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As survivors say #MeToo, what will it take to stop widespread sexual harassment?

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein story, the hashtag #MeToo has inspired millions of women to share stories of harassment in the workplace and culture. Judy Woodruff explores what’s driving the movement with Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center, Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood, Lisa Senecal of Vermont Commission on Women and Leigh Gilmore of Wellesley College.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The hashtag #MeToo has millions of women sharing stories of abuse, shining a spotlight on a troubling reality in our society.

    It was first used in 2007, but when actor Alyssa Milano tweeted it Sunday night to talk about sexual harassment and assault in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein story, it went viral. The hashtag was tweeted nearly a million times in just 48 hours. Facebook reported 45 percent of its users have friends who posted #MeToo, as women wrote about their experiences about the workplace and culture, and what should change.

    We explore some of those issues with Fatima Goss Graves. She’s president of the National Women’s Law Center. Lisa Senecal wrote about her own experience for the online news site Daily Beast. She’s with the Vermont Commission on Women. And Melissa Silverstein is the founder of the blog and Web site Women and Hollywood.

    Thank you all for joining us.

    Lisa Senecal, I’m going to start with you.

    You have had a personal experience with sexual harassment. That’s in part what has drawn you to this #MeToo campaign movement.

    Just tell us briefly about what happened.

  • Lisa Senecal, Member, Vermont Commission On Women:

    Sure.

    Like most women, I have had a number of experiences with sexual harassment, beginning with my first job, when I was 15 years old. And it’s really been a threat off and on throughout my entire professional career.

    The most egregious offense was an actual assault that occurred with a male executive. Unfortunately, because of an NDA — and we can go into the evils of nondisclosures another time — but because of that, there isn’t a lot that I’m able to say about the specific event.

    But the issue of sexual harassment and finally having this come to the fore, so many women are already familiar with it from being on the receiving end. And I think, especially with the #MeToo campaign, it’s been really wonderful and an eye-opening experience for men to realize just how pervasive an issue this is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, in your experience, it was a business setting.

    Melissa Silverstein, you have been writing about women in Hollywood for 10 years. Of course, that’s where the Harvey Weinstein story came from.

    If it’s been going on in Hollywood forever, why hasn’t it been talked about more before now?

  • Melissa Silverstein, Founder, Women And Hollywood:

    Well, I think there was a culture of silence created around this man and also within this industry.

    People were afraid. People are afraid for their jobs. It’s a very relational industry, where if someone is going to blacklist you, you are not going to get your next job.

    So I think the way that a person was able to conduct himself for 30 years like this was to build a culture of fear, to make people sign nondisclosure agreements, and to get them to shut up.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fatima Goss Graves, here with me in Washington with the National Women’s Law Center, we have been talking about Hollywood.

    We have talking about the business workplace. Is there any field of work where this isn’t going on?

  • Fatima Goss Graves, President, National Women’s Law Center:

    Right.

    The issue of harassment and assault, it’s a Hollywood problem, but really it’s an everywhere problem. It infects industries across the board, whether you’re high-wage jobs, low-wage jobs, male-dominated fields, but also female-dominated fields.

    Restaurants are some of the areas where you have some of the highest rates of EEOC charges. And that’s not a male-dominated field.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    Lisa Senecal, some people are saying that they’re uncomfortable with this #MeToo campaign movement because they’re saying, once again, women are being asked to go public with what happened to them, but there is no promise that there is going to be anything done about it. How do you see this?

  • Lisa Senecal:

    I don’t necessarily believe that women are being asked to come forward.

    I think this is an opportunity to come forward, if that’s something that women want to do, but there’s no obligation to do it. And there’s been a lot of support for letting women know that if this isn’t something you’re comfortable with at this time, no one is obligated to tell their story, and no one is allowed to force you to tell your story before you’re ready.

    But the stories are important. Without them, the degree to which this happens across all industries, across genders as well — we know that this happens to men. This happens to the transgender.

