By Lillie Eastham, F/G Scholar
In the wake of the Brent Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, it’s time to take a look at how much of an impact the Me Too movement has actually had.
The Me Too movement has largely been regarded as a success. It has undoubtedly changed public perceptions about how many women are sexually harassed and how that harassment should be dealt with. However, how many of those that have been accused have faced actual repercussions and is the movement beneficial for those whose harassers are not high-profile men?
Last week, Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison for sexual assault, he was accused by 60 women. (Dale & Sissak 2018) Dr. Larry Nassar was sentenced to 40-175 years in prison, he had 160 accusers. (Cacciola & Mather 2018) Cosby is the first celebrity to face legal repercussions, due largely in part to the statute of limitations that apply to many sexual crimes. Harvey Weinstein’s fate remains unknown, although several charges have been filed against him. Of the men named, all of them have in common, the sheer number of accusers made it nearly impossible for anyone to turn a blind eye once the accusations began rolling in. Additionally, Cosby and Weinstein, like many accused of sexual misconduct in the Me Too movement, built their careers in the entertainment realm, where image is everything. What ramifications have those accused of misconduct in the highest offices in America faced? The men that actually have control over policies that can actually affect the very women that they have victimized?
In 1991, Anita Hill came forward to accuse Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in the workplace. She faced a Senate Judiciary Committee that consisted entirely of white men. Thomas, a black man, compared the hearings to a ‘lynching’, although Hill was also black. Eventually, Thomas was confirmed on the Court where he has been serving for the past 27 years. (Bouschard & Taylor 2018)
Just last week, Christina Blasey Ford faced strikingly circumstances. However, Ford faced a more diverse Judiciary Committee, and had the era of the Me Too movement on her side. This time around, few were willing to outright say that they did not believe Ford’s accusations, but many felt that she was not remembering them correctly. Despite these assumed advantages, Kavanaugh was also confirmed to the Supreme Court.
While there are many political layers and various conflicting stories entangled within the Kavanaugh case, it is an unflinching look at how much society has actually changed. The Me Too movement has certainly had more staying power than most social movements. The very basis of the movement is being unafraid to call out high-profile sexual predators, which ensures their place in the news cycle. Since legal action is often not an option, their main tactic is naming and shaming. This works quite well when the accused is a television personality such as Matt Lauer, who can be easily fired in the name of the television studio’s image. However, as shown by Kavanaugh and Thomas, if those that put the accused in a position of power are unwilling to remove them, this becomes a nearly pointless endeavor.
Naming and shaming also becomes less effective when sexual misconduct is committed by someone who is not deemed worthy of being on the front page of the New York Times. While the movement does empower women to come forward with their accusations, what happens when they do but find that on a local level they are still not believed? This is why it is so important for the movement to create real policy change and not just make headlines. Kavanaugh’s nomination was a true setback in that it proved that politically, the movement still has a long way to go.
After Anita’s Hill trial a large number of women ran for office, and it was dubbed, “the year of the woman”. (Bouschard & Taylor 2018) Over two decades later, and America has seen another justice put on the court under sexual allegations. The Me Too movement has also inspired many women to run for office, but will it spurn real change, or is the movement only giving the illusion of a changing society? Two decades from now will America still be caught in the same moral battle?
Bouchard, M., & Taylor, M. S. (2018, September 27). Flashback: The Anita Hill Hearings Compared to Today. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/27/us/politics/anita-hill-kavanaugh-hearings.html
Cacciola, S., & Mather, V. (2018, January 24). Larry Nassar Sentencing: ‘I Just Signed Your Death Warrant’. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/24/sports/larry- nassar-sentencing.html
Dale, M., & Sisak, M. R. (2018, September 25). Bill Cosby sentenced to 3 to 10 years in state prison after judge declares him ‘sexually violent predator’. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-bill-cosby-sentencing-20180925- story.html