I was 22 years old. I was a waitress at a popular downtown restaurant and had finished my shift. I decided to stick around and listen to the band that was playing for the Halloween weekend. One of our regulars, a banker, came up and put his hand on my ass and said something like, “This is a great pumpkin you’ve got here.” He kept his hand right there, squeezing.
I turned to him and said, “Take your hand off my ass, they’re not paying me to let you do this right now.”
Of course, I could have walked into the managers’ office and reported this, right?
Oh sure, I could have marched into the office, the office where they had a photocopied sign pinned on the corkboard that read, “Sexual harassment will not be tolerated here, but it will be graded.” What would I have said? “Surprise grab, firm grasp, cheesy line? C+ at best.”
No, I didn’t say anything and I’m sure I waited on the same man many more times with a smile on my face.
While the #MeToo movement gained momentum last month after the news broke of allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, it was actually created a decade ago. Tarana Burke spoke to CBS News last month explaining that she created the movement in 2007 to let young women of color know they were not alone in surviving sexual assault. It went viral when actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women who experienced sexual harassment or assault to share their story with the #MeToo hashtag on social media — and millions did.
I watched as one friend after another joined in, some with details of their #MeToo experience, some with nothing more than the hashtag. I wish I could say I was surprised that so many people I know reported #MeToo, but given that the definition included “sexual harassment,” I thought #WhoHasn’t?
Being a skeptic, I also thought, “Oh great, another social media movement that will last a few minutes and not make a difference.” When I thought of pitching a #MeToo column to my editors, I hesitated, wondering if it’s even timely anymore.
The fallout didn’t stop in Hollywood — political journalist Mark Halperin was accused by five women from his time at ABC, and was let go by NBC following the reports. And last week NPR news chief Michael Oreskes was asked to resign amid accusations that surfaced from his time at The New York Times in the ’90s.
An ABC-Washington Post poll conducted in October showed that 54 percent of women have experienced unwanted or inappropriate sexual advances from men — with 30 percent reporting these advances happened in the workplace. Twenty-five percent say it’s from someone who had influence over their work situation.
The power of this campaign is in the education, the increased awareness of sexual assault and harassment. Maybe seeing #MeToo will lead some to realize what they think is a playful gesture or an innocent comment isn’t. Ideally, the awareness will result women being able to report harassment and assault without consequences. Preferably, the awareness will result in less harassment overall.
While it’s encouraging to think that sexual harassment/assault will not be tolerated, I still wonder what impact this movement is having on the rest of the country — away from high-profile positions and industries.
Will a single mother who needs to pay rent feel empowered to report a co-worker or supervisor in her workplace? Will a 22-year-old waitress who’s trying to pay tuition have a voice to protect herself against sexual predators? We don’t know the answer, since the headlines are consumed by the high-profile cases.