What Is the #MeToo Movement?

woman holding post-it with #MeToo

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If you frequently use social media, you have probably seen the hashtag #MeToo on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and more. What started out as a way for survivors of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual bullying to bond and share their stories, has become a global movement that has sparked significant changes, both social and legal. What's more, the movement has allowed survivors to feel supported while simultaneously initiating a national—and worldwide—conversation about the widespread issues surrounding harassment, assault, and the changes that need to be made.

History Behind the Movement

The #MeToo phrase was first coined in 2006 by Tarana Burke, an advocate for women in New York. Burke wanted a way to empower women who had endured sexual violence by letting them know that they were not alone—that other women had suffered the same experience they had.

Then, in 2017, the phrase was reintroduced by actress Alyssa Milano as a way to encourage women and men to share their stories as part of an anti-sexual harassment movement. The results of the revived movement have since been astounding, with people sharing their stories accompanied by the hashtag #MeToo across many different social media platforms.

And in the wake of these disclosures, some of the nation's most powerful people in entertainment, sports, and politics have been exposed for sexually harassing or assaulting others.

Milano's decision to reintroduce the phrase was prompted by a New York Times article in which Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual harassment. At the time, Milano was unaware of the origin of the phrase, and began encouraging survivors to use the hashtag #MeToo on social media to create awareness for the issue and build a sense of community and support among survivors.

Initially, Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan were the most vocal about Weinstein's actions. But many others, feeling empowered by both the movement and the fearlessness of Judd and McGowan, began to share their stories as well. In the meantime, Milano had no idea how quickly one small idea would catch on, prompting the phrase to be used more than 12 million times over the next few weeks.

For people who worked with survivors of sexual assault and harassment on a daily basis, the response was beyond what they could comprehend. Finally, the issue they had been working tirelessly to address was gaining some traction and garnering national attention. The local grassroots effort spearheaded by Burke had now expanded to reach a community of survivors from all walks of life. And, it is far from over.

Overview of the Movement's Successes

Overall, the #MeToo movement is thriving.

There is an ongoing public dialogue about the issues as well as progressive changes in how society views the very real challenges of dealing with sexual harassment and assault. In fact, one of the biggest changes is the fact that survivors can now share their stories publicly without fear.

Thus, the silence surrounding sexual harassment and assault is being broken. People are now open to having a discussion about the issues and becoming more passionate about seeing something done. Here is an overview of some of the other changes the #MeToo movement has facilitated or prompted.

  • Affirmed for survivors that they are not alone
  • Developed a stronger community where survivors feel like they have a voice
  • Demonstrated how widespread the issue is
  • Shifted social norms and opinions about the issue
  • Exposed belief systems that enable abuse
  • Increased compassion for survivors
  • Lead to concrete changes in laws and policies
  • Created avenues for survivors to speak up and share their stories
  • Broke the silence surrounding sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual bullying
  • De-stigmatized the issue and made it safe for discussions
  • Lead to the punishment or incarceration of some powerful men
  • Highlighted the fact that action is needed to instill anti-harassment policies
  • Prompted several states to ban non-disclosure agreements, which help powerful people hide their actions by buying the survivor's silence
  • Lead to the creation of Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, which has provided legal representation to nearly 4,000 survivors
  • Lead to expanded sexual harassment laws in California and New York
  • Lead to the creation and adoption of new legal standards by the International Labour Organization (10 countries have already ratified it)

What's Next?

While the #MeToo movement has accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time, some advocates aren't as optimistic about the successes. Although people are definitely paying attention to what is happening—and most agree sexual harassment is wrong—people are still being harassed and assaulted in record numbers.

In fact, nationwide 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime according to a 2019 study conducted by the University of California and the non-profit, Stop Street Harassment.

Additionally, survivors of sexual assault and harassment are still dealing with victim-blaming, not to mention the threat of retaliation for speaking up. There also is still a tremendous amount of change that still needs to take place in order to win the battle against sexual harassment and sexual assault. At the top of the list is the need to pay attention to how perpetrators set up situations to their advantage and often get away with harassing and even assaulting someone. Until that issue is researched and adequately addressed, most advocates feel like they cannot rest.

According to the people working with issues of harassment and assault every day, the #MeToo movement has moved things in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go.

A Word From Verywell

Today, the phrase #MeToo is still a sign of solidarity for victims of sexual harassment and assault. In fact, tweets and Instagram posts featuring the hashtag #MeToo are still posted daily. They are consistent reminders that sexual violence is a widespread issue. Consequently, there is no doubt that the #MeToo movement has been effective in promoting social change and creating a community of support.

But, there is still much that the #MeToo movement has not accomplished. From changes in federal laws to real safety for survivors who speak up, there is still a lot that needs to be addressed before sexual assault and harassment becomes an issue of the past.

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