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In a bizarre confluence, the U.S. Senate confirmed accused sexual attacker Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on the day after the first anniversary of the explosion of the #MeToo movement.
Senators voted 50-48 to confirm Kavanaugh on Saturday after a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which he vociferously and angrily denied accusations of sexual misconduct when he was a student more than 30 years ago.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation has unleashed a backlash of anger and frustration from women concerned that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of a drunken Kavanaugh sexually attacking her when they were teenagers were paid lip service by Republican senators eager to place another Republican on the high court. To make matters worse, she was mocked by President Donald Trump.
“There is an anger that is not going to go away,” Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono said in a phone conversation on the day of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. “The anger needs to be determined. Women need to focus like a laser beam on the upcoming elections.”
The first anniversary of #Me Too is a time to reflect on the benefits and shortcomings of the movement and what needs to be done next.
There is a bald truth that lingers despite all the advancements females think they have made: Men will continue to sexually attack women as long as they think they can get away with it. And so far, many have gotten away with it.
It is not about sex, it is about power. Women will face unwanted groping, molestation and rape as long as they lack the power of equal jobs, equal status, equal pay, dignity and respect.
Since #MeToo became an international movement, heavyweights accused of serial sexual misconduct such as Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Garrison Keeler have lost their jobs, and the once wildly popular actor/comedian Bill Cosby has been sent to prison.
Still, “it is not clear how much has changed in the past year for a woman who is being pawed by her boss as she serves burgers for $10 an hour,” write Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey.
Kantor and Twohey are the New York Times investigative reporters considered responsible for sparking the #MeToo movement on Oct. 5, 2017, when they broke the story of film producer Weinstein’s alleged abuse of women.
Afterwards, tens of millions of people began to use the hashtag #MeToo to share their stories of surviving sexual abuse. The movement they embraced was actually started more than a decade earlier by New York activist Tarana Burke.
Kantor and Twohey wrote in a Sunday opinion piece: ”Now even after a year of painful memories, cascades of firings, widespread outrage, criticism from the president and a fight over a Supreme Court seat, we have only one firm prediction: This discussion over harassment and assault has no end in sight.”
In Hawaii, the #MeToo movement is alive and vocal on university campuses and in places you would expect like the YWCA and other organizations that serve women.
The Sexual Abuse Treatment Center at Kapiolani Medical Center says #MeToo has prompted more people to call for help, “especially as a result of the extensive coverage of the Kavanaugh hearings.”
“Many of the callers have had their own experiences with sexual assault that they have not felt comfortable disclosing until now,” said Executive Director Adriana Ramelli. “They are feeling a range of emotions as a result of the national focus on this topic, everything from anger to frustration about the lack of change in how sexual assault has been addressed by society over the years.”
But the #MeToo movement in Hawaii has a less bold expression because of the close-knit culture of island society. Some sexual abuse survivors here are still reluctant to come forward with accusations in communities where everyone knows everyone, or at least knows a friend or a distant relative of someone.
There are the Hawaii concepts of shame and “no talk stink” in public; maybe in private, but not in public.
Since #MeToo gathered strength nationally, only one Hawaii politician, former state House Speaker Joe Souki, has lost his job.
That was after former state Human Services Director Rachael Wong and several other women accused Souki of sexual misconduct. Souki admitted he “touched and kissed more than one woman in ways that were inappropriate and unwelcome when he was serving as House Speaker,” according to the state Ethics Commission.
Wong said she was influenced by #MeToo to come forward about Souki.
I’ve written before about whether the late U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, in the #MeToo environment, would have politically survived the detailed description by hairdresser Lenore Kwock of how he lured her to his Waikiki apartment in 1992, forced her to have unwanted sex, and afterwards continued to grope her during his appointments at a hair salon. Inouye denied the allegations.
At the time, only two legislators came forward to support Kwock, Democrat Annelle Amaral and Republican Cynthia Thielen. Hirono, then a state representative, was among the many women lawmakers who chose to ignore Kwock’s allegations.
“I make no excuses for what I or others did in the past,” Hirono said Saturday. “People can point fingers. But I am focused now on moving forward to make life safer for women.”
Amaral is no longer a legislator but she is still active in the House Women’s Coalition.
“Even if allegations of sexual violence by Inouye arose today, leaders in the state Legislature would continue to protect him,” Amaral said. “That’s what happens when you have the dominance of a single political party.”
University of Hawaii Women’s Studies professor Meda Chesney-Lind said what has brought her hope with #MeToo “is the increase in numbers of women nationally and internationally now willing to talk about what has been a searing and horrible experience for them in hopes of effecting change.”
She said the detailed personal stories told in the #MeToo movement have a power to make people pay attention.
Those details help people to identify and sympathize. I cannot forget Ford’s description to the Senate Judiciary Committee of Kavanaugh’s difficulty as he struggled to rip off her clothes because she was wearing a bathing suit underneath in a locked Maryland bedroom in the summer of 1982.
The picture sticks in my mind, reminding me of Honolulu summers when I was a teenager and we swam at Makapuu and Sandy Beach all day long and after; too lazy to change, we wore our bathing suits under our shorts and dresses to parties well into the night.
So far, Hawaii’s female blue collar workers have not moved in a big way to embrace #MeToo with workplace allegations of sexual harassment. McDonald’s fast food workers emboldened by #MeToo walked off their jobs at lunchtime in 10 cities Sept. 13 to urge their managers to focus on sexual harassment complaints in the restaurants. Hawaii’s McDonald’s workers did not stage similar demonstrations.
Local 5 Hawaii, the union of 11,000 local hotel, health care and food service workers, says it has been publicly active in protecting its members from sexual abuse even before #MeToo.
The union says it has persuaded Marriott International to provide all its hotel workers with electronic panic buttons by 2020. But the union which went on strike Monday against five Marriott Hotels in Hawaii, said one of the issues is the hotels not moving fast enough to provide a safe workplace for its female employees.
Local 5 communications organizer Paola Rodelas says #MeToo has made some female hotel workers braver, such as Jackelyn Bautista, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel room maid who filed a complaint against a member of the Saudi Arabia royal entourage after the man allegedly grabbed and threatened her.
The hotel said it reported the incident to the police immediately, but Rodelas said union members were disappointed when the hotel allowed the Saudi guest to stay until the scheduled end of his visit instead of making him check out immediately.
#MeToo has gained enormous traction in its first year. But the road to changing social behavior will be difficult.
“The people in power feel threatened as women start to speak up,” Hirono said.”There is strong pushback.”
And as long as women earn less and are not at the top of corporate and political structures it will be difficult for them to truly halt abuse of power expressed in sexual violence that has gone on forever.
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