Women who Changed the Game: The Women who Fought Against Sexual Harassment
For international women’s month, we are highlighting and celebrating a few women who have inspired us at Metta Space in their constant fight to eradicate sexual harassment.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) — ”b*tches get stuff done”
As a woman studying International Relations, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has consistently shattered glass ceilings and shown me that anything is possible. AOC defeated a 10 term incumbent in New York City and went on to become the youngest woman ever to serve in the U.S. Congress.
Following the traumatic event that took place on January 6 when rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, AOC went on Instagram live to discuss how people have pressured her to move on from what happened.
She, for the first time in public, told her followers that she is a survivor of sexual assault. She spoke about how the tactics that were being used against her and other’s to “move on” from the traumatic incident, were similar to the ones that abusers use.
She stated that she had not told many people about her past assault, but now felt it important to share.
In many trauma scenarios, like sexual harassment, one always asks themselves the question: Will they believe me?
AOC compares this painful question to “the adult who, if they hurt you when you were a child and you grow up and you confront them about it, they try to tell you that what happened, never happened.”
And this isn’t the first time AOC has put toxic masculinity in its place. A fellow Congressperson, Ted Yoho, confronted her on the Capitol stairs to call her disgusting and said she was out of her freaking mind.
When AOC followed up by saying he was rude, and walked away, he yelled after her “you f*cking b*tch”. Yoho went on to apologize on the House floor and say that he was a father and respects women and that his words were taken as a misunderstanding.
In one of the most powerful speeches I have ever listened to, AOC condemned his male privilege and systematic sexist behaviour in order to hide behind his wife and daughter. The line that will stick with me forever is:
“Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man. I am someone’s daughter, too. My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mr. Yoho’s disrespect on the floor of this House. And I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men”
AOC fighting against workplace harassment has inspired others, and us at Metta Space, to find strength in traumatic situations. Because, according to her, “b*tches get stuff done”. We concur.
Catharine A. MacKinnon — “Women tend to be economically valued according to men’s perceptions of their potential to be sexually harassed”
We have previously talked about how the term sexual harassment gained traction with Catharine MacKinnon in the late 70’s, but her work goes so much further than that.
As an expert on international law and the first Special Gender Advisor to the International Criminal Court, MacKinnon is still fighting for women’s rights even to this day.
She has written over a dozen books, and Feminism Unmodified: Discourse on Life and Law is described as one of the most widely cited books on law in the English language.
Because of her work, sexual harassment has been legally ruled as a discrimination based on sex. This is because the act is both a product of, and produces, social inequality between women and men.
Her definition allowed for the distinction between quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile workplace harassment, setting the stage for businesses like Metta Space to even exist.
MacKinnon’s work on sexual harassment always overlapped with her expertise in international affairs. For example, due to her legal representation of Bosnian and Croatian women after the genocide in 1992, we now have a legal claim for rape as an act of genocide in a known conflict.
She has also always urged to take an intersectional approach to sexual violence and has changed the discourse on how gender and ethnicity play a role in genocides.
MacKinnon sees the #MeToo movement as achieving what sexual harassment law has been unable to do. The law should protect us, and when something is legally prohibited, it more or less stops.
But that is not true for the omnipresent structures that have allowed sexual harassment to be normalised and are thus difficult to break down.
After her 40 years of activism, she sees the light at the end of the tunnel. She says that
“sexual harassment law prepared the ground, but it is today’s [Me Too] movement that is shifting gender hierarchy’s tectonic plates”
We are forever grateful for Catherine MacKinnon.
Tarana Burke — “You have to use your privilege to serve others”
It isn’t surprising to Tarana Burke that you don’t know who she is. She never wanted to be the figurehead or face of a worldwide movement, yet we can’t talk about sexual harassment without talking about the small phrase that she started in 2006.
At first she started to raise awareness for women who had faced sexual harassment or assult. In one of her first workshops on sexual harassment for high school aged girls, she encouraged them to write ‘Me Too’ on their worksheet if they ever felt they needed help.
After nearly a decade of work with her movement, the phrase picked up traction in 2017 when the number of sexual abuse allegations against American film producer Harvey Weinstein were growing by the day — especially when actress Aylssa Milano encouraged women to say “Me Too” if they had experienced sexual violence.
The hashtag went viral with almost 83,000 comments and a global recognition of the reach that especially women have felt when it comes to sexual violence. Burke sees the hashtag as a victory for the movement overall because it has finally allowed for people to not blame themselves for the actions taken against them, and to lift the burden and allow people to lead fuller lives.
Tarana views sexual harassment as a “gateway drug” to sexual violence, and is encouraging education and a culture shift so that “every single instance of sexual harassment is investigated and dealt with”.
According to Tarana, sexual violence falls on a spectrum of other types of sexist behaviour, and she is also calling for accountability as a vital part of this spectrum.
She says that there is a lot of strength in the agency of #MeToo and that “it’s not about giving up your agency, it’s about claiming it”. We bow down to Tarana Burke.
Whitney Wolfe Herd — “When women are safe and happy, everyone else follows and it creates a better relationship for everyone”
Whitney Wolfe Herd shows the importance of taking matters into your own hands. Herd started Bumble after leaving her executive position at Tinder, for which she was a co-founder, because she was sexually harassed.
Nevertheless, she persisted, and went on to start her own venture, creating Bumble, making Herd one of the youngest billionaires at 31.
Herd is an inspiration to us at Metta Space because her success highlights how important it is to have women in positions of power creating applications with a female perspective.
Due to its female-focused algorithm, Bumble became revolutionary because it is putting the power of dating into the hands of women and defying traditional gender norms by having women make the first move.
Following the #MeToo movement, Herd recognised that sexual harassment and gender discrimination were finally being addressed and factored that into the Bumble platform. The app prohibits any hate speech or bad behaviour in order to attempt to end misogyny on dating apps. It is also rooted in kindness and respect.
Amid the pandemic, the app recently added an option to have “virtual video dates’’, which is perfect for dating from home, but also adds in an extra layer of safety and security for women, something that has been ingrained into the app from its inception. It shows us at Metta Space, how important it is to have a female perspective, and someone who herself has experienced sexism and harassment, to add another layer of perspective in the creation of tech platforms.
Her work continues outside of the app as well. Her team, for example, recently assisted in passing a law against sending unsolicited nude images.
Herd has brought safety and respect to the forefront of people’s minds while dating, which is one of the reasons for her success. She says that
“this should just serve as an example that anything is possible and I’m so excited to hand the baton on to the next woman who surpasses me as the youngest woman CEO”.
We love to see the solidarity!
Written By: Apollina “Polly” Kyle, Research Ambassador at Metta Space
Edited By: Paula Koller-Alonso, Head of R&D at Metta Space