Published 5:00 AM EDT Sep 25, 2018
A year into the #MeToo movement, I am both impressed and surprised by the progress our country has made in recognizing sexual harassment and assault for what they are: crimes. The past 12 months have shifted this conversation 180 degrees in terms of visibility and the recognition that abuse is everywhere.
I can’t overstate the magnitude of this evolution when compared with the environment that I encountered after my harassment lawsuit against Fox News CEO Roger Ailes became public in July 2016, which now feels like ages ago. There was no #MeToo hashtag then, no “Time’s Up” pins, and no real support system for women facing harassment and its aftermath. Compare that with the visibility and activism around Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings, a massively important moment for #MeToo that every survivor, including me, is watching closely.
In 2016 I was lucky, in a sense. My public persona enabled women to feel free to reach out to share their anguish with me, which in turn created the space in which my book, "Be Fierce," practically wrote itself. There obviously was a pent-up need to shed light on these outrages and provide a road map for recovery.
I don’t think anyone saw the full magnitude of this shift coming. I certainly hoped my complaint would have a longer-term impact — that’s why I filed it. But the impact really didn’t hit me until last October 5, when The New York Times published its exposé of producer Harvey Weinstein. The fall of two “untouchable” men was clearly empowering for so many other women. After that, it was like tin soldiers on a battlefield. Twelve months later, we’re in a very different place.
Social media and the language of sexual assault
The sea change wasn’t just because a few high-profile men lost their jobs; it was because our culture has fundamentally changed. Social media played a huge role in promoting a shared language around harassment and, as a result, this conversation is finally being driven by women.
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Two or three years ago if you asked me, “Will Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Leslie Moonves or any of these other men work in TV again?” I probably would’ve said yes — because their victims didn’t have a way to organize or communicate. Today, when alleged predators raise their heads, millions of women speak up on social media to shut them down. This is the new reality.
The #MeToo movement is still missing a cohesive platform of policies and laws to fix the bigger problem — the fact that, in corporate America and elsewhere, sexual harassment is still rampant and there are few avenues of meaningful recourse available to victims.
If #MeToo takes down a few powerful perpetrators without helping the vast majority of everyday working women, it will be a failure. Creating lasting change is the crucial next step.
It's time for the law to catch up with #MeToo
That’s what motivated me to launch the Gretchen Carlson Leadership Initiative in partnership with the All In Together campaign, a national program that brings civic leadership and advocacy training to thousands of underserved women nationally. I also partnered with the March of Dimes to create Gretchen Carlson Advocacy Fellowship, a group of women from across the country who want to become active in fighting for women’s and children’s health issues.
Now is the time for #MeToo to lay a new legal framework for women. To that end, I have worked for over a year to enact the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act of 2017, which would give women a choice between exercising their 7th Amendment right to a jury trial or going into a secret arbitration chamber. Introduced by a bipartisan coalition in December, the bill could be groundbreaking — but only if it’s signed into law. As activists, we must create an environment where failure to act on #MeToo gets elected officials voted out of office.
Year 1 solidified #MeToo’s momentum and, as the allegations against Les Moonves, Jeff Fager and Brett Kavanaugh show, it is not slowing down. Now it’s time to fix the whole system.
If we can generate the same amount of change over the next 12 months that we achieved in the past year, #MeToo will be more than a movement — it will be a turning point that changes the arc of history forever.
Gretchen Carlson is a journalist and female empowerment advocate. She is the author of the best-selling book “Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back,” now out in paperback.