Time’s Up Now: The Past, Present, and Future of Sexual Harassment

Time’s Up Now: 

The Past, Present, and Future of Sexual Harassment

Photo courtesy of KDVR

Your grandmother has a #MeToo story, and her grandmother did, as well. You have a story, your mother has a story, your friends and coworkers have stories. People you’ve never met, in parts of the world you’ve never seen, in work spaces you don’t know exist — they have stories, too. It’s been this way for many years, but today we’re actually sharing those stories, and we’re doing so at a rate that’s generating an enormous amount of empowered momentum.

There’s no question: we’re in the midst of an incredible movement. Now, thanks to organizations such as Time’s Up Now, we’re channeling that momentum into actionable steps toward a more equal, safe society where, as Oprah said at the Golden Globes, “nobody ever has to say, ‘me too’ again.”

“I think Time’s Up Now has it right in that sexual harassment may be the keyhole by which women’s rights are pushed into the workplace,” said Dr. Wendy Walsh, a former frequent guest on FOX News who made explosive sexual harassment claims against Bill O’Reilly. She wasn’t the first or last to come forward, but her testimony played a large role in sealing the coffin for one of the network’s most profitable hosts.

She continued, “Our current workplace is a male-ordered structure that is best suited for employees who have a wife at home. By extending the sexual harassment crisis into a conversation about revamping workplaces to meet all the needs of female employees — including childcare and parental leave — Time’s Up Now has their finger on our cultural pulse.”

“I think Time’s Up Now has it right in that sexual harassment may be the keyhole by which women’s rights are pushed into the workplace,” 

– Dr. Wendy Walsh

Photo courtesy of W magazine

For those unacquainted, Time’s Up Now is a leaderless organization comprised of several different groups, including Hollywood elite, with a specific set of goals. Those goals boil down to creating and implementing legislation that combats sexual misconduct in the work space, and it does so with an intersectional feminist eye. We’ll look more closely at the initiative soon, but first, let’s examine the past and present.

Sexual Harassment, Then and Now

“Companies have, for the most part, come a long way in formally addressing sexual harassment in the workplace since 1986 when the Supreme Court first recognized this as a form of gender discrimination, covered by federal law,” explained Pat Gillette, a leading expert on gender diversity and equality in the workplace. (You can read more about the law here: Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act). Gillette spent four decades as an employment litigation specialist, which involved training and advising employees of Fortune 500 companies, and their executives, on how to prevent and address sexual and racial harassment claims. She said that today, the majority of companies have policies in place that prohibit harassment and retaliation against people who complain of harassment. In fact, many states of mandatory training on these topics, and Human Resource professionals are fairly well-trained in how to handle these kinds of complaints. 

Additionally, she noted that in recent years courts have favorably interpreted existing laws, and verdicts for sexual harassment claims often include awards for punitive damages ranging anywhere from minimal to millions. (The largest verdict was in Calif., where a single plaintiff was awarded $185 million). In that sense, there’s a definite threat to companies that don’t address harassment claims.

All this progress, however, doesn’t mean that harassment has been eradicated. 

“[Sexual harassment] often takes place under the radar. Women — who are the primary victims — are fearful of reporting the harassment of powerful men — or perceived to be powerful men — for fear of retaliation or retribution. It can go unreported for years,” said Gillette. “Many women also fear that even if they successfully bring a claim of harassment, they will be ostracized and will find it difficult to find employment in the industry again. So, professional women who we might otherwise expect to be more willing to come forward, are often as fearful of speaking out as women who are in positions in hotels, restaurants, and other lower paying jobs.”

The bottom line is that the landscape is better today than what it was 40 years ago. However, as ongoing reports of harassment indicate, many powerful men have not changed their behavior, and many women struggle with feeling empowered enough to report this bad behavior.

“That has to change if we are ever going to truly achieve equality in the workplace,” said Gillette. “That requires not only better monitoring of behavior, more training and vigilance, but also that we get more women into management, into the board rooms and into the top levels of compensation in our companies and corporations.”

