Did Cuomo’s ouster show the #MeToo movement was co-opted? Two experts weigh in

Firings and resignations among leaders of women's movement caught in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's orbit raises questions about the progress of the #MeToo movement, nearly four years since the hashtag went viral in 2017. Judy Woodruff discusses with Dani Ayers, CEO of #MeToo International, and journalist Lin Farley, who is credited with coining the term "sexual harassment" in the 1970's.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's been almost a month since New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he would resign, after a report by the state attorney general's office found he sexually harassed multiple women.

    Since then, a cascade of firings and resignations have brought down leaders of the women's movement caught in Cuomo's orbit. On Monday, Alphonso David was fired as president of the human rights campaign. That follows resignations by Tina Tchen, the chief executive at Time's Up, an organization focused on supporting women in the workplace, along with Roberta Kaplan at the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, and a number of the group's board members.

    All left after revelations that they had advised Cuomo's team on how to respond to the allegations. The news raises questions about the progress of the MeToo movement and where to go from here, nearly four years after the hashtag went viral in 2017.

    Here to discuss all this, I'm joined by Dani Ayers. She is the CEO of the MeToo International. And author and journalist Lin Farley, who is credited with coining the term sexual harassment in the 1970s.

    And welcome to both of you. Thank you for being here.

    Dani Ayers, I'm going to start with you.

    How is it that the downfall of Governor Cuomo led to the downfall of these others leaders in this movement?

  • Dani Ayers, CEO, MeToo International:

    Well, I think that what we need to understand about Cuomo and the accusations against him and the investigation which led to his resignation is that that happened independently and is very much a result of the work of the MeToo movement.

    The repercussions that have happened with the HRC and with Time's Up are separate from the effort we made in order to have an independent investigation take place that actually led to the results that we have seen today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lin Farley, we know that the individuals who have resigned or been fired were part of advising Governor Cuomo as he looked at how to deal with these allegations against him.

    What do you think all of this says about where the movement is right now?

    Lin Farley, Author, "Sexual Shakedown": I think the movement's in trouble.

    I don't think we should duck that, because the same concern is happening with the MeToo movement that happened with the issue itself, and that is, it's extremely easy to co-opt the people who are tasked with bringing sexual harassment to light.

    Now, you have a strong political figure in New York state, and he took a lot of MeToo people with him, because, in fact, they had sold out their mandate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dani Ayers, where do you think the movement stands right now?

  • Dani Ayers:

    Yes, thank you for asking that, because I think it's important to remember that the MeToo movement is made up of more than just two organizations.

    It's made up of millions of individuals and organizations that have been fighting, frankly, for decades to interrupt rape culture, which allows for the prevalence of sexual violence. And so to say that two organizations are somehow impacting the overall MeToo movement is to really not acknowledge the work that MeToo International is doing each and every day, that all of these organizations that we work with every day are doing.

    And we have seen many, many big pieces of progress that we have moved forward, especially since the hashtag went viral. MeToo has made a ton of work possible. And we're now seeing the kinds of accountability that we just witnessed with the Cuomo investigation.

    I don't know if that would have been possible before the MeToo movement. So, we have to name that as a victory. And we're going to continue to call for accountability from people in positions of power and those just everyday folks, right?

    We're seeing differences in workplace environments. We're seeing differences inside of politics. All of that has been made possible by so many survivors coming forward and saying, enough is enough, we're not going to stand for it anymore.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lin, as we mentioned, you are the person who coined the term, you're given credit for coining the term sexual harassment decades ago.

    How much progress do you think women have made in the years since?

  • Lin Farley:

    It's extremely difficult, I think, to measure that with any degree of accuracy.

    There's a lot more recognition. The whole movement laid the ground for MeToo. And MeToo took it to another level, really jumped way up there. But now where do we go? That's the question. How do we cement this? How do we make it real in the workplace, what's happening?

    MeToo is great, but we need to change the workplace, the culture. But it's got to stop being a rape culture within our corporations. And that's what it is. I mean, you still have women who are terrified that they're not going to be able to keep their job or they're not going to be able to advance if they are not nice to certain people or not put out or not do certain things.

    That's all still going on. We don't really have any kind of checks and balance within the workplace itself.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dani Ayers, is being co-opted by more powerful forces out there, whether they're political or corporate or some other organization, a significant issue right now for this movement?

  • Dani Ayers:

    Well, I think that, because the news cycle, frankly, is — it continues to elevate some of the stories of those people in positions of power who have been perpetrating violence or harassment, that ends up being the story that mainstream America talks about.

    We don't necessarily get to hear about all of the grassroots work that is happening on the ground every day in communities across the country that is advancing the interruption of sexual violence. That is happening every day.

    And I think the other thing, that I will echo that there is co-opt — there is this co-opting that is — that people are always going to try to do. And our job is to continue to work together as a movement, not as an individual organization or an individual organizer. A lot of folks call on Tarana Burke to speak, but there are so many folks behind her that are doing this work together.

    And I think it's important to remember that, together, we can go much farther than one organization on their own. And as long as we put survivors at the center, the needs and the wishes and the demands of survivors at the center, and keep operating from that place, we are going to keep moving forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Tarana Burke, of course, being the founder of the MeToo movement.

    Well, it is a conversation and work that will go on. It's a conversation that will continue long beyond this.

    But it's so important to hear from the two of you. And we thank you very much for joining us, Lin Farley and Dani Ayers.

  • Lin Farley:

    And thank you, Judy. Thank you.

  • Dani Ayers:

    Thank you.

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