Long-term impact of movement against sexual assault remains unclear
The #MeToo movement in one year has shaken the United States, brought down dozens of powerful men and threatens the confirmation of a Supreme Court judge, yet it has also become deeply polarizing and its long-term impact remains unclear.
Accusations last October that Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein engaged in decades of sexual assault, opened the floodgates with liberals still reeling from President Donald Trump’s 2016 election despite boasting that he groped women with impunity. But #MeToo, like almost everything in America these days, has proved divisive. And with Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh accused of misconduct by three women in the 1980s, the polarization is becoming near hysterical.
On Tuesday, Trump was cheered by supporters in Mississippi when he mocked Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, provoking a furious backlash from Democrats and criticism from moderate Republicans. “It’s a very scary time for young men in America, where you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of,” he said earlier this week. “You have this backlash that many Republicans are feeling that if Kavanaugh is not confirmed, it allows this liberal movement to take precedence over their politics and concerns,” explained Melissa Deckman, professor of political science at Washington College in Maryland.
Research indicates a gender gap—that women care more than men about sexual misconduct—but that party is the deciding factor, with Democrats caring more than Republicans.
#MeToo spurred the ouster of Democratic lawmakers such as the popular Al Franken and John Conyers, hugely respected for his civil rights work. This came 20 years after Bill Clinton survived allegations of sexual assault and harassment, as well as an attempt to remove him from office over a consensual affair with an intern that many now consider an abuse of power.
In an Alabama election last year, meanwhile, Republicans backed their guy despite accusations he molested teenage girls.
With Kavanaugh, having a conservative judiciary appears to carries more weight with many in his camp than anything he may or may not have done as a teenager.
#MeToo has been credited with spurring women to run for office in record numbers as Democrats hope next month’s midterm elections will strip Trump of his majority and elevate women into power. But a revolution remains a long way off.
The best possible outcome in November is that women will make up 24 percent of Congress, a U.S. record and up from the current 19.3 percent, a rate of representation still flagging far behind many in the developed world. “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” says Jean Sinzdak, associate director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “We are likely to see some gain… but we are not going to be at parity.”
Women have come forward to vent their anger over harassment and assault that for years they kept quiet, humiliated and disbelieving that they would be heard. Instead now they are being heard, being believed and supported. There are signs attitudes are shifting. This year, Bill Cosby, once one of the most famous Americans in the world, was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman in 2004 and sentenced to at least three years in prison.
From police reopening a rape investigation into one of the biggest football stars on the planet, to ex-gymnastics USA doctor Larry Nassar being jailed for life, barely a day goes by when #MeToo is not front-page news.
But the lasting impact is unclear.
There has been growing pushback questioning whether all sexual misdemeanors should be treated with the same kick-them-to-the-curb attitude. An increasingly vocal segment believe the movement may have gone too far in ousting at least some men without the evidence to back up their accusations.
“The effectiveness of the #MeToo movement and the long-lasting impact of it is largely dependent on men buying into it,” said Lisa Kimmel, president and CEO of the Canadian arm of U.S.-based public relations firm Edelman.
In American business circles, women account for fewer than four percent of board chairs in the S&P 1500. “It’s almost tone deaf if there is not a real commitment to enhance women in the workplace,” said Kimmel.
And what of politics? How long will it take a viable woman presidential candidate to fare better than Hillary Clinton? “If things continue the way they are, you are going to have the same momentum in 2020 and women ready to throw their hats into the ring,” said Sinzdak. “But anything could happen, between now and then.”