SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The protests on Capitol Hill, coming years since the advent of the #MeToo movement - the #MeToo movement began when many actresses, models, employees and others said they had sexually harassed or assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, the film producer, allegations first reported by The New York Times and The New Yorker. Women in Hollywood were quick to take up the cause. Here's Oprah Winfrey at this year's Golden Globes.
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OPRAH WINFREY: ...Who take us to time when nobody ever has to say #MeToo again.
SIMON: NPR's Elizabeth Blair takes a look at the impact of #MeToo a year later.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: At Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., psychology teacher Sarah Soileau wants her students to consider some of the questions raised by the #MeToo movement, like consent.
SARAH SOILEAU: Should we be looking for the verbal consent?
MARCUS BRIGHT: Yeah.
BLAIR: Seventeen-year-old Marcus Bright shares what he's learned.
BRIGHT: What did we learn? Each base - each base - first base, second base, third base - each base, I'm asking.
SOILEAU: That is a good rule to live by. Each base, you better ask. All right?
BLAIR: Sarah Soileau says #MeToo has been an opportunity to talk about serious and relevant issues like consent and sexual harassment.
SOILEAU: It's important to teach our students when they're younger so that they don't grow up in a culture where they think it's OK. I'm just trying to, like, give these girls and boys the voice to say, look. This is not OK. And I'm not going to tolerate it.
BLAIR: Women aren't tolerating it either. And the results are measurable. This year, sexual harassment reports to the EEOC, or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, have gone up 12 percent. That's after years of remaining steady. The EEOC is the government agency that handles workplace discrimination cases, including sexual harassment. The vast majority of those claims do not go to litigation. But even the number that do doubled this year. The EEOC's acting chair, Victoria Lipnic, says the interest generated by #MeToo has been enormous.
VICTORIA LIPNIC: We've had a five-fold increase of hits to our website of people looking for information about sexual harassment. We've done hundreds of training sessions for employers.
BLAIR: Here's something else that has changed as a result of #MeToo. There's real money available for women to get help, says Sharyn Tejani.
SHARYN TEJANI: I have been a civil rights lawyer and a women's rights lawyer for the last 20 years. And if you told me at any point in those 20 years that there would be money available to help people come forward, to help people with their cases, I would've told you that's just never going to happen.
BLAIR: Tejani is the director of the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund. It covers legal fees for alleged victims of sexual harassment. With big donors like Shonda Rhimes and Meryl Streep, the fund reached $21 million in just two months. At the same time, Tejani says there's only so much lawyers can do. Of the thousands of sexual harassment reports that come in, only a fraction get funded for legal help.
TEJANI: Some people are coming to us, you know, two years after this has happened to them, five years after this has happened to them, 10 years after this has happened to them - because they never felt comfortable coming forward before. And the way the law is, you have to report or bring a case within a certain amount of time. So some of those women are out of time. Some of those women who are coming forward are independent contractors. And unless you live in certain states, you're not covered by a discrimination law. And so it's a matter of people coming forward. And we connect them to lawyers, and the lawyers help them when they can. But sometimes, there isn't something that can be done.
JO FREEMAN: You've got to plow the ground and plant the seeds before you can reap the harvest.
BLAIR: Jo Freeman has written books on women's liberation and other social movements. To put #MeToo in context, she says look at the fight against racism.
FREEMAN: A hundred years ago, the culture condoned white supremacy. We've been fighting that one for a hundred years. And I think we've made a lot of progress, but it ain't done yet.
BLAIR: Freeman says social movements need both the high-profile surges, like speeches and marches, but they also need the behind-the-scenes work, like the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund.
FREEMAN: That underneath-the-radar, behind-the-scenes organizing is extremely important. You know, what you see are the surge parts. What's catching our attention now is the vast turnout of people on the Kavanaugh thing.
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CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified.
BLAIR: Christine Blasey Ford's allegations that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school is one of those surge moments, says Freeman. Hundreds of people protested Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court this week. They marched along the National Mall.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) This is what democracy looks like.
BLAIR: One of the protesters, Laura Miranda-Browne, came down from New Jersey. She says her feelings have been all over the place these past few weeks.
LAURA MIRANDA-BROWNE: Appalled and demoralized but also hopeful and motivated.
BLAIR: Miranda-Browne believes, without the support of the #MeToo movement, Ford might not have come forward at all.
MIRANDA-BROWNE: I really think that without the cultural conversation that's taking place at this moment, she wouldn't have had the courage to come forward. And knowing that she would have support from the millions of Americans...
BLAIR: But #MeToo also terrifies people. Allegations alone can get men fired. Many critics say the #MeToo movement has led to outsized punishments for small offenses like flirting. This week, President Trump said it's a very scary time for young men in America.
DONALD TRUMP: My whole life, I've heard you're innocent until proven guilty. But now you're guilty until proven innocent. That is a very, very difficult standard.
BLAIR: The #MeToo backlash isn't just about the fear of false accusations. Heather Mac Donald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book "The Diversity Delusion." She believes #MeToo assumes women in America have no voice.
HEATHER MAC DONALD: We live in a very tolerant society. This is not Afghanistan. This is not Iran with the Revolutionary Guard. For American females to complain that they're in a rape culture or a patriarchy is extremely deluded and ignorant about what those things really look like.
BLAIR: Whatever your point of view, there's no denying the #MeToo movement has ignited a feisty cultural conversation. It's disrupted ideas about what women should put up with at work and divided people along gender and generational lines.
JENNY LUMET: I think this is about facing yourself.
BLAIR: Jenny Lumet is a screenwriter and TV producer. In an open letter in The Hollywood Reporter, she alleged that hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons sexually attacked her. He has denied it. Lumet has thought a lot about what #MeToo means. For her, the movement is forcing people to check their own beliefs and behavior.
LUMET: What is the most uncomfortable for people is you have to turn your gaze upon yourself, or you're forced to sometimes - even if it's just for a second.
BLAIR: Lumet believes this is a historic moment and that this year of #MeToo will forever be a reference point for people hoping to change the status quo.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The introduction to the audio version of this story mistakenly states that the #MeToo movement started a year ago. In fact it was started in 2006, by activist Tarana Burke. It took off after allegations of sexual misconduct against movie producer Harvey Weinstein were reported in The New York Times and The New Yorker in October 2017.]
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