In 2018, the movement went global. Around the world, women stood up and spoke out about the abuse they have faced at the hands of men. Many did so at great personal and professional risk. Did anything really change because of it?
As my Washington Post colleagues Karla Adam and William Booth put it, because of #MeToo, “the global conversation about sexual harassment — and worse — has shifted, but the lasting impact of the moment remains unclear. From Stockholm to Seoul, from Toronto to Tokyo, a torrent of accusations has poured forth. Survivors spoke out, and many were taken seriously. Powerful men lost their jobs. A few went to prison. How diverse societies — some liberal, others conservative — saw sexual harassment seemed to be changing."
But, they noted, progress has been uneven and occasionally fleeting. “For all the early anticipation that things had changed forever, in many countries the #MeToo movement either fizzled or never took flight."
Here’s a look at some of the #MeToo stories from this year, along with what happened next:
In January, the Financial Times went undercover at an annual charity fundraiser for the all-male President’s Club. FT reporters said the female servers were required to wear skimpy outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party, the hostesses were groped, harassed and propositioned. In the aftermath of the expose, the charity shut down.
In the weeks after the Weinstein story broke, women shared their stories of harassment and assault with the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc, or “squeal on your pig.” The French government passed laws that criminalized catcalling and street harassment. But there’s also been a backlash from men and women who think the movement has gone to far. Earlier this year, 100 female academics, writers and actresses published a public letter defending men’s “right to annoy.”
In February, a Pakistani woman named Sabica Khan shared an account on Facebook of being assaulted during a pilgrimage to Mecca. “It’s sad to say that you are not even safe at holy places,” she wrote. “I’ve been harassed not once, not twice but thrice.” That story helped launch a movement called #mosquemetoo, in which hundreds of women across the Arab world shared their own stories of being harassed in places of worship.
But it’s been hard for many Muslim women to speak out. As Egyptian activist Mona Eltahawy wrote: “I know too well that Muslim women are caught between a rock and a hard place. On one side are Islamophobes and racists who are all too willing to demonize Muslim men by weaponizing my testimony of sexual assault. On the other side is the “community” of fellow Muslims who are all to willing to defend all Muslim men — they would rather I shut up about being sexually assaulted during the hajj than make Muslims look bad. Neither side cares about the well-being of Muslim women.”
In China, women have come forward to accuse academics, journalists, television hosts and even monks of sexual harassment and abuse. “There is no industry where this isn’t happening,” Yi Xiaohe, a Shanghai producer, told the Guardian. At the same time, many accusers are facing backlash.
One example comes from Peking University, one of the preeminent institutions in the country. Student Yue Xin and seven others accused a professor of sexual harassment and assault. They also argued that the university had covered up the investigation into the professor’s behavior. In response, Yue said, she was threatened and intimidated. Even her family was targeted. “I’m confined to [my parent’s] house right now,” Yue wrote. “I’ve lost my freedom."
Governor and presidential hopeful Ahn Hee-jung was forced to resign after his secretary Kim Ji-eun accused him of repeatedly raping her. Kim said she was inspired to speak out by the #MeToo campaign. South Korean filmmakers, poets and prosecutors were also accused of abusing women they worked with, many in more junior positions.
In the wake of Ahn’s accusation, activists said there needed to be a cultural shift, along with a legal one. But nearly a year later, many of the most problematic laws — including a defamation law that does not allow truth as a defense, making it hard for women to speak out publicly — remain on the books.
Indonesia’s #MeToo movement was launched by a 22-year-old named Amanda who tracked down the man who groped her in the street by using CCTV footage. Indonesia is a very conservative country; Amanda’s decision to go public sparked an outcry and, ultimately, led to her assailant’s arrest. But much more will have to change, experts say. “It’s an epidemic, and, unfortunately, at the moment, Indonesia has no legal protection for sexual harassment,” Yuniyanti Chuzaifah, vice chairwoman of the National Commission on Violence Against Women, told the New York Times. “Women have to be brave to report it, and the police services here are not friendly toward victims. There’s a lot of victim-blaming, like it is their own fault.”
For years, there were rumors about harassment by Leonid Slutsky, chairman of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee. Then in February a television reporter for RTVI publicly accused Slutsky of harassing her. Others soon followed, including BBC reporter Farida Rustamova, who claimed she caught some of Slutsky’s lascivious comments on tape.
In the weeks after the accusations went public, there were calls for Slutsky to step down. But soon, that outcry was muzzled. Politicians defended Slutsky and said reporters shouldn’t cover parliament if they feel unsafe.