In recent days, my social media feed has been filled with posts with the hash tag “Me Too” - reflecting a movement that began ten years ago when Tarana Burke, an African American woman, wanted to bring attention to the problem of sexual assault in vulnerable communities. This time, “Me Too” caught fire when an actress sent out a tweet, telling about her encounter with movie producer, Harvey Weinstein. She urged women who’d experienced sexual harassment or assault, to put "Me Too" as their status to show the world the magnitude of the problem.
It’s really no surprise that “Me Too”, and women’s stories of abuse are dominating Facebook and twitter feeds. Every woman knows what it’s like to be catcalled, and to be subjected to unwanted sexual touching, harassment or assault. The Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that as many as 60% of all women in the workplace have experienced some form of unwanted sexual attention, put-downs, come-ons or sexual coercion. The report observed that only a small number of these women make a complaint, likely because of fear of reprisal, or concern that they’d be seen as humorless, strident or over-sensitive. And this is just in the workplace!
The subtle, and not-so-subtle messages that women are to be judged more for the clothes they wear than for their ideas and actions often begin in childhood, and are reinforced as girls grow into women.
Over my career I have encouraged many women to embrace their leadership potential. And I’ve seen first hand how the culture of objectifying women is insidious. I still remember how it felt being catcalled walking home from middle school; when my college thesis advisor made sexual advances; and when, as a newly minted lawyer interviewing for my first job, a partner in the firm asked why a “pretty girl like me wanted to practice law?”
There’s an old saying that “the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that you have one.” I agree. That’s why the “Me Too” movement is so important. When women are treated like sex objects, and valued more for their looks than for their achievements, it has the effect of keeping women from achieving their full potentials. It's important to speak out against harassment – and even more important to value women for their minds and deeds.