From #MeToo to Time’s Up: What Will the New Year Bring for Women?

Although 2017 began with the inauguration of a President whom feminist Gloria Steinem recently referred to as the “harasser in chief”, many victories for women’s rights have nevertheless occurred over the course of the year.  Last year, Donald Trump was TIME’s Person of the Year, this year’s cover, however, features actress Ashley Judd, singer Taylor Swift, former engineer at Uber Susan Fowler, lobbyist Adama Iwu, farm worker Isabel Pascual (a pseudonym to protect her identity), and the elbow of a hospital worker who has chosen to remain anonymous, represent just five of the millions of women who have shared their stories experiencing sexual assault or harassment.  As millions of women from all races, socio-economic status, and nationalities, join in solidarity behind #MeToo, 2018 stands as a year primed to change our entrenched culture of sexual violence.

Already, legislative policies drafted at the local, state, and federal level signal the beginning of an era in which sexual violence will no longer be tolerated.  Due to the rampant abuse of housekeepers, particularly those in the hospitality industry, lawmakers in Chicago recently passed an ordinance requiring hotel employers to equip workers with a portable “panic button.”  Moreover, Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo proposed legislative changes to the sexual harassment policies in both the public and private sector.  For example, two of his proposals call to end legal settlements of complaints against government officials that are funded by taxpayers and to void clauses in employment contracts that prevent allegations of sexual harassment from being prosecuted.  In Congress, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) along with Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), and Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), have introduced bi-partisan legislation to change the difficult system of reporting instances of sexual harassment.

Unlike many other historical movements for women’s rights, #MeToo endeavors to support women from all races and socio-economic statuses.  While #MeToo has been criticized as a movement that disproportionately publicizes high-profile incidences of sexual assault, soon after the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve, a coalition of more than three hundred powerful women in Hollywood announced Time’s Up, a groundbreaking initiative to end sexism in the workplace for all women, not just for celebrities.  Administered by the National Women’s Law Center, Time’s Up includes a legal defense fund that will provide low-income victims of workplace harassment with legal representation.  In response to the creation of Time’s Up, television producer Shonda Rhimes stated, “If this group of women can’t fight for a model for other women who don’t have as much power and privilege, then who can?”

While forty years ago the word “sexual harassment” did not exist, as it was brushed aside as normative behavior, many of the eighth-grade young women at Brogden Middle School did not understand why, for many women of #MeToo, it has taken several years to “break the silence.”. As reporter Megyn Kelly stated, “I think women are starting to believe we don’t have to live like this. I always thought maybe things could change for my daughter—I never thought things could change for me.”