The #MeToo movement and its evolution, explained
From charges against Harvey Weinstein to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the ongoing drive for accountability, here’s where the movement stands today.
Oct 11, 2018, 3:15pm EDT
The #MeToo movement and its evolution, explained
When protesters took to the streets to protest the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, many of their signs bore two words: “me too.”
The words were an expression of solidarity with Christine Blasey Ford, who says that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school, and with a movement that has gained nationwide attention in the last year. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) even made reference to it in her speech announcing that she would vote to confirm Kavanaugh despite the allegations: “The #MeToo movement,” she said, “is real.”
Founded by Tarana Burke more than a decade ago, #MeToo came to new prominence in October 2017, after women came forward publicly with allegations of sexual harassment and assault by producer Harvey Weinstein. In the weeks and months that followed, the movement gained steam as more and more Americans shared their own stories of being harassed or assaulted in the workplace by people — most of them men — in positions of power. Over time, #MeToo became a broader conversation, not just about workplace harassment and assault, but about coercive and abusive behavior outside of work as well.
“The #MeToo movement is about survivors reclaiming our power,” Carmen Perez, co-chair of the Women’s March, told Vox. “It is also a movement of accountability on violence against women and sexism.”
“The #MeToo movement is about survivors reclaiming our power”
A year after the movement entered its most public phase, its long-term effects remain uncertain. Some high-profile people — Weinstein, Mario Batali, Al Franken, and Les Moonves, to name a few — were fired or stepped away from their jobs as a result of the allegations against them.
Others, like Kavanaugh and President Donald Trump, have remained in positions of power. And while some workplaces have made changes to address sexual harassment, it’s not yet clear whether industries will make the larger reforms necessary to truly keep workers safe. Meanwhile, the costs of coming forward, for survivors, have not lessened — according to her lawyer, Christine Blasey Ford is receiving “unending” death threats and cannot return to her home.
For many, Kavanaugh’s confirmation laid bare how little has changed since #MeToo rose to prominence. But Ford’s public testimony resulted in an outpouring of support from survivors and their allies around the country, many of whom have now focused their attention on the midterm elections in November.
For this story, Vox asked activists, journalists, and others across industries to answer a single question: “What is the #MeToo movement?” The answers varied in their emphasis — a movement once focused on sexual violence has, for many, become broader. But taken together, they made one thing clear: While #MeToo’s position in the national consciousness may have shifted several times over the past year, the movement is far from over.
“#MeToo is a movement of survivors and their supporters, powered by courage, determined to end sexual violence and harassment,” Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, told Vox. “We prioritize the leadership and healing of survivors, especially the least visible, most vulnerable among us. And we are growing in our power.”
The Me Too campaign was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke, and the hashtag #MeToo rose to prominence in October 2017
The phrase “me too” was in use as expression of survivor solidarity long before the allegations against Weinstein became public. In 2006, activist Tarana Burke heard repeated reports of sexual violence in her work with girls through a nonprofit she had co-founded, Just Be Inc. She started the Me Too campaign that year “to spread a message for survivors: You’re heard, you’re understood,” she told Vox in 2017.
On October 5, 2017, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the New York Times reported that Weinstein had reached at least eight settlements with women over the preceding decades, regarding claims of sexual harassment, unwanted touching, and other misconduct. Among those who spoke to the Times was actress Ashley Judd, who said Weinstein had invited her to what she thought was a business meeting in 1997, then appeared in a bathrobe and asked her to watch him shower. “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time,” Judd said, “and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”
The conversation soon grew. On October 10, a story by Ronan Farrow of the New Yorker revealed more allegations, including one by actress and director Asia Argento, who said Weinstein had raped her. (Argento herself would later be accused of sexual assault by actor Jimmy Bennett.) In the coming months, more than 80 women would report sexual harassment or assault by Weinstein.
In a statement to the Times on October 5, Weinstein said, “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.” But he has denied committing any crimes.
On October 15, as the number of allegations grew, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a call to survivors of assault and harassment to post “me too” as a status.
The response was enormous. Within 10 days, 1.7 million tweets containing the hashtag #MeToo were sent, according to Twitter, and 85 countries had more than 1,000 tweets posted on the hashtag. Countless people — especially, but not exclusively, women — began to speak publicly about experiences they’d never talked about before.
Some of them started talking to reporters. Kantor, Twohey, Farrow, and others played a pivotal role in exposing allegations against a variety of powerful people. After Weinstein came celebrities like actor Kevin Spacey, who was accused by multiple men of sexual harassment or assault, and by some of making advances toward them when they were underage (he was fired from Netflix’s House of Cards and removed from the movie All the Money in the World); media figures like Charlie Rose, who was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women (he was fired by CBS, PBS, and Bloomberg); and others like chef Mario Batali, who was accused of groping or inappropriate touching by several women (he stepped away from his restaurants).
“This isn’t just a Democratic issue; this is a Republican issue, an American issue, and, most importantly, a human issue”
Politicians on both sides of the aisle, from Roy Moore to Al Franken, become the subject of allegations. “This isn’t just a Democratic issue; this is a Republican issue, an American issue, and, most importantly, a human issue,” Jennifer Pierotti Lim, co-founder of the group Republican Women for Progress, told Vox.
Sparked in large part by wealthy, white Hollywood actresses, the public conversation around the movement in 2017 did not necessarily serve all survivors equally. Harassment against women of color, especially those working in low-wage industries like restaurants, hotels, or agriculture, received less media coverage than the experiences of women with boldface names. Republican women sometimes found themselves isolated when they spoke out about harassment or assault within their own party.
“I think #MeToo is both a symptom and a cause of a lot of the awful coming out of the GOP right now,” Meghan Milloy, another co-founder of Republican Women for Progress, told Vox. “It’s a symptom coming from decades of a country empowering old white dudes where the women finally hit their breaking point. And it’s a cause because it’s gotten so many of our elected old white dudes to become incredibly defensive of their kind and do things like pushing through a Supreme Court nominee who was credibly accused of sexual assault.”
It’s not just Harvey Weinstein: More than 250 powerful people have been accused of sexual misconduct. Here’s the list.
Discussions of #MeToo also typically focused on women, often eliding the experiences of men and nonbinary people.
“The story is not so easy as ‘cis men rape, cis women are victims,’ and I think we do ourselves an injustice when we oversimplify the issue in this way,” KC Clements, a writer and speaker who has written about barriers facing transgender survivors, told Vox. “There are millions of stories of sexual assault out there, many of them existing at the margins where few people are willing to listen or believe — many like mine as one of the more than one in two nonbinary AFAB [assigned female at birth] people who h