It’s Bigger Than Weinstein: Making #MeToo Count
Over the weekend, more #MeToo stories and allegations began to surface, in many cases ending the reigns of powerful men appearing to operate with impunity in highly specialized circles.
The Metropolitan Opera suspended James Levine, its legendary conductor, for allegations of abuse that go back decades. Charges have surfaced at Morehouse and Spelman, two historic Atlanta-based HBCUs. Fliers appeared on campus, some of them naming athletes and fraternity members. “Morehouse Protects Rapists,” said some of them. “Spelman Protects Rapists.” Public radio icon John Hockenberry, is out as a flurry of stories detailing serial creepery emerged. And while we may be wondering where in the world is Matt Lauer’s wife, his $30 million exit package seems to have all but vanished.
Justice does seem to be having a moment. “I’ve written about a lot of powerful men who women accused of sexual assault and harassment who faced bad publicity but no repercussions,” says Buzzfeed reporter Katie Baker in a recent roundtable discussion. “And I think what’s happening right now is really exciting and overwhelming because it does feel like the consequences are happening — literally the same day, in many cases.”
But the Independent’s Annie Corcoran says that absent real consequences, like criminal charges for Weinstein, the #MeToo tipping point has come and gone. “[D]espite all the talk, nothing seems to be getting done to bring about change and a lot of the perpetrators appear to have escaped any real ramifications for their actions,” she says.
And there is the continued disregard for the plight of low-income workers, and people of color operating at all levels – even men – who still aren’t finding the validation that they desperately need.
If the #MeToo moment is to turn into a movement for lasting change, then it’s worth considering the extraordinary assets that are hiding in plain sight. Almost every professional woman I know has been huddling in earnest, reviewing their own careers, thinking about how an unrepentant system has impacted their success.
Former CEO, author, and award-winning thinker Nilofer Merchant has done the best job to date putting a shape to these conversations, in this recent essay in the Harvard Business Review. She starts by sharing how, despite an outstanding career, her #MeToo moments have been defining.
Reading these many stories, over the last few months, made me reflect on my own exits. After a senior law enforcement official chased me around a hotel room while we both served on a statewide board for community colleges, I left the education field. I went into the tech industry, where I saw firsthand that male executives preferred to promote the ideas and innovations proposed by the female colleagues they happened to be having sex with. (And, moreover, having sex with in the office – I saw that firsthand, too, though I wish I could unsee it). I left that industry, too, becoming an independent consultant and advisor. Then, after hearing too many young women’s stories of venture capitalists who asked for sex in return for funding, I stepped back from participating in the startup ecosystem, the driving economy of Silicon Valley. I had never thought of sexual harassment as affecting my career arc, and yet I can now see how its friction surely influenced it.
Merchant lands on the business case for ending sexually predatory behavior, an argument that will gain steam as more data is collected and presented. But she poses a question that should remain top of mind for everyone, particularly if they want this moment to last beyond the headlines. “Instead of thinking of sexually predatory behavior as a few (or many) bad seeds, we ask, instead… how do we change our organizations to rebalance power?”
While I have called for male allies to step up, and they should, women and other historically preyed-upon groups must remain central to this conversation and take a lead role in the necessary rebalancing efforts.
And I would further argue that the experiences of women – in particular, women over 50 who have likely observed decades of unaddressed exclusion and harassment – should have a vital role to play, not only in helping to explain what has brought us to this tender moment, but in shaping the way forward.
Is a tipping point truly at hand? It is if we say it is.