Reese Witherspoon, Nina Shaw, David Smith and Emily Ramshaw discuss the #MeToo movement at the Texas Conference for Women.
By Courtney Runn, Photos via WireImage
It’s been one year since The New York Times and The New Yorker broke stories on Harvey Weinstein’s systematic abuse, sparking a year of reckoning and retribution. Since then, many giants have fallen in the entertainment industry and beyond, with the viral #MeToo movement offering people, particularly women, a community to share their own stories of harassment and abuse. But has anything really changed since 2017? Reese Witherspoon, Nina Shaw, Emily Ramshaw and David Smith discussed the past year and how to move forward last Friday at the Texas Conference for Women.
Shaw, an entertainment lawyer and a founding organizer of the legal defense fund Time’s Up, spoke on the opening keynote panel of the day and later spoke on a panel with Smith and Ramshaw dedicated to the topic. Since its founding, Shaw says the fund primarily organized and promoted by Hollywood celebrities has raised $22 million.
According to the Time’s Up website, one in three women between the ages of 18 and 34 have been sexually harassed at work. If #MeToo started the conversation, Time’s Up is taking action.
“We’re not looking to replace a patriarchy with a matriarchy,” Shaw said, instead noting the group is committed to changing the culture so everyone has a place at the table and is equally represented.
Early in its founding, Shaw took on the difficult task of asking for large donations.
“You have to find things that make you brave,” she said, encouraging women to lean into their passions and step out of their comfort zone.
During her keynote speech, Witherspoon talked about her own role in the legal fund. Also a founding organizer and one of the more vocal celebrities involved with Time’s Up, she described her initial hesitancy to get involved before realizing if she wanted change, she had to be the one to act on it. When she didn’t see strong female roles in movies, she created her own production company. When her peers challenged her to become more involved in Time’s Up, she took on the role of encouraging fellow actors to contribute.
“We are who we need,” she said to much applause later in her keynote, rejecting the Hollywood trope of men saving the day.
Part of the Problem, Part of the Solution
During the panel with Shaw and Ramshaw, Smith addressed the role men do play in this movement.
“Men have to be part of the solution because we’re part of the problem,” Smith said. “We have to get men engaged in the conversation.”
An associate professor of sociology at the United States Naval War College and an author, Smith stressed the importance of men supporting women publicly.
“It’s time to get comfortable being uncomfortable and understand how the rest of the world lives,” he said.
Ramshaw, editor of TheTexas Tribune, referenced President Trump’s tweet stating this is a scary time for young men in this country. She asked Smith if he feels it is indeed a scary time for young men in America. To the applause of the room, he responded, “If you’re a perpetrator, yes.”
While there are now trends of men drawing away from women in the workplace in fear, Smith said men have to move toward the problem and should have as many female mentors as male mentors and analyze their own fear. If men are afraid to be alone with women in the workplace, is that because they believe a false narrative that women are out to seduce them, or that men are uncontrollable? Smith said these conversations must happen to move forward.
While the #MeToo movement and the Time’s Up fund have garnered incredible national attention, what has changed and is there hope for the future? Shaw said while the office is an improved space, it’s also a more confused space. While she’s seeing more women feeling empowered, there’s still a fear of retaliation. For many women, the Brett Kavanaugh Senate testimony seemed like a step backward, that a woman who claims she was violated would not be believed at the highest level.
Shaw offered several concrete steps women—and men—can take to confront harassment to keep moving the needle.
If you’re experiencing harassment, she said write down your experience in detail. Talk to co-workers since harassers are rarely targeting just one person. Realistically assess whether your company’s human-resources department will be a safe place to share and, if so, follow your company’s protocol. And finally, document everything.
If someone confides in you about harassment, Shaw recommends first empathizing and realizing the weight of that person’s trust.
“The way you react and the support you give will in many ways influence the rest of their journey,” she said.
Be an active bystander, she said. Help research and find solutions. If you don’t have any female peers to turn to in your office, find a community of women outside of work, Shaw said.
In research about the importance of connection and community, leading expert on the connection between happiness and success and keynote speaker Shawn Achor found women who attended the Texas Conference for Women were twice as likely to get promoted and had triple the likelihood of receiving a raise of 10 percent or more. There is “power in connection,” he’s found.
While much is left to be done in the wake of #MeToo, panelists agreed there is hope.
“It’s our job to push society forward,” Witherspoon said. “We are our mother’s children and our grandmother’s children, but it’s our world now to give to our daughters and sons.”