,000 times. Thousands of women from all different backgrounds came forward. Nurses, teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, waitresses and executives, mothers and daughters, sisters and wives. Each one with a personal story to tell.
Even A-listers like Ashley Judd, Lady Gaga and Gwyneth Paltrow put their hands up showing that even celebrities weren’t exempt from the sexual violence that millions of women face daily.
Three years later and we’re still feeling the ripple of the powerful wave that the #MeToo movement created. According to the #MeToo Digital Media Collection, the hashtag is still used regularly in 85 countries worldwide, and there are more than 32 million tweets, over 1,000 webpages, and thousands of articles covering many different perspectives.
At Obelisk Support, we have been championing gender equality for women in law since Day 1. Together with our sister charity, The First 100 Years, we have worked tirelessly to promote women in law through a variety of projects, events, and film and book launches. Today, we share the global impact of the #MeToo movement on law since Milano’s influential tweet, and applaud the women and men who have helped further its cause.
The energy and movement around #MeToo are great and vast. As champions of women’s equity in law, we are only too excited to herald the achievements made in advancing this cause. Here are some of the highlights of the #MeToo movement as they relate to progress in law and change, celebrating milestones from around the globe since the famed viral tweet on October 15, 2017:
November 12: The first #MeToo Survivor March draws hundreds of supporters in Los Angeles, California, led by Tarana Burke. “For every Harvey Weinstein, there’s a hundred more men in the neighbourhood who are doing the exact same thing,” says Burke. The march began in the center of Hollywood and was the precursor to the demise of many actors, politicians, c-level leaders and public servants worldwide.
December 11: Disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein reaches a US$25 million settlement with more than 30 women of his accusers with his former film studio’s executive board. Since then, Weinstein has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least 90 women, including sexual harassment, assault or rape. On July 31, 2020, Weinstein settles for nearly US$19 million with two sexual misconduct lawsuits.
January 1: The Times Up Legal Defense Fund is created to help survivors of sexual misconduct get legal representation, raising $22 million and gathering 800 volunteers within its first year. Today, it has connected an estimated 3,680 people with attorneys for the possibility of legal action.
January 20: Millions gather in the second annual Women’s March across the United States and in cities worldwide, culminating in 250 marches, rallies and events. Over the weekend, the movement involved between 1.6 million and 2.5 million people in events across the US, with an average of 6,700 to 10,400 per march. Although less than the 4.1 million who marched a year earlier in March, 2017, it is seen as a boost for the 2018 mid-term elections.
February 2: U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres creates an overdue task force on sexual harassment to ramp up institutional responses to abuse. “I reaffirm my total commitment to the UN’s zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment,” Mr. Guterres tells the press at the Organization’s Headquarters in New York.
March 13: Rania Fahmy is honoured as one of the very first Egyptian women to win a court ruling on sexual harassment charges. The viral video depicting her fighting back against her attacker sets a new legal precedent for all Egyptian women. Fahmy thanks the judicial system and expresses gratitude to the police who took her allegations seriously and acted within 24 hours.
April 13: Ronan Farrow, along with The New Yorker editors Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, wins the Pulitzer Prize for his ground-breaking exposé on Harvey Weinstein published in October 2017, acting as a major catalyst for the #MeToo movement. The journalist also receives the Point Courage Award for his continued advocacy for the LGBTQ community.
May 12: Ted Bunch co-founds A Call To Men, a social activism group that promotes healthy, respectful ways of “being a man”, most notably in relation to sexual harassment in the workplace. “Most men are not abusive,” he says, “but nearly all men have laughed at a sexist joke or objectified a woman in some way. Once you connect the dots and show men how the jokes they see as harmless actually validate and fuel more harmful behaviour, they are quick to change.”
June 30: Google searches about sexual assault hit record highs. A study finds that between October 2017 and June 2018, approximately 50 million Google searches for sexual harassment and assault are made.
July 25: Zhou Xiaoxuan, a 25 year old screenwriter in Beijing, publishes a 3,000 word essay about her sexual assault experience with her former boss at CCTV. The article goes viral and Ms. Zhou becomes the face of the #MeToo movement in China. Since then, Ms. Zhou has helped dozens of women seek justice.
July 31: Changes to the laws in six U.S. states around NDA’s limit how they may be used for sexual harassment claims by employers to silence victims, in some cases prohibiting those accused of misconduct from requiring NDAs of employees.
