Women share stories in 'me too' campaign

Actress Alyssa Milano's call for women to talk about their experiences with assaults and sexual harassment gains traction

LONDON • The wave of revelations and revulsion over now-disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has gone global.

As A-list actresses level claims of sexual misconduct at him, ordinary women everywhere engaged in a collective outpouring of their stories of assaults and sexual harassment, inspired by a "me too" online campaign made famous by actress Alyssa Milano.

After Milano's call on Twitter on Sunday, the #MeToo hashtag trended worldwide, with accounts pouring in from Calgary to Cairo and from Paris to Perth. The hashtag has been tweeted more than half a million times and has been featured in more than 12 million posts on Facebook.

On Arab social media sites, women jumped into the conversation using the hashtag #AnaKaman, the Arabic translation of "me too".

A 63-year-old Australian woman tweeted that harassment was present "all through my early working life in the 70s & 80s" while working at the Department of Defence in Sydney. "Looking back, it was horrendous," she wrote.

A parish priest in rural England tweeted where she faced harassment: "Paris when I was 16 heading to visit my pen friend. Norfolk when I was 22 being expected to 'earn' some bar work. Others I can't say."

"Tailors in Pakistan who always need to measure your chest and hips at least seven times," wrote a press officer in Lahore. "You always know when the hand lingers too long."

In France - where President Emmanuel Macron said he would revoke Weinstein's Legion d'Honneur award - a separate but similar campaign took root with thousands taking to social media with the hashtag #balancetonporc, or "squeal on your pig".

French journalist Sandra Muller kicked off the #balancetonporc campaign when she encouraged people to name and shame those responsible for sexual harassment. She named her former boss, whom she said commented on her breasts and told her that she was "my type of woman".

Stories began flooding in, like that of a Paris-based radio journalist who tweeted that an editor of a major radio station once grabbed her by the throat and told her she would have sex with him "whether you want it or not". She said she filed a complaint, but nothing happened.

On Monday, Ms Marlene Schiappa, France's gender-equality minister, said legislators will debate proposals for cracking down on sexual violence and harassment, including issuing fines for "wolf whistling" and other sexually tinged comments on the street.

In California's capital on Tuesday, more than 140 women - including legislators, senior legislative aides and lobbyists - came forward to denounce what they describe as pervasive sexual misconduct by powerful men in the nation's most influential legislature.

In a public letter, the women complained of groping, lewd comments and suggestions of trading sexual favours for legislation while doing business in Sacramento.

As the #MeToo ranks swelled, there is also a sense of bitterness about how sexism remains rooted in many parts of the world.

"This has been part of our world since time immemorial," said British actress Emma Thompson when asked by the BBC about the Weinstein scandal.

Indeed, the statistics make for sober reading.

A 2014 YouGov study ranked the safety of transit systems for women in 16 cities around the world.

Bogota was the most unsafe city in the survey, while Mexico City was the worst for verbal and physical harassment, with 64 per cent of women respondents saying they had been groped or harassed on public transit.

WASHINGTON POST, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'Women share stories in 'me too' campaign'. Print Edition | Subscribe