Earlier this year, the #TimesUp legal initiative was launched to provide steps for women across all career industries who have been sexually harassed in the workplace, but now many women are asking, “where do we go from here?” Chicago Ideas Week hosted a conversation last night titled #TimesUp: What’s Next with activists and experts Amber Tamblyn, Saru Jayamaran, Tina Tchen, and Celeste Headlee to answer this question, offering some suggestions for next steps and examining areas where change needs to occur the most.
Thus far, most of the focus of the movement has been on high profile cases involving celebrities or public figures. Women in Hollywood have stood together at awards show announcing that time was up for abuse and assault on movie sets. “The Screen Actors Guild has changed on-set rules about how women are allowed to be treated and how their bodies can be touched,” said Tamblyn, an actress, director, and one of the founding members of the #TimesUp movement.
But there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of inclusivity and diversity within the movement and advocating for women (and men) in all other fields. Tchen, one of the leaders of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, says workplace sexual harassment infects all industries. One of the only ways to implement any real change is to change the workplace culture that has allowed for harassment to grow and continue to be accepted. Opponents of the #TimesUp movement have argued that if companies just followed the law, there wouldn’t be any harassment issues, but those people fail to realize that these laws have not caught up with 2018.
Tchen says these laws do not protect bystanders who report sexual harassment. One change that is occurring, however, is the termination of employees accused of harassment who earlier would’ve been given a slap on the wrist or made to watch a sexual harassment training video. “Sexual harassment training is really ineffective,” she said. Learning about sexual harassment won’t change an offender’s behavior. It’ll only make them more aware of the procedures surrounding the harassment.
Jayamaran, co-founder and president of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC-United), shifts the conversation to restaurant workers. “In addition to support for legal challenges, we need to dismantle the systems and structures that lead to sexual harassment in the first place,” she said. “Like the system of working for tips.”
Jayamaran said the tipping economy is rooted in racism and it came into existence as a way to exploit the labor of slaves. It continues to exploit the labor of people of color and perpetuate power dynamics that result in sexual harassment.
The rest of the conversation focused on the importance of women working together. Though the movement has always placed an emphasis on women supporting women, Tamblyn said that white women especially need to be strong allies. In these spaces devoid of men, some white women are coming face to face with their privilege and the realization that sometimes they may perpetuate the same racism and exclusion as men.
“When you see that there is someone who’s missing out of the conversation, you have to do everything you can to make sure they’re included,” she said.
The panel did a good job of recounting the strides the movement has made and what they’re currently working towards but I’m not sure if anything that was said hasn’t already been said before. I would have liked them to highlight sexual assault in other, more vulnerable career fields like the public education system. Though I’m aware that a lot of the work the initiative is doing is geared towards workplace culture, I think discussing how the movement can help young women come forward with their stories, too, would be beneficial and a huge step in moving forward as a collective. Regardless, the conversation was one that we need to keep having in order to see more progress.
Before the event ended, the four women answered audience questions and offered some tangible advice: Don’t be afraid to be the crazy, difficult bitch in the room and go vote in the midterm elections.