The #metoo movement has given survivors the chance to share stories that many have been carrying around as secrets for a long time, sometimes for decades. We’ve heard farm workers and janitors talk about the men who raped them on the job and got away with it. We’ve heard powerful, privileged, and wealthy women say the same thing.
Stories change the conversation. Organizing can dismantle oppression. #metoo is now confronted with the challenge to orient itself toward organizing the millions of impacted women so that we can change systems together–in our courts, legislatures, workplaces, churches, and schools.
There are 66 million women in the workforce. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data shows that at least a quarter–16.5 million–report experiencing sexual harassment on the job. That’s more than the entire population of Illinois. But the reality is even worse: When asked about specific behaviors, that number surges to nearly 53 million– 80% of working women nationwide.
Sexual violence cuts across industries, work sectors, geography, class, and ideology. It is a collective harm deeply entrenched in societal structures and norms.
Yet, most solutions so far have focused on the outing and–less often–punishment of individual perpetrators. The news site Vox maintains a list of powerful men–CEOs, legislators, celebrities, and others–accused of sexual harassment since the Harvey Weinstein scandal in April 2017. As of this writing, it has 263 names. It’s clear: This is a pandemic and taking it on perpetrator by perpetrator is not going to cure the disease. How do we ultimately move from exposing individual acts to true social transformation?
Men and the entities they control–from corporations and government agencies to the labor movement and nonprofits–use the same five-step playbook when faced with accusations of abuse:
- Step 1: Silence and shame survivors.
- Step 2: Protect perpetrators who are “team players” or “superstars”.
- Step 3: Play the public relations game by promising reform and adopting “no tolerance” policies with zero enforcement mechanisms.
- Step 4: Go back to business as usual when the media leaves.
- Step 5: Rinse and repeat.
The fact that this standard practice of “managing” sexual harassment in the workplace does nothing to stop abuse is explicitly designed to protect the status quo, not women.
The status quo will only shift when we engage, organize, and mobilize survivors of sexual violence across race, work sectors, gender identity, experience, and geography. When we develop shared demands based on principles of transformative accountability. When these demands are backed up with campaigns to force employers to take action. And when we hold them accountable for inaction.
We invite you to join us in this work – and to be a part of our growing community of survivors who are changing workplace culture.
Ana and Jo