It’s been five years since #MeToo went viral after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted “me too,” though activist Tarana Burke originally coined the phrase “me too” in 2006. The #MeToo movement sparked a societal reckoning as thousands of women’s voices about the sexual violence they’d experienced at the hands of powerful men put a spotlight on gender inequities and power dynamics. No longer silent, this collective of voices resulted in real-world consequences that spread around the world, with heads of companies being fired and public figures being held accountable.
As #MeToo was gaining momentum and the Harvey Weinsten scandal was dominating the news, the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund was launched to offer legal assistance to survivors of harassment and assault. In this episode of Breaking the Bias, Holly Corbett, VP of Content for Consciously Unbiased, speaks with Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center and co-founder of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.
This episode covers:
- How the National Women’s Law Center started the Time’s Up legal Defense Fund as the Harvey Weinstein case broke. Today 6,000 people have gone to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund for help, and they have a network of 400 attorneys.
- What the #MeToo movement means today, and a growing awareness of Black survivors of sexual violence and other people with marginalized identities, and how they see themselves as part of this movement.
- What needs to happen next to help keep fighting sexual harrassment in the workplace and protect against retaliation for those who report it.
Listen to the full episode here and read below for some key takeaways from the conversation.
*Interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Corbett: It’s the fifth year anniversary of when the #MeToo movement really took off. Can you take us back to October 2017 and share what was happening in that moment?
Goss Graves: “When I think back to October, 2017, when millions of people were saying ‘me too’ and saying it on social media, but also talking about it in the corners of offices and among friends and at tables, I knew immediately that something was different. I had never experienced a mass gathering and also a celebration of the power of survivors. I’d also never experienced survivors telling their stories uninterrupted, because there was this window where people were telling their stories and the usual folks who, anytime survivors dared raise their hand, would either call them liars or say,it doesn’t matter, were silenced. No one wanted to hear from the usual ways of doing business.”
Corbett: Bring me back to the early conversations about setting up the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. What were you and your colleagues reacting to, and how did this initiative happen?
Goss Graves: “We already had a network of attorneys who in 2017 had raised their hands to be a part of taking on sex discrimination cases, saying that they wanted to do their part. And so we launched just a few days before the Weinstein stories broke. We expected that as soon as we launched, we would hear from people who’d experience sex discrimination in all forms seeking legal assistance. We were immediately overwhelmed by harassment concerns with people coming forward. And so we had a little bit of infrastructure and a sense that there was a problem. At the same time, in the same way people were gathering all over the world in entertainment, women had begun to gather in a range of ways to really try to figure out what to do. And they became clear about two things.
First, they became clear that whatever they did couldn’t only be about fixing the pervasive problems in the entertainment industry…but would also need to reach people in a lot of other sectors, and especially those whose experiences were too often going be in the shadows…But we also knew we had to have something for the many people who had shared their experiences and either wanted to take a next step or, in some cases, unfortunately, who were finding themselves on the other end of a lawsuit because they dared speak up about their experience. They needed to know that people had their back, and there were lawyers and people who understood how to navigate media and storytellers. They needed to know they had a protection squad. It made folks feel a little more secure, and the hope was that one person coming forward would inspire another person to come forward. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Corbett: What do you think needs to change in our systems to help more survivors voices’ to be heard, and more justice to be brought forward?
Goss Graves: “We have continued critical work to ensure that our culture continues to grow and change when it comes to the idea that sexual violence is not tolerated, but that survivors also have the chance to be believed and understand that important things would happen if they are harmed. It’s also going to be really critical that we continue the project of changing our laws so that people can actually have justice…That’s going to require doing things that our laws largely still don’t do. They don’t cover all workers yet: If you’re an independent contractor or you’re working in a small restaurant, or as a domestic worker, there aren’t protections in the same way.
I’m actually excited about the prospect of moving to a time when we can focus on that. The other thing that I will just say is it doesn’t matter what job you are in, you deserve to be able to work with safety and dignity, period. The ways that laws are currently structured [leave] some people cut out, such as, is your workplace too small to be covered? Or what do we do about contractors, or people who are part-time? This is a basic, bottom-line principle, and that shift right there that no one should have to work under those conditions is one that we don’t need to just make a little bit of progress on. We need to make a giant leap.”
Corbett: A lot has happened in the last five years with the pandemic and George Floyd’s murder sparking a racial reckoning. Fast forwarding to today, maybe some people out there say, ‘#MeToo is dead.’ What are you seeing in our current culture? What does it look like today?
Goss Graves: “What happened in 2020 in terms of reckoning around racial injustice, I see these as an ongoing arc around people demanding that they’d be able to live with dignity, that they be treated like humans and worthy of justice always. For all of us who do this work, we don’t see them as separate ideas. They are deeply interwoven.
I also want to be clear that #MeToo has forever changed this country. It has changed how survivors understand their experiences and the ability to actually have justice and healing as a thing that’s okay to demand. It has shifted whether or not people should tell these stories publicly at all. Gone are the days where the idea that naming your experience was a thing only shrouded in shame. And it has left us with a sense of community ready to continue on that ongoing path to change our laws and policies and culture…This was never overnight work. The work to end sexual violence and to address the structures that allow it to thrive has been happening for generations. But this moment was for sure a critical acceleration moment, and we will not be the same.”
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