Eight months on, #MeToo conquering the US

A “Miss America” pageant without swimsuits, tougher sexual harassment laws, more women running for office: Eight months after the downfall of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, the #MeToo movement reverberates across America.

At first, #MeToo, a social media movement against sexual misconduct, made its mark through accusations against high-profile men accused of sexual abuse in a range of sectors from entertainment to media and politics.

Many were forced out of their positions, and #MeToo’s influence spread around the world.

In January, the birth of the Time’s Up movement marked a new stage.

Victims of abuse moved to action, taking to court their alleged harassers and broadening the fight to male-female discrimination such as salary gaps in the workplace.

Since then, hardly a day passes without the #MeToo spirit dominating news in the United States.

The momentum has touched the powerful National Football League, which is being sued by cheerleaders from three teams over their treatment.

Then on Tuesday, Gretchen Carlson, chairwoman of Miss America’s board of trustees, said the pageant is dropping its swimsuit and evening gown competition and will no longer judge contestants on their physical appearance.

The pageant was a type of “institutionalized misogyny,” said Timothy Patrick McCarthy, of the Harvard Kennedy School Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

#MeToo “is extending and having an influence on a whole range of conversations and practices,” he said.

It grew after nearly 100 women said they were harassed or sexually abused by Weinstein over more than two decades. He has pleaded not guilty in New York to two charges, rape and sexual assault.

Former president Bill Clinton found himself drawn into the #MeToo conversation this week, which overshadowed his tour to promote a thriller novel he co-wrote with best-selling author James Patterson.

Clinton was repeatedly asked whether, in light of #MeToo and the abuses of male power it exposed, he should have resigned over his relationship more than two decades ago with an intern, Monica Lewinsky.

The scandal led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives but he was later acquitted by the Senate and stayed in office.

Even the death of Philip Roth in May unleashed on social media an avalanche of commentary about the supposed misogyny of the giant of American literature.

#MeToo and Time’s Up have also scored points in the political arena.

About a dozen US states have re-examined their laws on sexual harassment. Some have forbidden, or plan to outlaw, employers from imposing staff confidentiality clauses which prevent them from filing public complaints.

Two senators, one Democratic and the other Republican, on Tuesday presented a federal bill along similar lines.

Feminists hope the #MeToo spirit will soon allow adoption of an amendment to the US Constitution that would enshrine equal rights for men and women.

– ‘We are going to win’ –

Approval by only one more state will meet the constitutional requirement for the Equal Rights Amendment to take effect. It has been envisaged since the 1920s but has not yet received ratification by the 38 states necessary for it to come into force.

“I think we are going to win, we are going to have that in the next couple of years,” Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women, told AFP.

She sees continued force in the #MeToo movement.

“I don’t think it is going to play out. I don’t think this is going to stop,” especially with a record number of women running in November’s mid-term congressional elections.

This female momentum is largely a Democratic phenomenon, illustrating the country’s political polarization but also the origins of #MeToo, McCarthy said.

Nearly a year before Weinstein’s fall, the electoral defeat of Hillary Clinton “was one catalyst” of the movement, he said.

The Democrat Clinton, Bill Clinton’s wife, was the first major-party female candidate for president.

She lost to Donald Trump despite video which emerged in which he boasted that his fame allowed him to grab women’s genitals and get away with it.

Even though Clinton lost, a “women’s march” held the day after Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 attracted millions of participants around the country.

Van Pelt says the increased number of women running for public office this year is “going to make a huge difference in state and legislative bodies,” as the more women who are in a room, the more that men are aware of their views.

McCarthy is more reserved, and sees a long-term struggle.

“It has gotten a jolt in this particular historical moment,” he said, “but it’s going to take a while for that impulse to become the cultural norm, to become law, to become politically institutionalized.”

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