Do you remember two years ago, in 2017, when our social media blew up with the hashtag #MeToo? Do you remember when your favorite actors and olympians came out and blew up the media with their harassment experiences? Social media became a platform for victims of sexual harassment to tell their stories, whether it was in search of justice, catharsis, or empowement. I remember being shaken by the baffling high number of tweets and retweets, being completely disturbed and sickened by some of the stories, and thinking, “this movement will go far”. I remember it felt powerful. It was powerful—at least for some.
My feed was loaded with allegations of sexual harassment towards people in the spotlight. Hollywood film producer, Harvey Weinstein, who produced historic films such as Pulp Fiction, Chicago, Good Will Hunting, and Inglorious Bastards, was finally kicked out of his own company, The Weinstein Company. After decades of the music industry turning a blind eye to reports of R.Kelly abusing girls and women, the singer was finally charged with federal sex crimes. USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to life imprisonment.
People with power were being taken down, and the media was loving it. People felt empowered to see these powerful men go down. It showed that the #MeToo movement was fruitful. But there’s a gap, a missing piece to this issue that was overshadowed by media coverage on these high-profile people: the stories of the restaurant servers, construction workers, farmworkers, hotel maids, and many other powerless fields. When it comes to two people not in the spotlight (for example, a server in a local, unrecognized diner sexually harassed behind the kitchen doors by her manager), it becomes much easier to hide it and be left unnoticed. Lower-wage jobs are largely left out of the conversation because of their higher vulnerability, caused by power imbalance, lack of resources and high risk.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released data on the distribution of sexual harassment charges by industry and it shows that accomodation and food services, followed by retail and manufacturing constitute the largest percentage of the total reported allegations. These harassments occur on a daily basis, and because they don’t occur in the public eye, they don’t receive much necessary attention.
Most women do not have the wealth, power or resources of successful Hollywood actresses or politicians that can cause. Hollywood actress Ashley Judd’s fame gave her voice power, and The New York Times gave her story a powerful platform. Through this, her story became viral and eventually led Harvey Weinstein to face criminal charges. But not all women have this power—not even close. A factory worker in a developing country does not have a trusting HR representative that will hear her cry for help. A single-mother working in a neighborhood diner doesn’t either. After two years, what the #MeToo movement has yet to address is the existence of power imbalances between victims and perpetrators, as well as between victims themselves. Just as celebrities and victims in power say “me too,” the ordinary say #MeToo too.
Ordinary people many times don’t have the resources and the stability to report, they risk facing retaliation or are bound to remain quiet due to forced contracts. The Center of American Congress published that nearly 75% of sexual-harassment victims have been retaliated against after filing a report. The power imbalance and the fear of retaliation hinder victims from reporting harassment.
There is no doubt that now there exists an increasing social support for victims to feel comfortable speaking out and finding justice. But so much can happen outside the world of social media. In order to bring effective results and punishment, there needs to be unambiguous, industry-specific and regulated harassment policies across every industry. Across some hotels in New York, hotel housekeepers are carrying around hotel panic buttons that are attached to their uniforms, and with one click, put them in direct contact with the front desk. Industry-specific and enforceable policies like these are needed to give victims power and give perpetrators no means to escape punishment.
Media often fails to tell the whole story. My impression of the MeToo was one of success. We’ve seen powerful perpetrators go to jail, lose their positions. However, a large portion of the story is missing: the part consisting of the ordinary. It is important to address this because yes, the metoo movement has started the conversation and has opened doors to changes, but it’s only the beginning. There needs to be a second part to this movement, which starts from widening the spotlight so that it includes both the powerful and the powerless.