Four panelists addressed the shortcomings of the #MeToo movement and potential means of improvement at a presentation titled “#MeToo - A Community Discussion - From #TimesUp to #TooMuch?” on Wednesday afternoon.
The #MeToo movement began on social media in October 2017 after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The movement has served as a virtual outlet for people to tell their stories about sexual assault and harassment.
Co-sponsored by the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, and the Center for the Study of Law and Culture at Columbia Law School, the event was a public community discussion held at the Law School.
Professor Katherine Franke, the event’s moderator, is the director for the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law. The other panelists were Columbia University Law School professors, including Kendall Thomas, Melissa Murray, and Olatunde Johnson.
The panelists discussed the impermanence and racial implications of the #MeToo movement and the sexual harassment culture that exists in the United States. Johnson addressed the difficulties the movement faced due to its origins in social media. While social media can be used as a place of empowerment, she emphasized the scattered nature of collective efforts rooted in such platforms.
“Anything that is primarily taking place on social media also risks being very diffuse, being very thin,” she said. “There are low barriers to entry.”
Thomas pointed to the Time’s Up movement, founded by Hollywood celebrities in response to sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry, as a more successful example of addressing the issue of sexual harassment and assault. He saw this movement as a more direct and community-centric way for people to share their stories.
“It rests on the norms of solidarity and the possibility of structural change,” he said. “I think [it] ought to be encouraged.”
Murray went on to discuss the racial complexities that exist within both of these movements. She mentioned that Lupita Nyong’o and Salma Hayek’s accusations against Harvey Weinstein aren’t referenced as frequently as allegations made against him by white women.
“[They] are peripheral, but they aren’t part of the main story. The voices of other women are prioritized. What is that about? Whether there is a perfect victim here and whether certain women fall out of that,” she asked.
The panelists also touched on how these movements apply to Columbia. Thomas insisted that the same culture of the sexualization of women exists within the University.
“It would be a mistake to view the culture of a university generally or the culture of the law school, in particular, as existing separate and apart from the larger culture,” he said.
At the close of the event, an audience member insisted that policy changes wouldn’t be enough to change this culture, and that revolution was necessary.
“Revolution? Sign us up,” Franke said.