#MeToo Goes Global
Here’s where the movement took off in 2018—and where to look for activism in 2019.
The Me Too movement started more than a decade ago, when the activist Tarana Burke began using the term in her work with vulnerable girls and women who had experienced sexual assault. The hashtag #MeToo went viral in 2017 thanks to a tweet from the actress Alyssa Milano, who was responding to exposés by the New York Times writers Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor and the New Yorker writer Ronan Farrow about the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s alleged history of rape, sexual assault, and harassment. In the 15 months that followed, the campaign spread and broadened, taking on systemic predation against women, often by wealthy and powerful men. #MeToo has also jumped to countries across Asia, Europe, and Latin America, as more and more women (and some men) have described their ordeals with male leaders in the worlds of media, business, academia, film, and politics. Discomfort and anger sometimes turned into direct action: The Nobel Prize for literature was canceled in 2018 after the husband of a member of the Swedish Academy was accused of sexual assault. (He was later convicted of rape.) Here is a sampling of countries where #MeToo took off in 2018 and the countries to watch in 2019.
China: For years, Chinese authorities have tried to quash the country’s nascent feminist movement, but that didn’t stop #MeToo from growing bolder and louder in China in 2018, when it appeared at universities and factories, in newsrooms and on film sets, and within the NGO community and activist groups. Using the online messaging platforms WeChat and Weibo, tens of millions of women began to spread word of experiences of harassment. Stories appeared and were disseminated faster than the censors could keep up. Men in industries across the country were accused of sexual harassment and assault—by women so emboldened that they even dared to use their real names when they stepped forward.
India: In 2018, the actress Tanushree Dutta revealed that she was aggressively harassed on the set of a Bollywood film in 2008 and, as a result, left the film industry. The revelation triggered India’s own #MeToo movement: Women have come forward to describe their harassment at the hands of men in other fields, including journalism. In October, the allegations reached Narendra Modi’s government, when more than a dozen women accused M.J. Akbar, a former journalist and then the Indian minister of state for external affairs, of sexual assault and harassment. (One woman also accused him of rape.) Akbar denied all allegations and filed a defamation suit against one of his accusers.
Japan: A handful of Japanese women in industries including journalism and fashion came forward to describe sexual harassment and assault in 2018. In April, Junichi Fukuda, a vice finance minister, resigned after he was accused of making lewd comments to a female reporter. (He denied the accusations.) Though Finance Minister Taro Aso initially appeared dismissive of the incident, #MeToo slowly took hold: Female Japanese workers began to report widespread harassment. Influential groups, including legal scholars and the Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers’ Unions, have become increasingly supportive of women’s rights and angry over what they see as a lack of real legal protection for victims.
France: A new generation of French feminists embraced #MeToo in 2017 when the journalist Sandra Muller outed her harasser and called on others to do the same under the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc (“Expose Your Pig”). In August 2018, legislators passed a law levying fines for catcalling and street harassment—including rude language and gestures—sponsored by Marlène Schiappa, the minister of state for gender equality. But in October, the French radio station RTL published a poll showing that 53 percent of the French public felt #MeToo had accomplished nothing.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Foreign Policy magazine
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