NEW YORK, N.Y. – Nearly a year old and still making headlines almost daily, the #MeToo movement faces a dramatic test of its impact and staying power in the sexual assault allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Leaders of the movement suggest that Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, might have never found the courage to come forward publicly about an alleged assault from her high school days without the examples set by women worldwide who’ve spoken out about past encounters with sexual assault and harassment.
“Time and time again, people have been inspired by the people who came before them,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center. “They are willing to take on the risk of retaliation.”
Goss Graves is heartened by the fact that numerous senators of both parties say Ford deserves a chance to be heard on Capitol Hill — in itself, she said, an indication of the #MeToo movement’s staying power.
The movement exploded worldwide in October 2017, sparked by detailed allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Across the U.S., and in many foreign countries, it has toppled powerful men in a wide range of fields — entertainment, journalism, politics and high tech, among others. Celebrity chefs, TV hosts and members of Congress are among those who have lost their jobs.
Almost from the start, it also fueled a backlash among those who felt the movement sometimes led to excesses and injustice. Ford’s allegations have rekindled that resentment.
Conservative actor James Woods, in a subsequently deleted tweet, depicted hers accusations as one of numerous “#MeTooLynchings.” The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial Monday titled “The #MeToo Kavanaugh Ambush.”
“Letting an accusation that is this old, this unsubstantiated and this procedurally irregular defeat Mr. Kavanaugh would also mean weaponizing every sexual assault allegation no matter the evidence,” the editorial said. “It will tarnish the #MeToo cause with the smear of partisanship.”
Actor Sean Penn chimed in, suggesting it would be good for #MeToo “to just slow down.”
Even aside from the Ford-Kavanaugh showdown, this has been a tumultuous season for the #MeToo movement. Among the most recent developments:
—Two of the most powerful men in the U.S. television industry lost their jobs at least partly due to sexual misconduct allegations. Les Moonves stepped down as head of CBS Corp. and the network fired “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager. Both men have denied the accusations.
—A video of Harvey Weinstein aired on TV showing him propositioning a woman who later accused him of rape, repeatedly touching her and stroking her arm and back during what was supposed to have been a business meeting.
—”The Tonight Show” cancelled an appearance by comedian Norm Macdonald after he told The Hollywood Reporter he was “happy the #MeToo movement had slowed down a little bit.” Among other comments, Macdonald suggested there should be “forgiveness” for fellow comedian Louis C.K, who was accused of sexual misconduct and recently has taken steps to return to the limelight. Louis C.K.’s recent surprise appearance at a comedy club unleashed torrents of criticism from women’s advocates who said he had not properly atoned for his transgressions.
—Comedian Bill Cosby is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 24 on three felony sex assault charges. He was convicted in April of drugging and molesting a woman at his home in 2004, and faces up to 10 years in prison on each of three felony counts.
As these cases indicate, much of #MeToo’s high-profile impact has been in the entertainment and media world. Noreen Farrell, executive director of San Francisco-based Equal Rights Advocates, said more work is needed to persuade employers in other sectors to crack down on sexual misconduct.
“While we have seen some celebrity-level public shaming over serial harassers and enablers, employers seem to be digging in and resisting change,” said Farrell, noting that the business lobby in California has been fighting hard against proposed anti-harassment legislation.
Among the many women in politics who have embraced the #MeToo movement is Gayle Goldin, a Democratic state legislator in Rhode Island who has campaigned against sexual misconduct.
She said the Ford-Kavanaugh case will be an important indicator of how public attitudes have changed since 1991, when Anita Hill was treated dismissively by senators of both parties when she levelled sexual misconduct allegations against Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
Reflecting back to the 1990s, Goldin added, “The MeToo movement is not one moment in time, it is the culmination of pain by generations of women.”
“People are seeking justice, but that is not necessarily about the individual,” she said. “We are ultimately talking about culture change.”