Hollywood actresses emboldened to share #MeToo stories that haunted their lives inspired a global movement. Women all over the world joined in, and for many or most, their lives got worse, sometimes a lot worse. #MeToo inadvertently revealed why gender equality is estimated to arrive in the 24th century in the United States and the 27th century in Iran.
Sometimes women used #MeToo and sometimes they created new hashtags. In Japan, many #MeTooers were shamed to a point that was seen as dangerous. Japanese women switched to #Wetoo and #Withyou to show support for the movement.
At first, government censors in China kept a lid on #MeToo. Undeterred women began using virtual private networks. #MeToo was labeled as a hostile force using Western feminism to interfere with the government. Some #MeTooers believed their lives were in danger. Minimally some were in danger of being sued. In China, more accused sue than victims, and they often win. Male-dominated judiciaries can be very powerful for reinforcing the status quo that silent women are better off.
In South Korea, women filing lawsuits alleging sexual assault have faced shaming and taunting as gold diggers. The message sent was the real victims are men. In Slovenia, #jaztudi took a more cautionary route to protect alleged victims. Stories were posted anonymously by an NGO. Instead of women facing threats, the NGO has.
In Latin America, women tired of violence, which too commonly takes the deadly form of femicide, launched #NiUnoMenos, which means not one less. Peru’s highest religious leader, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, said, “[They tell us] there are many abortions among young girls, but nobody has abused these girls. Often it is women who put themselves on display, provoking men.” Another response: well-known women supporting #NiUnoMenos have been murdered.
Russian #MeTooers have not been murdered, but murder inspired a Russian #MeToo-type movement #янехотелаумирать, which means I didn’t want to die. According to the Russian government, at least 12,000 women die from domestic violence every year. What’s being done about it? In 2017 Russian President Putin signed a law, originally proposed by a female legislator, that decriminalized violence against women unless it is so severe, they require treatment in a hospital. Regarding #MeToo, Putin said he doesn’t support the movement, and like the Chinese alludes to a western conspiracy. In Russia, there is a saying, “If he beats you, it means he loves you.”
France shared something in common with Russia; influential women opposed to the premises of #MeToo, or in France #balancetonporc which means squeal on your pig. Hollywood icon, Catherine Denueve and others saw #MeToo as a puritanical movement, and men sexually pestering women as “essential to sexual freedom.” France obviously sees issues of sexual harassment and abuse differently. In 2020, highly feted “literary genius” Gabriel Matzneff found his acclaimed writings about sex with young girls were being re-examined. Millions around the world responded in disbelief asking how this could happen? Perhaps, it’s because a previous open challenge to Matzneff’s sexual deviance was rebuffed. How can a nation hailed as a leader in gender equality not protect young girls from sexual abuse?
In sub-Saharan Africa, according to the UN, violence against women is second to Latin America. Here #MeToo barely made inroads. Equal rights advocates suggested the fear of backlash was too high. In India, women in Bollywood joined the #MeToo movement, but lawsuits against alleged victims, exoneration of perps, and men battling back against false complaints drowned out #Metooers. False complaints are a tiny fraction of accusations everywhere, but they have become a potent weapon in the arsenal of men to silence women seeking equal rights. Outside Bollywood, Indian women have stayed silent for two reasons that are similar to reasons in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s a better alternative and many females (and males), sometimes most, see intimate partner violence (IPV) as justified in some situations, like burning dinner, or refusing sex.
#MeToo didn’t gain traction in small Pacific island nations. One reason is, because here too there is a widespread belief that IPV as justified. The problem, or not, depending on your view, is not, limited to intimates. One study found 27% of men in Papua New Guinea admitted to raping a female non-partner, and 14% admitted to multiple rapes of female non-partners. In neighboring Australia, #MeToo had problems catching on. Some pointed to strong anti-defamation laws as the reason. In one case an Australian actor won more than a $600,000 in an anti-defamation suit. That would be enough to cool the heels of any media source or alleged victim going public with a story.
