Tuesday, March 5, 2019
Robin Kar & Lesley Wexler, #MeToo: Counting the Collective Harm of Missing Women's Work, Justia
As a grassroots movement fostered by social media and amplified by traditional journalism, the #MeToo movement has helped countless victims find the courage to share experiences of sexual harassment that might otherwise have gone unreported. Public acts of storytelling like these can galvanize social reform. They can raise public consciousness about a problem, create bonds of mutual concern and commitment to solve it, and help people who lack experience with sexual harassment understand the qualitative nature of its harms. Grassroots developments are especially important to bring attention to problems that have traditionally been denied, normalized, or unduly diminished in importance.
Given its grassroots origins, the early #MeToo movement fits a wider pattern of women’s empowerment movements from around the world, and over the course of world history, which often begin with self-organized efforts of just this kind. Over time, however, successful movements typically evolve to further stages, which give them broader impact, by attracting “supporters and mentors who offered their struggle the credibility they needed, and offered material resources including funds, professional expertise, mentoring, and training for developing necessary skills for members of the movement.” To broaden its support base and deepen public understanding of the harms of sexual harassment, #MeToo may similarly need to form alliances that combine grassroots public storytelling with other modes of knowledge production.
Academic research institutions—and especially those concerned with broader community needs—may prove pivotal at this juncture. This is because academic institutions are especially well positioned to measure the scope of the collective harms generated by sexual harassment and identify the most promising causal interventions to reduce those harms. As an analogy, consider economist and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen’s pathbreaking work More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing. Before he produced this work, it was well known anecdotally that female children were not being born or surviving as often as male children in many parts of the world due to phenomena like sex-selection during pregnancy, femicide, and inadequate care for female children. Individual stories of these problems abounded—and they were heartbreaking. But it took thoughtful econometric modeling and a creative search for reliable indices of the problem for Sen to measure it and establish that there were literally more than 100 million fewer women in the world than there should have been at the time.
Once the jaw-dropping scope of the problem was made clear, it garnered the attention of many more people with a broader range of skill sets.