In the weeks since an investigative report exposed decades of sexual harassment and assault claims against Harvey Weinstein, a steady stream of women in Hollywood circles — including Gwyneth Paltrow, Mira Sorvino and Lupita Nyong’o — have come forth to accuse the film mogul of grossly inappropriate behavior.
The allegations have also prompted scores of people to share their own experiences with sexual harassment and assault on social media using the now-viral hashtag #MeToo. The idea, in part, behind the sheer volume of posts was to show that such behavior is not just a problem isolated to high-powered celebrity circles. It can and does happen anywhere, to anyone.
Even to those in Congress.
NBC’s “Meet the Press” said it asked every female U.S. senator for personal stories of harassment they were comfortable sharing. At least four responded. One, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), later tweeted, “Pretty much every woman that I know, myself included, has a #MeToo story.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) shared an account from when she was starting out as North Dakota’s attorney general, more than 20 years ago. She had wanted to change the dynamic of domestic violence and spoke once at an event with a retired officer about what happens when there is violence in the home.
“After I got done, this very much older law enforcement official came up to me,” Heitkamp told “Meet the Press.” “And he pretty much put his finger in my face, and he said, ‘Listen here. Men will always beat their wives and you can’t stop ’em.’ ”
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) also recalled a story from the early stages of her career as a public official.
“I was a very young state legislator and in my 20s and I was single — and I was nervous about getting my first bill out of committee,” she said. “So I cautiously approached the dais and went up to speak to the very powerful speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives. And I explained to him the bill I had, and did he have any advice for me on how I could get it out of committee?”
Here McCaskill blinked rapidly as she continued with the speaker’s response: “And he looked at me, and he paused, and he said, ‘Well, did you bring your knee pads?’ ”
Said Hirono: “Usually it’s males who are doing this to women. They should know that this is not appreciated. It’s not cute. It’s not fun.”
Though #MeToo has gone viral in recent weeks, the “Me Too” movement was actually started more than a decade ago by an activist named Tarana Burke. As The Washington Post’s Abby Ohlheiser reported, the rapid spread of the hashtag was phenomenal the week after the New York Times and the New Yorker first broke their stories about Weinstein:
On Twitter, the #MeToo hashtag had been tweeted nearly half a million times as of Monday afternoon; more than 600,000 people were talking about it on Facebook. Celebrities like Alyssa Milano and Rosario Dawson first helped to amplify the hashtag on Sunday afternoon, as thousands of women shared that they were victims of harassment and assault. Some contributed wrenching accounts of romantic overtures by bosses, catcalls from strangers and sexual assault. Others simply chose to write, “Me too,” offering no further details.
In speaking with “Meet the Press,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) credited those who had begun speaking out first, though it was unclear if she was referring to Burke or to the tweets that had reignited the movement on social media lately.
“The first women who started the ‘Me Too’ campaign were incredibly brave,” Warren said. “And they inspired the next wave. And, in turn, they inspired the next wave and the next wave and the next wave. That’s how we make real change.”
The senators’ openness on the matter followed a week in which several state legislatures addressed sexual harassment in their own state houses.
As of next January, Rhode Island lawmakers and their staff members will also be required to participate in sexual harassment training, according to Rhode Island Public Radio. The training was prompted after Rhode Island state Rep. Teresa Tanzi told the Providence Journal she had experienced sexual harassment in the legislature.
“I have been told sexual favors would allow my bills to go further,” Tanzi told the newspaper.
Similarly, after an Ohio state senator resigned because of “inappropriate behavior” toward a female colleague, the Ohio Senate president said Thursday all senators would be required to undergo sexual harassment training, Cleveland.com reported.
Last week, more than 140 women signed an open letter by lobbyist Adama Iwu railing against the “pervasive” culture of sexual harassment at the California capital.
“As women leaders in politics, in a state that postures itself as a leader in justice and equality, you might assume our experience has been different. It has not,” Iwu wrote in the letter, which was published by the Los Angeles Times. The letter outlined a litany of “dehumanizing behavior by men with power” that had taken place in their workplaces, including groping, touching without consent and promises made in exchange for silence. “We’re done with this.”