#UsToo: The #MeToo and #TimesUp movement goes beyond Hollywood
The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are expanding their focus to help protect workers like Shannon Henderson, seen here outside the Walmart she works at in Sacramento, Calif. It's not only Hollywood celebrities who need protection on the job from sexual harassment. | Rich Pedroncelli / AP

NEW ORLEANS—The #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns have sparked a movement putting sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace center stage. Yet, for all the attention these campaigns have given to the uneven power dynamics in the workplace, the stories have often been limited to Hollywood movie sets and high-profile celebrities. Because of this, too many working people are ignored in the mainstream narrative around the topic. Many activists, unions, and low-wage workers, however, are aiming to expand the conversation so that working class women in more vulnerable positions are protected and championed as well.

There remains a long way to go to combat the exploitation workers face on the job, that includes sexual harassment. In 2016, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), released a report detailing the findings of the Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. At least 45 percent of harassment claims on the job are sex-based, and at least 25 percent of women experience sexual harassment on the job. That means 1 in 4 women will experience workplace sexual harassment in their lifetime.

Speaking out against harassment can also result in backlash, as the study found that 75 percent of workers who reported harassment faced some form of retaliation for speaking up. In a time when the cost of living is getting higher, yet wages remain stagnant, being a worker dependent on just your salary to make it can put you in a vulnerable position of having to endure the harassment just to to hold onto a job.

This was a topic of discussion at the NetRoots Nation 2018 conference held from August 2-4 in New Orleans. The panel, “#USTOO: Overcoming Invisibility and Battling The #MeToo Backlash,” centered the conversation of workplace harassment on communities of people who are often marginalized: low-wage workers, workers with disabilities, undocumented workers, and workers of color. Panelists included Our Walmart leader Janie Grice, Executive Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Mary Cathryn Ricker, and senior public policy analyst for the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) Dara Baldwin. The panel was moderated by founding member of EduColor, Sabrina Stevens.

Stevens noted that it is important to frame the movement of #MeToo and #TimesUp as not coming from “out of nowhere” because it actually has “a lot of historical precedence.” Speaking on the history of the United States, she said:

“In this country, since Europeans and Native Americans [first clashed] there has always been this issue of power imbalance that has led to violence. And there has always been resistance to that balance. Resistance through enslaved Black women fighting for recognition and protection, and standing up to have safety in their own bodies. Recy Taylor, Rosa Parks, and others were pioneers in this struggle.”

Going further, she explained, “This issue [of sexual violence and harassment] is not just about individuals or ‘bad guys’ preying on individual women. This is systemic. We live under a system that ensures that some groups of people will be mistreated and some other groups of people will get away with mistreating those people.”

Dara Baldwin brought up the struggle of what is often deemed the “invisible community” of people with disabilities, and how their identity is not monolithic, but intersectional. “Every aspect of a person with disabilities’ life is intersectional. They are workers, people of color, women, veterans, and so on.” Speaking to the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act is less than three decades old, Baldwin noted, “Persons with disabilities didn’t have any rights and protections just 28 years ago. That base foundation still exists in everything we do.”

Mary Cathryn Ricker explained the struggles of female teachers and the uneven power dynamics faced in the teaching world. “[Teaching] is an overtly female profession historically, where the administration and the union leadership has been disproportionately male,” Ricker noted. “When it comes to hiring practices, women [teachers] are often in the less powerful positions. Since the administration is predominately male, women find themselves throughout their career asking a man for a job. If there is harassment, this puts teachers in a position where they have to debate with going along with the harassment in order to stay employed,” she explained.

Janie Grice highlighted the work that the Organization United for Respect, also known as Our Walmart, is doing to win protection for low-wage workers. “We’re working with women on the job who have been sexually harassed. Walmart has 1.5 million employees. Walmart is one of the largest employers of women—particularly Black and Latino women. Low wages keep many women in poverty. Sexual harassment is a big problem on the job,” Grice explained. She stated that in a recent survey the organization conducted, 48 percent of employees expressed being victims of sexual harassment at work.

In the midst of talking about the problems and struggles workers face, Stevens expressed that it was important for the future of the movement to look towards solutions. “How do we fix this? We have to go beyond the simplistic solutions. How do we make it so the world is safest for more than just the wealthiest and whitest among us?” the moderator asked panelists.

“There is an opportunity in education to create the sort of policies and practices that either prevent and repair [the problem] or harm and perpetuate it,” Ricker explained. “There is an increasing conversation happening in education circles to see what that [prevention] can look like. There’s a conditioning of [women] teachers to believe they are powerless in their work. This is what we need to fight against,” the union leader said.

A worker from Burger King takes her demands to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. | Fight for $15

“There needs to be education and training to combat the societal conditioning. Things like disability sensibility training is necessary. Make it so your advocacy and justice-seeking is intersectional. Also, within the [progressive] movement, leaders need to be retrained. A lot of leaders who have been around for 30 or more years probably haven’t had updated training in that time. That needs to change,” Baldwin urged. “Make sure to vote. Voting is imperative. [We] can’t get certain policies passed with people in office who are against everyday people’s rights. And until those people are out of office we can’t get done whatever we need to do,” she expressed.

Grice echoed the sentiment that there needs to be a change in policies. “Workers are lobbying and putting pressure on corporations and politicians. Our Walmart is putting survivors of sexual harassment in the forefront. We are giving them a space to tell their stories,” she said.

“Economic justice is tied to the fight against sexual harassment,” Stevens noted. “It is tied to our livelihood. They try to marginalize [this fight] into so-called identity politics, but my identity is who I am at home and at work,” she said. “There’s societal grooming that we’re just supposed to sit and take it,” Ricker added. “Unions have a lot of power in screening and endorsing candidates. We need to bring these questions [on harassment and inclusion] into the endorsement process. Candidates who want our union’s endorsement need to know this is a serious issue to us,” she said.

Speaking to the history of the movement, Ricker concluded, “There is backlash against #MeToo, but that’s not new. We’re not the first people to face this kind of backlash. We have to look to history and stay focused on fighting sexual harassment on the job for everyone, including the most vulnerable segment of workers.”


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.