When, ten months ago, The New York Times and The New Yorker published articles describing movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s serial harassing and sexual assaults of women over more than three decades, it appeared to many a stunning revelation. Then, when actress Alyssa Milano asked women on Twitter to speak out about having experienced that kind of abuse, using the hashtag #MeToo, it felt like the world had radically changed. For a while, every day seemed to bring allegations against a new celebrity. More victims began to come forward, finding a new climate in which their stories of abuse and oppression were taken more seriously. It was as if the country had finally come to decide that sexual harassment was no longer acceptable.
But that level of awareness and and activity could easily fade from view—especially in a news environment that brings fresh horrors each morning. So, for the advocates and activists that did not just come to this moment by way of a hashtag, there’s an urgency to move beyond the naming-and-shaming phase into something deeper. Tarana Burke, who founded the “Me Too” movement in 2006, likens sexual violence and harassment to a disease, one that infects mass amounts of people but that we rarely acknowledge. “What actually happened when MeToo went viral is people who felt shamed by having this disease touch their life came out of the shadows,” she said. Then the conversation moved too quickly from trying to comprehend the scope and damage of the disease to hand-wringing over the supposed dangers of MeToo and what happened to the men who were accused. “If we thought about it as a disease, we wouldn’t be thinking about that,” she said. “We’d be thinking about how did we let this disease grow so big, how did we let it take over in this way.”
Those are the questions that advocates, organizers, and survivors want to answer, and they are working together to make sure the MeToo conflagration doesn’t fizzle, but instead burns deep into our collective consciousness.
It may not be generating the big headlines or photo ops, but since last October, advocates across industries and with different specializations have been meeting to discuss strategy and plot a path forward for progress, sharing best practices and tactics gleaned from their years of prior work. “It allowed us to finally come together in a way that we never had before to determine how we could work across industries to resolve the problem,” said Mónica Ramírez, founder of the Latina Impact Fund and co-founder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (the National Farmworkers Alliance). “For the first time, we’re really able to work together in this concentrated manner to think about all the different levers that need to be pulled in order to end sexual harassment across workforces.”
“Before MeToo went viral…there were scores of organizations and advocates around the country who have been working for systemic change,” Burke pointed out. But MeToo has now brought them together and given them a spotlight. “Folks who have been on the battlefield for a long time are emboldened and ramped up because we have new advocates, we have new allies.”
The strategy sessions among activists may not be as high-profile as the defaming of men like Kevin Spacey or Matt Lauer, but they’re just as important. “While all those things were happening in front of the cameras and on the news, we acted as advocates, we continued our work every single day,” Ramírez said.