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
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."