In some Muslim-majority countries, estimates for gender equality reach 20 generations or 500 years. Iran is a 500 year-to-equality country. Iranian women have struggled with #MeToo because they are up against a government that insists Islamic traditions prevent harassment. But interviews with unnamed women in Iran disagree. “If you ask 10 women about this, nine of them will say, yes, they have suffered harassment.” There is a correlation between gender equality and IPV, which would indicate that this 9 of 10 might not be far off in a 500 year-to-equality country. Laws passed in some Muslim countries are often unenforceable because they violate religious laws. Under sharia law, there is no marital rape, and a husband can justifiably beat a disobedient wife. For unmarried intimates, sexual harassment and assault are not illegal. Sex out of wedlock is what is illegal. An unmarried intimate reporting rape would be self-reporting a crime, so would a non-intimate without four witnesses. Being illegal is anyway a technicality that the potential global population of #MeTooers knows too well. In the United States, 1% of victims will see perpetrators jailed.
Religious institutions like political institutions are male-dominated, and their leaders often see women creating their own problems. In 2018, authorities in Thailand warned women “not to dress too sexily” during the New Year holiday. The thinking was if women get sexually harassed, it’s their fault for dressing like sluts. Thai women created #Donttellmehowtodress, which has been adopted in other parts of the world. Another Thai movement has been launched to teach women about consent in a culture where men don’t ask, because it seems apparent that they don’t need to. Around the world, girls don’t know there are age-of-consent laws that range from 9 to 21. But should a 50-year old man, like Matzeff, be free to have sex with a fourteen, let alone nine-year-old girl, because she said yes? In male-dominated governments, that’s not for women to decide.
There is plenty of evidence that very powerful political men can see nothing wrong with sexual harassment. The president of the Philippines, President Duterte’s regular sexist comments spawned #BabaeAko, which translates into #Iamwoman. Duterte has made jokes about rape and referred to a second wife as a “spare tyre” in the trunk of his car. What hope do women in the Philippines have to escape the most heinous form of discrimination if the leader of their country perpetuates the notion of women as men’s sexual playthings?
US President Donald Trump was a catalyst for #MeToo. Like Duterte, online logs are kept of his sexist comments. In office, they haven’t been as crude, but that’s a tempered outcome similar to the evolution of #MeToo in the United States. In the US, #MeToo has tempered sexual harassment but increased gender harassment. For victims the results are similar: the ambitions of degraded women decreases and many leave the workforce. Who leaves? Not sure, but senior women face higher levels of harassment. They are, after all, the ones that pose the greatest threat to male-dominated institutions.
#MeToo challenged powerful men all over the world, and they have responded to let women know that power in this world is securely in the hands of men, and they won’t be letting go anytime soon. Sexual harassment and abuse has been and continues to cement the inferior position of women in society. Harassment and abuse isn’t about sex; it’s about keeping women subordinated all over the world. Gender discrimination is blind to color, religion and wealth. The latter simply causes biases to change forms, and to offer legal remedies that are more likely to haunt victims than deliver justice.
Without generating global outrage that compels lawmakers and business leaders to address a scourge on half the world, harassment and abuse will continue to reinforce gender inequality. The estimates of 4-20 generations to equality and a global survey of #MeToo outcomes reinforce this won’t happen anytime soon. Women fear reporting acts of sexual violence, females have been raised to see it as justified, male political leaders promote women as sex toys, handfuls of falsely accused men drowned out millions of female victims, incidents are censored or swept under the carpet. When allegations are formalized, judiciaries send unsupportive messages.
There are other problems too. In many governments, data is not reported because the actions are not illegal. Where it is illegal, data can be censored, unprioritized, or used for purposes that obviously aren’t having much of an impact. The World Economic Forum produces the gold standard for measuring global gender equality, but it doesn’t find the most blatant and egregious form of gender discrimination relevant to evaluating equality. There is an adage that what gets measured, gets improved. If NGOs tracking gender equality don’t see a problem and neither do male-dominated governments, there is a problem without a solution. We certainly can’t rely on female heads of government. Today there are fourteen (7% of countries), up from one, fifty-eight years ago. But, even females as heads of government doesn’t automatically mean progress for women. A forecast for gender equality spanning centuries makes sense. The bigger question is, how do we bring this forward? More senior women leaders that accept part of their charge as ending gender discrimination could work.