PARIS (AFP) — By forcing the world to wake up to the daily sexual abuse suffered by women, the #MeToo movement has become a social revolution of historic significance. His legacy is still being determined.
It all started with a tweet: on October 15, 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano invited women to share their experiences of sexual harassment under the words “Me too”.
In one year, the hashtag has been used more than 19 million times, according to the Pew Research Center, putting the issue of sexual assault at the top of the global agenda.
Of course, the movement sat on the shoulders of decades of feminist struggle – even the phrase “Me Too” was a decade old coined by activist Tarana Burke for a charity for abuse survivors. .
It caught fire following an explosive investigation by the New York Times into film producer Harvey Weinstein who, it turned out, had for years raped and assaulted women, many in the industry, and s was fired.
A settlement has come for many powerful figures in the entertainment industry.
Kevin Spacey was removed from ‘House of Cards’ and Ridley Scott’s ‘All the Money in the World’ was replayed to replace him with another actor.
The heads of Amazon Studios, Fox News, CBS and Vox Media were expelled.
Actor James Franco, opera singer Placido Domingo, comedian Louis CK, fashion photographer Terry Richardson, celebrity chef Mario Batali — barely a week has passed without another illustrious name being covered of shame.
The most serious allegations have led to prison sentences for previously untouchable figures: Bill Cosby, once considered “America’s father”, singer R. Kelly and ultra-connected financier Jeffrey Epstein.
The pressure has extended beyond the entertainment sector to involve politicians, sports stars and big tech companies such as Google and Uber.
His strength was to make visible what had always been in plain sight.
“#MeToo showed that sexual and gender-based violence was a daily reality, that it was commonplace,” said Sandrine Ricci, sociologist at the University of Quebec in Montreal.
“The movement gave people, especially the victims, a better understanding of what was being done to them.”
The epicenter was the United States, but the aftershocks were global.
When cases of abuse emerged, they were harder to ignore, whether it was a Serbian drama teacher accused of rape, abuse by ultra-Orthodox leaders in Israel or a scandal of “sex for grades” in a Moroccan university.
The Pew study found that a third of #MeToo tweets in the first year were written in a language other than English – seven percent were in Afrikaans, four percent in Somali – and that didn’t count regional variants, such as #YoTambien in Spanish or #BalanceTonPorc (“rat out your pig”) in French.
“People were surprised – they didn’t know how common sexual harassment is,” said Hillevi Ganetz of Stockholm University. “Day after day there were testimonies, it was overwhelming,” she added. “It was a revolution and it was wonderful.”
The backlash was almost immediate.
By its very nature, #MeToo targeted behavior that was often difficult to prove in court and led to accusations that people were being “cancelled” without proper investigation.
Some worried that it meant the end of flirting – that it could take the strain out of sexual tension.
French cinema icon Catherine Deneuve was one of those who spoke out against the movement’s “puritanical” bent that threatened to turn women into “eternal victims”.
The debate has inevitably fallen into the toilet bowl of online culture wars, exemplified by the militant side taking during the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial earlier this year.
The three-week disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai after accusing former Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex has shown the serious extent resistance can take.
But even France – the scene of mass protests over the subject – has a president in the person of Emmanuel Macron who has appointed at least three ministers with allegations of sexual assault.
As the early waves of the movement recede, the difficult task of encouraging societal change has taken over.
“We are still a long way from implementing solutions,” said Florence Rochefort of the National Center for Scientific Research.
With the world in the throes of economic and climate crises, “now is not the right time to solve social problems”, she added.
Rape laws have been tightened in many places, such as Sweden in 2018 and Spain last year.
Companies around the world have implemented training and no longer sweep complaints under the rug.
Times Up, which campaigns against abuse in the film industry, sets up an expert panel to hear complaints, similar to standards authorities for doctors, teachers and other professionals.
Such ideas go both ways – providing a clear mechanism that encourages people to come forward, while countering those who claim the defendants are being convicted without due process.
“We want to avoid being judged by the media,” said the group’s UK chairwoman, Heather Rabbatts. “It doesn’t help anyone”