Friday Oct 12, 2018
NEW YORK: From Hollywood to Bollywood, the #MeToo movement is making its mark around the globe since rising a year ago, with companies, politicians and charities caught up in the battle against sexual harassment of women.
With the behavior of politicians likely to take center stage in pending US elections, #MeToo supporters have declared the movement a sweeping transformation permanently altering the treatment of women - though some suggest it has gone too far.
The movement is newly taking hold in India, where one Bollywood actress’s complaint of sexual misconduct sparked an outpouring of support.
Over the past week, women have flooded social media with their experiences of harassment and sexual violence, with senior figures in entertainment and the media and a government minister under scrutiny.
Elsewhere, a Chinese university professor was fired after allegations of harassment and, in Indonesia and Pakistan, women have been speaking out about sexual violence.
“We are in a new era,” said Ashley Judd, one of the actresses whose accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein sparked the surge of voices using the hashtag #Metoo a year ago.
The revelations of sexual misconduct that started in Hollywood spread across workplaces, governments and campuses, spawning investigations and toppling hundreds of high-profile men from positions of power around the world.
But while #MeToo has opened up discussions that may have long been kept under wraps or left unaddressed, some have warned it may be going too far.
The movement lacks nuance, some say, noting not all men accused of misconduct need to be treated with the same broad brush as that used in the case of Weinstein, who stands accused of sexual assault - charges he denies.
Others caution #Metoo will lead to women being locked out of business opportunities by men wary of being falsely accused of misconduct.
Actress Catherine Deneuve famously denounced #Metoo as puritanism gone too far, and US first lady Melania Trump this week said she supported women speaking out, but that they need to have hard evidence to back their claims.
Her comments followed the recent bruising battle over US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose confirmation proceedings exploded in controversy when a California professor claimed he sexually assaulted her in 1982.
Kavanaugh heatedly denied the allegations, his supporters argued the professor had no evidence and the Senate approved his appointment, marking a victory for Trump and locking in a conservative majority on the nation’s highest court.
“We have only to look back at ... the hearings with Judge Kavanaugh to recognize that the world is not in a great place for women,” Lisa Borders, incoming president and chief executive of Time’s Up, told reporters this week.
The legal defense arm of Time’s Up, an organisation launched in January to battle sexual harassment in workplaces, said it has fielded calls from more than 3,500 women and men.
New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who wrote some of the first articles about Weinstein a year ago, said in a recent Times editorial that “this discussion over harassment and assault has no end in sight”.
“Perhaps it is time to start thinking of this less as a news story than as a permanent new element of our lives,” they wrote.
The role of #Metoo is expected to be major in the Nov. 6 elections, when voters choose a third of US Senators, all 435 members of the House of Representatives and dozens of state governors.
The mid-term elections are seen as a referendum on the policies of US President Donald Trump, and opposition Democrats hope to gain control of the lower House and gain seats in the Senate, both now controlled by Trump’s Republican Party.
“We’re going to have a lot more feminists sitting in those seats,” Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organisation for Women, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Women understand we have to have women’s voices sitting at the table or we’re going to continue to be disrespected and treated as if we don’t count and as second-class citizens by the old white men that are in office right now,” she said.
More than 42,000 women interested in running for office have contacted Emily’s List, an advocacy group supporting female candidates, since Trump was elected in 2016.
In the two years prior, 920 women contacted the group, said a spokeswoman.
Research shows a majority of US voters see sexual harassment as a serious problem, said Amanda Hunter, spokeswoman for the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which conducts research and promotes women for political office.
Campaign messages criticising or belittling #Metoo elicited negative responses from voters in the foundation’s research, she added.
“#Metoo really changed the national conversation,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.