October 28: The New York Times publishes an article detailing how #MeToo brought down 201 powerful men and nearly half of them are women. It’s an electric backlash against the backlash. And it’s also an landmark editorial that marks this vibrant yet fledgling movement.
May 4: Feminist lawyers in South Asia rally at peaceful demonstrations throughout the region to aid #MeToo survivors. Led by prominent lawyer, Nighat Dad, an emboldened group of female lawyers in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh rally together to offer their support. “Lots of younger women have gotten so much courage and have started talking about their own experiences,” says Dad. “I knew something had to be done.” And indeed she did. The following January, Dad launches an online portal for women to access legal support for cases against sexual harassment.
May 10: Hong Kong implements a bill of reforms concerning sexual discrimination. The Bill seeks to amend Hong Kong’s anti-discrimination legislation (the Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO), the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO), the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance (FSDO) and the Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO)).
August 2: In France, Marlène Schiappa passes a bill that creates new sanctions for cyber-stalking, taking non-consensual photographs underneath a woman’s skirt (“upskirting”), and imposes fines for street harassment. The bill also extends the statute of limitations for sex crimes, allowing prosecution for 30 years instead of 20 years after a purported victim is 18 years old.
October 2: A group of 100 of the UK’s most successful businesswomen launch their own #MeTooPay campaign to close the gender pay gap. Inspired by a case involving BNP Parisbas bank, the project is spearheaded by Royal Mail chief Dame Moya Greene. Today, the campaign has garnered more than 120 signatories from some of the UK’s biggest organisations.
November: Some states in India enforce new requirements for the registration of sexual harassment with internal committees, furthering their historic 2013 POSH Act and POSH Rules against sexual harassment in the workplace.
More than 2,500 people gather at the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on September 19, 2020, to honour Justice Ginsburg.
June 2: The National People’s Congress of China enacts legislation that for the first time defines actions that can constitute sexual harassment. Prompted by the May, 2019 article written by 25-year old script-writer Ms. Zhou from Beijing who accused one of China’s most recgnisable celebrities. The new civil code, largely viewed as symbolic, does hold schools, businesses and organisations responsible for dealing with sexual harassment.
July 21: An article published by NatWest Busines Hub addresses a fundamental question: How the legal profession tackles #MeToo in 2020. The article reports that companies are being encouraged to sign up to the Women in Law Pledge, launched in partnership with the Bar Council of England and Wales and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) in June 2019, is committed to supporting a more gender-equal profession for all.
September 19: Approximately 2,500 men and women attend a vigil on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to commemorate the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the first woman to lie in repose at the Court. Ruth Bader Ginsburg spent her career fighting in the face of adversity before being appointed as a Supreme Court justice in 1993, where she successfully fought against gender discrimination and unified the liberal block of the court. She has argued 6 controversial cases which have shaped the legal course of America.
Today: The Australian National University offers a course to discuss issues that the #MeToo movement had raised for the criminal justice system and civil courts. Students will begin by considering the theoretical underpinnings of the movement, exploring violence, intersectionality, marginalisation and access to justice. Next, the role of social media and the digital age in the momentum #metoo gained, and what legal issues this raises.
“The MeToo movement has started an international conversation about harassment and sexual assault. The suffragettes’ slogan was ‘deeds not words’ but sometimes words can help.”
What is the path forward?
Well, the #MeToo movement thankfully isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, it will continue to affect the world in ways yet unseen for many years to come.
In regards to the workplace, it has touched almost every industry and has put immense pressure on state legislatures to curb sexual assault and harassment in the workplace.
Policies on curbing sexual assault and harassment are no longer just ‘nice to haves’, they’re a legal requirement and prosecutable. Even lewd and sexist water-cooler jokes are becoming a thing of the past, which I’m sure we’re all grateful for.
But that’s what the #MeToo movement is all about. Raising awareness of the prevalence and harmful impact of sexual violence and discrimination and ‘light-hearted’ jokes. And creating change.
While we have witnessed much change, revelations, and heard the stories of survivors brave enough to speak out and who still face harsh repercussions, there’s still so much for the #MeToo movement to accomplish.
Cover Image: Participants in the January 2018 Women’s March in Washington, DC. Image courtesy of Roya Ann Miller.