By: Molly Schreier
The sexual harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein, beginning in late October, have sparked a movement of speaking out. As those in the film industry came forward with allegations against Weinstein and other producers and actors, more than one hundred forty female legislators, lobbyists, staffers and political consultants signed a letter to the California State Capitol calling out the toxic culture of sexual harassment that exists. In both the film industry and politics, most senior positions are held by men, who then have power over the careers of young women trying to advance their careers.
Allegations of sexual harassment have since spread to state houses across the country, most recently in Kentucky, Illinois, and Florida. The movement has had a large impact on the United Kingdom Parliament, which has seen sexual harassment allegations against 36 members of the Conservative Party and the resignation of the Defense Secretary Michael Fallon. Most recently in the United States, accusations of sexual misconduct against Roy Moore, a Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, have resulted in the Republican Party establishment ending their support of Moore.
As new accusations emerged everyday, a movement spread on social media: #MeToo. Women began to share their experiences with sexual harassment and sexual assault, shifting the narrative from accusations against individual men to a larger discussion of sexual harassment. The movement, originally begun in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke, proved that sexual harassment and assault are not experienced only by actresses–they are a part of everyday life for many women.
However, there is some risk in this movement. The movement has defined inappropriate sexual behavior very broadly. Men are accused of sexual assault in the same space and time frame as others are accused of touching a woman on the shoulder or knee. A false equivalency of the two could be used to downplay the serious crime of sexual assault and, more broadly, discount the movement.
Another criticism of the movement emerged in the national security community. Men hold most senior positions, accompanied by a military-atmosphere. Radha Iyengar, a senior economist at RAND, a Washington D.C. think tank, said on the podcast Bombshell, “I often get this question [from junior people], ‘what’s it like to be a woman who’s an economist, a woman in national security”, et cetera, et cetera. I kind of have this spiel about ‘You’ve got to find where your line is, and that’s the line you’ve got to enforce…’ But at the end of the day we are still in a system where the senior people are mostly men, the junior people coming in are increasingly women. There is a power dynamic there. And it’s not clear to me we have good advice on what to do in the moment if it happens, what to do after it happens, how to be a more effective senior advocate for junior people for whom these power dynamics are more deeply relevant…There are no good choices…We’ve got to figure out how to expand that option set.”
A number of leading female figures in the national security community have emphasized the need for individuals to take action in response to #MeToo, as opposed to only raising awareness. Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote on twitter October 15th, “I’d love to see a hashtag in which people name a specific action they now commit to take to combat sexual harassment/assault. #IWill.” Individuals must inform themselves of how to react to and report sexual harassment, and learn to support those who have been sexually assaulted in not only words, but in actions.