    It’s not specific to women, although it affects us most frequently. Until we have a critical mass of women who are able to get the men in their lives, the men that they work with to understand how pervasive a problem it is, and then can get men to begin to act on this, because this isn’t a women’s issue.

    This is a violence issue, and an issue of power and who has the power. So until the people who still primarily do hold the power, which is primarily men and primarily white men, until they’re going to begin to act, then the problems are going to persist.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Melissa Silverstein, how do you see that? What is it going to take for this to be a change?

  • Melissa Silverstein:

    The fact that we’re having a global conversation about sexual harassment — I have been doing media for the last week all over the world.

    People are really enthralled by this and want to see change. This is a global issue. And, also, Hollywood is a global industry. Seventy cents of every dollar of Hollywood studio movies are made outside the United States.

    So what people are looking for is Hollywood to step up. And, today, we had a leader in Hollywood, Kathleen Kennedy, to say we need to have a commission, cross-industry commission, of people who are going to look into this and put a stop to it once and for all.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And pick up on that, Fatima Goss Graves. Just across the board, what is it going to take?

  • Fatima Goss Graves:

    Right.

    We know that there are things that would make a difference here. If employers had processes that their employees actually use, you wouldn’t have harassment in the shadows. Right now, most people don’t report harassment to anyone. And it’s because they think their employers won’t do anything, or, worse, that they would experience retaliation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that’s — because that’s been what happened.

  • Fatima Goss Graves:

    And that is. They’re right to believe that they will experience retaliation, because they do. They’re shamed. They’re blamed.

    But employees could make a difference. Right? They can be — take it seriously and communicate that to their workplace. They can also have the right policies that are in place. And, finally, they could, when someone comes forward, be really clear that they take it seriously and that they will not tolerate retaliation.

    Those are things that aren’t happening among employers frequently enough.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Senecal, as somebody who had it happen to you in a business environment, what changes need to be made in the workplace? What has to happen?

  • Lisa Senecal:

    Well, I agree completely with what was just said.

    Too often, the workplace education that goes on is incredibly insufficient. It’s more of companies wanting to be able to check the box and say that they did their sexual harassment training. And it isn’t truly something within the culture of companies that they believe that this is a problem and that it is a right of all people working at that company not to be harassed.

    So, until it starts to be taken more seriously, and when a woman or anyone comes forward with an accusation, it does have to be taken so much more seriously. And the knee-jerk response, as was in my case, cannot be to shame the woman, can’t be to blame her for somehow bringing this on herself, and putting women back in a position of being victimized a second time because they’re not taken seriously when they come forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Melissa Silverstein, yes, go ahead.

  • Melissa Silverstein:

    I just wanted to add, one of the things that’s so fundamental about this is how this — how it’s so normalized for all of us to go through this kind of harassment, especially in Hollywood, and how people kind of laugh off, oh, you know, that’s locker room talk, or, you know, this is the movie business, get used to it.

    And what we need to do is really pierce that veil of the normalization of this kind of conduct, because it starts with, you know, the comments, and then it can escalate very quickly.

    So we really need to just change people’s attitudes and get rid of the toxic masculinity. Hollywood has no much institutionalized sexism that sometimes I feel like we need to just start over, if possible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Joining us also is Leigh Gilmore, a professor at Wellesley College who’s written a book about why — titled “Why We Doubt What Women Say About Their Lives.”

    Leigh Gilmore, why don’t women — why haven’t women been believed and taken seriously on this, and could we now be at a moment when they are?

  • Leigh Gilmore, Wellesley College:

    It’s good to be with you, Judy.

    I think we have a persistent and a pervasive culture of doubting what women say, especially when they’re bringing forward accounts of harm into the public sphere. So we have these pre-made default cultural narratives of women’s unreliability. We have he said/she said, which is a false equivalence narrative.

    We have that notion that nobody knows what really happened. We have that notion that you can’t really trust what women say. None of these are based in fact, but they are part of a kind of cloud that enables us to doubt any woman before she speaks up.

