LONDON — When sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein surfaced last year, they ignited the #MeToo movement in the United States — a phenomenon that would soon reverberate around the planet in surprising, sometimes profound, often disappointing ways.
In the year since, 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.
On Friday, a year after the New York Times and the New Yorker published their stories about Weinstein, two activists who have sought to end sexual violence in conflict zones — Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege and Yazidi assault survivor Nadia Murad — were awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.
But for all the early anticipation that things had changed forever, in many countries the #MeToo movement either fizzled or never took flight.
'Handsy' at parties
In Britain, attention quickly turned from Weinstein to the Palace of Westminster, or “Pestminster,” as the press dubbed it. Claims were made against British politicians, including Michael Fallon, who resigned as defense secretary, and Damian Green, who stepped down as the de facto deputy prime minister.
Public figures in London who drank too much and got “handsy” at parties were called out. Politicians vowed to take action, but campaigners have questioned the commitment.
“Have the two main political parties sufficiently changed their structures, rules and culture to stamp out sexual harassment? I am not so sure,” wrote Jane Merrick, a British journalist who went public with a charge of sexual harassment against Fallon.
Media brand names, celebrities and members of the power elite all came under scrutiny. Most notably, in January, the Financial Times sent an undercover reporter to the black-tie Presidents Club Charity Dinner, where all-male guests harassed the female “hostesses,” pulling the women onto their laps and demanding they drink more.
The high brought low
Politicians elsewhere also fell as a result of the #MeToo reckoning.
In South Korea, An Hee-jung, a regional governor and presidential contender, sensationally resigned after his secretary accused him of raping her on business trips. He was recently found not guilty of sexual assault, but prosecutors said they would appeal. After the verdict, An apologized and said he’d try to be “born again.”
In Japan, a journalist accused a top Finance Ministry bureaucrat of harassment. He resigned but denied the accusation. Equally telling was how the journalist was ignored by her own TV network.
Japan’s newspaper workers union complained, “Female reporters have had to suffer silently, despite being subjected to humiliating and mortifying treatment.”
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, David Keyes, left his post last month after a New York City politician, Julia Salazar, publicly accused him of sexually assaulting her.
Keyes denied the allegations, but they spurred more than a dozen other women to come forward.
“It had an impact here,” said Galia Wolloch, president of Na’amat, Israel’s largest nongovernmental organization working for the advancement of women. A former Israeli president, Moshe Katsav, served five years in prison for rape, but until #MeToo, such cases were the exception, Wolloch said.
Cultural figures toppled, too. In Sweden, Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of a member of the Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel Prize for literature, was convicted of rape and sentenced to two years in prison.
Mixed feelings in France
The phrase #MeToo, which was first used by the American activist Tarana Burke in 2006, was translated and tweaked in some countries. In Italy, it was #QuellaVoltaChe, in Spain it was #YoTambien, in Arab-speaking countries it was #AnaKaman.
In France, the campaign was known as #BalanceTonPorc, which loosely translates to “squeal on your pig.”
The French government was quick to take action. Marlène Schiappa, President Emmanuel Macron’s minister for gender equality, successfully introduced a provision to ban catcalling and verbal harassment in the streets. Last month, the law was used for the first time, when a panel of judges fined a man $347 for making lewd remarks to a woman on a bus and slapping her bottom.
Yet there has been a backlash, too, with some questioning whether the #MeToo movement has gone too far.
The pushback came from surprising sources. In January, nearly 100 women — including writers, academics and actresses such as Catherine Deneuve — penned an open letter in the newspaper Le Monde, defending what they called “the right to annoy.”
In Russia, sub-Saharan Africa and China, the #MeToo movement has struggled to take off.
Feminism has a complicated history in Russia. For decades, the very word has been scorned as a Western-derived attack on Russian women’s notions of femininity. Women’s rights movements have also felt superfluous in a country where women gained many freedoms during the Communist era — including the right to vote and access to legal abortion — decades ahead of their Western counterparts.
When the Weinstein scandal broke last year, the reaction from Russians, including women, was largely one of victim-shaming. A slew of Russian actresses of all ages came out in support of Weinstein, and a group of women stripped naked in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, hoisting a sign saying “Harvey Weinstein Welcome to Russia.”
There have been some fledgling attempts at a Russian #MeToo. Earlier this year, at least five female journalists and a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman accused lawmaker Leonid Slutsky of sexual harassment. But the parliamentary ethics committee dismissed their claims, and Slutsky later boasted of how he had kept #MeToo out of the country.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the only high-profile accusations explicitly inspired by #MeToo have been in South Africa, a liberal outlier on the continent, and haven’t resulted in investigations.
Yet cases of femicide and abuse have made headlines in countries such as Kenya. Last month, a regional governor was accused of organizing the killing of a young woman with whom he was having an affair. But local media coverage — which focused on the woman’s alleged promiscuity and on the governor’s pitiable diet in jail — convinced many feminists in Kenya that much remains to be done before a #MeToo-like movement can take hold there.
That is partly because the movement for women’s rights faces different battles in Africa than in the West. Studies find that most sexual abuse against women on the continent is perpetrated by intimate partners rather than strangers or acquaintances. In some African cultures, genital mutilation, child marriage and polygamy are still practiced, and in conflict zones, trafficking and rape as a tool of war have been well-documented.
“Kenyan women are not waiting for #MeToo to bring them liberation, because we are responding to a totally different context,” said Nanjala Nyabola, a Kenyan political analyst. “Our struggles will be different.”
In India, where stories of sexual abuse in the glamorous Bollywood industry have emerged, some allegations have been given renewed attention since #MeToo.
A decade ago, the former Bollywood star Tanushree Dutta publicly claimed that her co-star, the much older Nana Patekar, tried to force her to perform in a dance sequence where he would touch her inappropriately. Dutta quit movies after the incident and moved to the United States, and the story fizzled out.
But when Dutta spoke out again this summer, her story went viral. She has since become the face of an anti-harassment campaign in Indian cinema, drawing support from contemporary witnesses of the alleged incident and a handful of Bollywood stars.
Patekar denied the accusations, however, and few expect him to suffer serious consequences. In India’s multibillion-dollar movie industry, accusations of sexual abuse, harassment and even rape are often viewed as a concoction by attention-hungry actresses or, if true, as the price of fame.
Women’s rights campaigners say that women coming forward and telling their stories can accomplish only so much and that governments and businesses must do more to stamp out harassment.