#MeToo was never going to change the world instantly, but it has moved well beyond a hashtag
It goes way further than Hollywood. Everyday workplaces are changing. Regular women are seeking justice
Predicting the future is typically a fool's errand, but I'm going to go for it anyway: #MeToo won't fizzle. The hashtag might grow stale, perhaps, but the movement has catalyzed a new, lasting era in women's rights.
That is despite the particularly dogged cynicism embedded in the way the world first greeted the #MeToo movement, a mere six months ago.
Each new revelation of sexual assault or misconduct carried the sense of both an uncontrolled virus, and a whimper. It had scarcely begun before it was being pilloried for "going too far" and getting "out of control" and becoming a "witch hunt."
Yet most coverage carried a paradoxical caveat: that this could all just be a social media (read: shallow) flash in the pan.
That was the fall and winter. It's now summer, and growing evidence points in one direction: #MeToo, far from a fad, has roots in the real world, and it's spreading. It's already impacting employment, relationships and the culture at large. Perhaps we've become so used to hearing about it, we hardly notice. But #MeToo is making change, both on the lives of accused abusers and how we view women's rights.
Let's start with the bellwether case for the most heinous of allegations: that of Harvey Weinstein, whose alleged sexual crimes launched the hashtag to international renown.
Weinstein was indicted in May on charges of rape in the first and third degrees, as well as one criminal sex act charge. He's facing multiple lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, assault and rape, and in the case of actress Ashley Judd, lost wages from harming her career after she rebuffed him.
Weinstein has lost his company. He's lost his reputation. He's become, more than anyone — even Tarana Burke, who founded the movement 10 years ago — synonymous with #MeToo. And thus far, there's nothing flimsy or shallow about what has been visited upon him.
In another case, Mario Batali, a famous chef and restaurateur, is being investigated by the New York Police Department for two separate allegations of rape, according to recent reports in the New York Times, after already stepping down from his company and TV show over allegations of sexual harassment. Unlike powerful men accused of rape in the pre-#MeToo-era, Batali and Weinstein have roughly zero chance of returning to their former esteemed statuses.
Then there are the cases of prominent men outed for alleged misbehaviour, who found their careers compromised, but their criminal records clean. Take, for example, Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer.
Rose and Lauer were both accused by multiple women of misconduct, and they lost their jobs. Both are now said to be been making moves to reinstate their careers. Rose, incredibly, has been shopping around a new show in which he'd talk to other men outed by #MeToo, according to news reports — a pitch that Tina Brown, who Rose approached to produce the show, wisely turned down.
And Matt Lauer has been planning his comeback since April, according to Vanity Fair. Celebrity news sites suggest he's asking former co-host Katie Couric for help (Couric recently gave a Buzzfeed interview in which she said she's "separating truth from fiction" in the allegations).
Though to some it might sound bold to be considering a comeback so quickly, it's entirely expected. These are men who have become their brands, who don't have jobs, but identities. But it's the response thus far that's promising for #MeToo: one of incredulity ("The Chutzpah of These Men" ran as a recent New York Times editorial), which suggests little room for amnesia and scant appetite for their returns.
The impact is also far broader than a few destroyed celebrity careers. Time's Up — the Hollywood-backed effort to fight workplace harassment and help low-income wage workers file sexual harassment claims — promised to help fund lawsuits up to a maximum $100,000, and it has.
In mid-May, the group announced it was aiding in major sexual harassment claims against two behemoth American companies: McDonalds and Walmart. It's also providing money to a Colorado State University professor who launched a sexual harassment lawsuit against the school. Workplaces are changing, and non-celebrity men are starting to be held accountable.
As for ordinary life, #MeToo has undoubtedly changed the conversation around dating and sex, and not just in the media. In a GQ and Glamour magazine survey in May, 35 per cent of respondents said they'd changed their dating habits to respond to the movement's focus on respect and consent.
No one expects #MeToo to spur a cultural 180-degree flip, and I'm not arguing we're seeing one. That same survey found 47 per cent of men hadn't talked to anyone, ever about #MeToo.
Something so deeply ingrained as the way women are treated at work and in sex was always going to be hard to change. It was always going to take time. Any social movement does.
And #MeToo is a social movement. It is a modern answer to the women's rights era. There is now ample cause to decide not to work with someone over his treatment of women, criminal or otherwise, instead of the assumed requirement that you work with someone despite his treatment of women.
There is now increased interest in suing employers who allow harassment to persist. There is now cause for us all to pay attention to coercion in sexual relationships, and to demand better treatment.
#MeToo was never going to be a magic miracle worker, but it has moved well, well beyond a hashtag.
- A previous version of this story misidentified the founder of the MeToo movement.Jul 03, 2018 9:44 AM ET