    And it’s quite intimidating. And so, if we’re at a point of change, we really are at a moment where I think we have a new level of visibility, and we have the opportunity to amplify the voices of women who are speaking out.

    So, insofar as we have that opportunity, there is a form of solidarity, and more women speaking can lead to change.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fatima Goss Graves, as somebody who works on these issues from a legal standpoint, are we, could we be at a watershed point, or is it just a whole lot more complicated?

  • Fatima Goss Graves:

    Well, the culture change typically has to go together with both the enforcement of the laws and the policy change.

    And so we’re at a tipping point, surely, on culture change. But I will tell you, you know, the National Women’s Law Center runs a hot line. And over the last two weeks, we have had double the intake on harassment.

    And we have a new network called the Legal Network for Gender Equity, so we’re — attorneys are joining with us and will be ready to take these cases. But those people who are making these calls and contacting us, I think that that shows that you have people who are ready to come forward on social media, and there is power there, but it seems like there are people who are ready to come forward in other ways, too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to quickly go around and ask each one of you about the role of men in all of this.

    Lisa Senecal?

  • Lisa Senecal:

    Oh, I think it’s critical for men as allies to be coming forward and supporting women who do come forward.

    Men also need to be willing to call out other men, whether that’s one-on-one, whether it’s in a group setting within a company, or socially. If a man hears, sees someone doing something inappropriate, they need to have the courage to stand up, even in front of other men, and say, it’s not OK, it’s inappropriate behavior, and it’s not going to be tolerated.

    And until it’s also men joining in, women can’t do this by themselves. There is an organization, A Call to Men, that I’m a big fan of. And one of their mantras is, if women could have stopped abuse and assault, they would have done it already.

    And that’s completely true. It’s not something that women are going to be able to do alone. It shouldn’t be looked at as only a women’s issue. And until people look at this on a larger scale and understand that this affects the bottom line of companies, it affects productivity, it affects, you know, absenteeism, just across the board, this is not a women’s issue.

    It is a human issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    Melissa Silverstein, what about that?

    And we should point out that men are themselves the victims of sexual harassment and abuse at times.

  • Melissa Silverstein:

    I feel that this is on men.

    The men are most of the perpetrators. They’re also the collaborators. And, at The Weinstein Company, their board was all men, and they were all complicit in creating an environment that allowed this to thrive.

    In Hollywood, there’s not a single woman, even the people at the tippy-top of the industry, who don’t report to men. This is also about getting more women into leadership positions and getting the men — and holding the men accountable.

    The men in this industry need to step up. They need to say, we want to be — we want to create this industry in a way that women can thrive and don’t have to experience this anymore.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Leigh Gilmore?

  • Leigh Gilmore:

    We’re talking about awareness and accountability.

    So, as wonderful as it is to have increased visibility, and it enables us to connect the dots and to see the long histories of sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination, we need new levels of accountability.

    I will echo the notion that Harvey Weinstein’s board certainly knew about these accusations. There’s a DA who failed to charge him. We have ample examples of failures.

    And what we really need to do is to correct those. The role of men is certainly important here. Minimally, they can show up and be witnesses.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Fatima Goss Graves, the role of men and how we prevent this.

  • Fatima Goss Graves:

    We have had a little bit of conversation about men as survivors, but the conversation we haven’t really had is about what happens when men are abusers or enablers or allow this to happen in the workplaces, in schools, or in women’s everyday lives?

    And so now we have an opportunity culturally for that conversation. That culture is going to have to hit where policy-makers are. It’s going to have to hit where employers are in order to make a real difference.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it’s clear that everyone is hoping this is a watershed moment, that things will change as a result of what’s happened here. But we will see.

    And we appreciate all of you joining us in this conversation, Fatima Goss Graves here with me in Washington, Lisa Senecal, Melissa Silverstein, and Leigh Gilmore.

    We thank you all.

  • Fatima Goss Graves:

    Thank you.

  • Melissa Silverstein:

    Thank you.

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