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#MeToo movement: Here's what changed for American women

In the five years since the publication of two gut-wrenching exposés involving women who said they were abused by film mogul Harvey Weinstein while trying to enter the industry, there's been a massive rise in social awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Despite this, there's been little systemic change.

The big picture: Media reports about women who said they were abused by Weinstein led to further coverage of the issue across a variety of industries and workplaces.

  • The spread of the hashtag "Me Too" — created in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke — made sexual harassment’s pervasiveness undeniable.
  • It also highlighted the different ways in which women of color, the LGBTQ+ population, and other underrepresented groups experience harassment and discrimination.

“There was a time when I had to literally beg people to get this issue on the agenda,” Burke says.

  • But, once the #MeToo movement gained steam, a slew of advocacy groups were created, and companies big and small pledged they wouldn't tolerate the behavior any longer.

What changed: #MeToo was responsible for some overdue legislation. In total, 22 states and the District of Columbia have passed more than 70 workplace anti-harassment bills, per the National Women's Law Center.

  • California enacted a broad range of new laws, which expand liability for sexual harassment to include things like entrepreneurs interacting with investors. New laws enable workers to speak about sexual harassment and discrimination even if they've signed nondisclosure agreements.
  • Other states, including New York, New Jersey and Illinois, have passed similar laws banning the silencing of sexual harassment victims. A federal version, the Speak Out Act, is making its way through Congress.
  • The federal government passed a bill in February banning companies from forcing sexual harassment and discrimination claims into arbitration.

What hasn't changed: Progress in industries like tech and media has often proved short-lived, with many reverting to their old ways.

  • A number of tech investors who were ousted for harassment have since moved on to new jobs. And while the number of senior-level investment professionals who are women has grown over the years, it was still only 16% as of a 2020 venture capital survey.
  • Even Uber, which voluntarily released victims of sexual harassment and assault from their NDAs in 2018, has reportedly been lobbying behind the scenes against the Speak Out Act.
  • And while a record number of women have been elected to Congress (though nowhere close to parity), they also face an outsized amount of threats, abuse, and online disinformation that's already discouraging some from running for office.

The bottom line: The American patriarchy is still entrenched, despite some progress since #MeToo’s big moment five years ago.

  • Other forces — most notably the coronavirus pandemic and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision in June — have had a bigger impact on women’s overall work experiences, both good and bad.
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