It’s been one year since the viral version of the #MeToo movement spread the message that women are not chattel across the globe like a California wildfire, toppling metaphorical redwoods and clearing out the underbrush in its path.
In that time, most state legislatures (including Maryland’s) revamped, or at least reviewed, their sexual harassment policies; businesses launched behavior training courses for employees; and millions of dollars were raised to support legal action against perpetrators. Powerful media figures were pushed out of their positions, victims of harassment or assault spoke up, and Americans — 86 percent of us — came to the conclusion that a policy of zero-tolerance for sexual harassment is essential to a healthy society, according to a poll commissioned by NPR.
But we still can’t tolerate Serena Williams talking back to an umpire in what was arguably the most important game of her life. We can’t figure out how to deal with the he-said/she-said nature of sexual assault against a Maryland delegate. And we can’t seem to get some people to take this seriously. Case in point: Comedian Louis C.K. thought it was OK to go back to work in August with a short set that included a joke about rape whistles — after admitting last fall to masturbating in front of female colleagues.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose — the more things change, the more they stay the same.
It feels a bit like we’re trapped in a game of Whac-a-Mole, with another problem popping up each time we tamp one down.
With every predator we unmask, another appears. See Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Al Franken, Les Moonves and so on.
With every law we alter, another is left unchanged. California’s legislature this year voted to extend the statute of limitations for filing harassment complaints, for example, but Maryland has yet to mandate the testing of rape kits, despite a shameful backlog.
With every mind we open, many more remain firmly shuttered. Nearly 40 percent of men who participated in a GQ/Glamour poll in April said the #MeToo movement caused them to re-evaluate their past sexual histories, but more than half of the respondents didn’t even know what the #MeToo movement was.
And with every bad practice we eliminate, another continues on. Take Miss America (no really, take it, as in away). It may have seemed like a win when the show did away with its swimsuit category, but c’mon, the pageant itself still exists — and the ratings tanked more than usual when contestants kept their clothes on. Unpack that.
So, what now?
We keep on keepin’ on.
It’s not very satisfying, I know.
Like any good movement, we’ve got to push beyond the momentum of the catchphrase and do the daily dirty work of enforcing our rights by calling out abuses of power and holding those around us accountable for their actions. And by “we,” I mean you and me, because chances are you’ve experienced sexual harassment if not outright assault, regardless of your gender.
A study conducted earlier this year found that 77 percent of women and 34 percent of men have experienced verbal abuse, and 51 percent of women and 17 percent of men have been sexually touched in an unwelcome way. And even if you haven’t, you should do your part to speak up when you see it occurring to others.
That’s the way we make real change — by refusing to tolerate the status quo anymore and refusing to look the other way when a colleague, friend or family member behaves inappropriately. The less welcome such actions are, the less likely they are to occur.
Tricia Bishop is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @triciabishop.