In October last year, the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, with women in the film industry bravely coming forward to shed light on his systematic harassment and sexual assault of countless women over many years, abusing his position of power as an influential lm producer in what was supposedly an open secret in Hollywood. Shortly after, the hashtag #MeToo began to spread around the world in an expression of shared experience by women who had also been victims of sexual harassment.
As the lid was lifted on Weinstein, accusations were made against other Hollywood giants, such as Dustin Hoffman, and spread beyond the film industry to other areas like politics, with the Sunday Times reporting on cases of sexual harassment and abuse in the European Parliament.
Now, 100 days after the start of the social media campaign, which appeared to be a watershed moment and whose initiators - dubbed ‘The Silence Breakers’ - were named TIME magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’, where do we stand? Here are three observations:
My body, my choice
Unfortunately, this slogan has lost none of its relevance. It is still the same battle we are fighting again and again. And we need to be fighting it side by side.
37 years ago Catherine Deneuve broke her silence. Together with 343 other women, including celebrated feminist Simone de Beauvoir, she signed a declaration admitting that she had an abortion at a time when it was still illegal to do so in France. Now, it is the same Ms Deneuve who wants to defend the right of men to ‘to seduce someone, even persistently or clumsily’, in the name of ‘sexual freedom’. These two things cannot co-exist. At the core, the #MeToo campaign and the fight for the right to have access to safe abortions are about the same struggle for women’s autonomy over their own bodies - the very essence of the feminist cause.
Whether it is Polish women fighting a total ban on abortion, French women battling sexual abuse in their work space, Spanish women fighting the daily reality of violence against women, or Irish women fighting to win a referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Republic of Ireland’s Constitution, which gives equal rights to life for the unborn; we are in this together.
Bodies and power
Being a young female MEP means dealing with sexist remarks and behaviour on a regular basis. Sometimes it even gives the impression that in order to get somewhere, young women are expected to go through this. This has to change. Sexism is not something that should be accepted as part of the daily life of women. We need to call it out for what it is: an abuse of power. This is why the #MeToo campaign must remain central.
In essence, the #MeToo campaign calls out this abuse of power. In a patriarchal society, the female body remains something that needs to be carefully controlled. In the case of sexual harassment in the workplace, relationships of dependency are exploited in order to cement one’s own position of power; men stay at the top of the ladder and women remain dependent. There is a strong mismatch of power that correlates with gender.
This has to change. Equal pay for equal work can no longer remain an ‘annoying’ side subject and we must have women in leading positions in politics, the economy and the media. This is the central aftermath of #MeToo. We have to change the power system in our society.
Finally! Time to ask the right questions
We have to ask ourselves: why is it possible that certain rights are simply granted to men while women have to take to the streets to obtain them? This is about the implicit fact that men, in the main, get to maintain control and independence over their own body, while a woman’s appears to be public property. It is self-evident that there should be no need to protest or debate your sexuality, nor your right to autonomy over your own body, and yet we must continue to do so. The #MeToo campaign has been, and continues to be, our best chance to keep the conversation alive.