It also means continuing the current momentum of speaking out, having important uncomfortable conversations, creating networks and providing resources for women, and implementing specific policies that further protect women and minorities in the workspace.

“Women — who are the primary victims — are fearful of reporting the harassment of powerful men — or perceived to be powerful men — for fear of retaliation or retribution. It can go unreported for years. Many women also fear that even if they successfully bring a claim of harassment, they will be ostracized and will find it difficult to find employment in the industry again.”

– Pat Gillette

Time’s Up Now

You may not have been wholly familiar with Time’s Up Now until the recent Golden Globes, where Hollywood women, and some men, banded together to push the initiative into the spotlight. Every female wore black to the red carpet, and the organization was discussed repeatedly throughout the evening.

As mentioned, Time’s Up Now is run by multiple groups, but Hollywood’s participation is a no brainer for several reasons.

“Such high profile and respected women in the film and media industries coming together to fight sexual harassment and misconduct can create a sea change in society,” said Ambassador Harriet L. Elam-Thomas, a U.S. diplomat and author of Diversifying Diplomacy who spent almost 35 years out of the U.S. with the goal to improve America’s image abroad. “Their work reaches wide audiences and transcends academic, economic, racial, gender orientation, ethnic, and religious boundaries. What these individuals say and do will have far more impact, in many cases, than what parents, mentors, spiritual leaders and political leaders say. These women will deliver powerful messages to those who need to hear it most.”

Sophia Bush, one of 300 Hollywood women to sign the Time’s Up Now decree that appeared in the New York Times, told InStyle, “The work began months before. It was inspired by a letter, signed by 700,000 women from the Farm Workers Union, which they wrote to stand in solidarity with the women of the entertainment business who had come forward. As the #MeToo conversation came, finally, to the forefront, we all recognized that this moment could be a pivotal and revolutionary time across industries. Amber Tamblyn brought the idea to me, and I was all in. The notion that with our platform we can elevate all women, that their pain is our pain, that their justice is our justice? That’s what this is all about.”

The really important question, though, is this: How can the organization can take their megaphone and use it to effectively implement game-changing — life changing — policy?

Sophia Bush. Photo courtesy of In Style

“We all must be aware that policy changes must come from our legislative leaders, beginning at the county, state and then the federal level,” said Elam-Thomas. “That means there must be a strategic set of goals at the outset to create the pressure that pushes them to do the right thing. Demonstrations and activism may grab headlines, but a carefully crafted action plan with realistic goals must be in place.”

This also means that more women need to pursue political office, and voters need to elect them. Currently, women hold only 23% of government office positions.

A Hopeful Future

Though we clearly have some work to do — in terms of reducing sexual harassment, shifting mindsets, and improving overall conditions for females in the work space and in communities — real change is unobtainable. And the Time’s Up Now initiative, and similar organizations, are working diligently to make a difference.

“There are plans for legislation that will stop the systematic pressuring victims with non-disclosure agreements,” said Bush in the Instyle interview. “The fund will help defend women in all walks of life as they stand up to abusers and the organizations that protect them. And that’s how systems change. That’s how this movement draws a line in the sand and becomes a marker of systemic change.” In that sense, The Time’s Up initiative provides money to help women who don’t have the resources to pursue their rights. It also increases the visibility of remedies that many women might not otherwise know about, which is incredibly important.

Finally, seeing women rally around each other — be it on the red carpet, on social media, or within our communities — is proof that we have strength in numbers and motivation. And as our cries and demands continue to crescendo, the greater a shift we’ll see. This shift may not erase the #MeToo stories of generations past, but our daughters, and their daughters, will be the beneficiaries of today’s actions. And that is a future worth fighting for.

Women in black for Time's Up Now. Photo courtesy of Footwear News
Wendy Rose Gould

Wendy Rose Gould is a reporter based in Phoenix, Arizona. She covers women’s lifestyle topics for numerous digital publications, including Refinery29, InStyle, xoVain, Headspace, PopSugar and ModCloth. You can learn more about her at WendyGould.com.

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