Somehow, we’re still talking about a hashtag.
Two years after the #MeToo movement gave so many a voice, those who have experienced sexual harassment and assault are still coming forward. Those who are alleged to be perpetrators are still getting called out. Laws have been passed, policies adjusted, books written. There may have been an intense backlash. There have also been countless lives changed for the better.
The #MeToo hashtag — born in October 2017 after sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein were publicized — was in many ways to allow those who had been victimized to reclaim their autonomy. So here are six local women who posted #MeToo in that first few months of the movement: what they believe has changed since, and what work still needs to be done. Their answers are edited for clarity and brevity.
Kristen Kurtis, 34, of Philadelphia
In October 2017, Kurtis, a morning-show host and the assistant music director at WXPN, tweeted: “#MeToo. Cornered freshman year of high school. Drugged freshman year of college. Touched/harassed too many other times to count.”
"[After posting #MeToo,] there was a lot of support from other women, which was really touching. When I think back to being 14 and the first time that I was harassed and put in a situation that led to sexual assault, there was no support at all. To have a network of people coming out and supporting me and sharing their stories was really relieving and a revelation.
"I definitely have noticed increased awareness and, really, women stepping up for each other and saying they believe each other was a big deal. And there were plenty of men who had been abused and harassed, and I’m really glad they were able to find their voices and feel more comfortable talking about it.
“I’d like to see more empathy from people who have not been victims. There’s still a good amount of victim-blaming. There seems to be an implication sometimes that women are making a bigger deal of something than is necessary. Empathy and more belief is really what I’d like to see next.”
Alisha Velez, 26, of Bethlehem
In October 2017, Velez, a medical assistant, posted on Facebook: “#MeToo. ‘If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.’”
"I remember reading articles and crying and crying and feeling like [#MeToo] couldn’t have come at a better time. I don’t remember much of what started the movement. I just know what it did for me. I was so distraught in that time period, that when it came out and I was reading what people had went through, it was like ‘OK, yes. I’m not alone.’
"When the movement first happened, it was powerful and it was empowering for other women. It was like the world was on fire, and women were strong and capable, and it was great. I feel that now, two years later, it has become the punchline to jokes. I’ve heard people joke and say ‘hashtag-me-too’ when joking about sexual harassment, and it’s just like, this is so sad, because this is such a powerful thing, and now it’s a punchline and it’s not taken seriously anymore.
“Women need to stop allowing other women to just be victims. Our men need to be raised better. Absolutely. But we can’t turn around and ask men to change if we don’t ask women to change, too. We’re not the weaker species. You can stand up and have a voice. You have a voice for a reason. Use it.”
Amy Feld, 55, of Conshohocken
In November 2017, Feld posted #MeToo on Facebook, writing in a poem: “We all have #MeToo stories … Our stories, not headlines, we are not famous. Our abusers don’t drip notoriety or bleed money. We aren’t interviewed for articles or TV … Somebody tell our #MeToo tales. We are greater in number than those assaulted by famous men.”
"I remember, at the beginning of #MeToo, thinking, that’s great you guys have this platform to speak out. But what about the minimum-wage employee who’s a single mom with two kids? What’s she supposed to do? To her, if she files a complaint she could be fired. And legally she couldn’t be, but does she have the money to prove it? Can she afford to not be at work?
"A lot of people were like ‘thank you for speaking out, you’re really brave.’ I didn’t really feel brave for speaking out. I just felt like I needed to speak out. I wanted to add my experience to the conversation.
“I think we’re really all in this together. The mostly men who do this, I don’t think that vilifying them and casting them out forever is the solution. These people, chances are, they have families and they have children, and if there can be some sort of a path to becoming a better person after you’ve suffered the financial and career consequences, that society benefits from all of that — that once you’ve made amends and have truly understood and have an extreme desire to do better, that second chances, with oversight, benefits everybody.”
Elona Washington, 48, of Norristown
In November 2017, Washington, a writer from Norristown, tweeted: “Those letters to my younger self … not gonna happen. #imnotready #CSASurvivors #MeToo #iwasjustachild” Washington had told her story before, but largely only to other survivors. Now, she’ll tell anyone “open-minded” who’s ready to listen. She is the author of her memoir, From Ivy League to Stripper Life.
"#MeToo allowed not just me, but millions of others to say they had the exact same story, and I felt like I wasn’t the only one anymore. And it allowed us to educate people outside of our circle.
"I think more people have more compassion, empathy and understanding, and they’re less quick to judge or attack the accuser. But I also think there really are a lot of people who refuse to believe that it wasn’t anything due to the accuser’s situation, what they were wearing, what they were drinking. What I’m learning is some people are just stuck in their own way of thinking. There are some people whose minds we’re never going change. Now I look for telltale signs of someone who is open-minded that I can have a conversation with.
“For me, redemption would be an apology. ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you. I’m sorry for what I did.’ That would change my entire life if one of my abusers came and apologized. It’s not something I’m ever going to wish for though. I move on by finally understanding that it wasn’t my fault. The issue and the problem was with them, and they put their sickness out on me.”
Mae Johnson, 36, of Philadelphia
In October 2017, Johnson posted on Facebook: “#metoo with a gun in my face.”
"When I was in college, [I was the victim] of a home invasion, and I was assaulted during the home invasion. I had pretty extensive treatment afterwards. Part of my therapy was to just tell the story over and over and over again, just to sort of take away that shock and emotion. And it was pretty effective. That’s why I felt compelled to participate [in #MeToo]. We’re only as sick as our secrets.
"I wouldn’t say that #MeToo was necessarily a flash in the pan, but I feel like it was a moment. It’s kind of one of those things that you hope sort of shines a little light somewhere that it wasn’t able to get to before and just be happy with that.
“I’m also raising a son. I’m raising a middle-class white guy. And I think, for me, just becoming aware of not giving him a sense of entitlement. That was my takeaway. It’s one of those things, as a parent, you don’t think about right when they’re born. But then it clicks: You’re raising a human who will have this whole life and impact on the world. And what does that mean? As a woman, I’m now responsible for this man.”
Kathryn Quigley, 52, of Deptford, N.J.
In October 2017, Quigley, a professor at Rowan University, tweeted: “#MeToo I was stalked in college and after graduation. I was sexually harassed when I was a waitress. It was #NotMyFault.”
"My whole experience was in the ’80s. This was just what you had to put up with. This is just gross guys in bars, on the El. ... That’s just crap that you, as a woman, had to go through.
"[After posting #MeToo,] we talked about it in class. My story wasn’t particularly egregious, the stuff I went through. I considered it part of being a young woman in the ’80s in Philadelphia. What I was trying to get across to my students is you don’t have to put up with this. I thought you did. And you don’t.
“The Harvey Weinstein stuff … is the tangible result of good journalism, and I think it’s changed society. I feel more hopeful for my college-aged students that there are more checks and balances in place. I think despite what’s going on politically, this is a train that’s left the station, and I don’t think we’re going to go back to the way things were in terms of the sexism and sexual harassment.”