CSUSB social scientists discuss the complexities of the #MeToo movement and why it matters
Office of Strategic Communication
Though it’s known by its social media hashtag, #MeToo, the movement that has focused attention on sexual harassment and sexual assault is much more complicated than the common, seemingly simple perception presented on Twitter or other forms of public discussion and debate, a panel of Cal State San Bernardino social scientists said collectively.
“The more we simplify things, the more we silence people,” said Tiffany Jones, professor of history and chair of the department. “It’s always more complicated, and if we recognize that complexity, if we recognize that there are multiple issues, I think that helps us overcome some of those obstacles.”
Jones was one of the panelists presenting at the program “The Rise of Women, #MeToo, and Why it Matters,” at the Santos Manuel Student Union Theater on Dec. 3, presented by the CSUSB College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
“Tonight’s event is focused on why it matters, and specifically, with the question of why it matters, we are talking about the research that social scientists do matters in the broader sense,” said A. Rafik Mohamed, dean of the college, to open the program.
He shared how he was in Washington, D.C., earlier in 2018 to talk to congressional staffers about the importance of the social and behavioral sciences, and advocating for funding to support research in the disciplines. “It really didn’t surprise me, but I still found it a little bit appalling of how little they knew about anything to do with social and behavioral sciences research. What seems to most inform policy in America is reflex and visceral feelings. That shouldn’t be the case.”
He recalled that during that same trip, he heard a report on National Public Radio about how the immigration debate was being framed by President Donald Trump as undocumented immigrants – and immigrants in general – being the leading source of the crime problem in the United States. The NPR report then cited research by social and behavioral scientists “that actually showed the opposite – that communities that have the highest concentration of undocumented immigrants had also, correspondingly, lower rates of serious crimes. … And I’m sitting there thinking, President Trump is saying this, and people are receiving this. And unless you’re listening to NPR … you’re probably not hearing anything as a counterbalance, or anything actually involving research that might refute these assertions and make us respond in a more informed conversation.”
And many of the issues that are concerns among Americans – such as immigration, crime, jobs, foreign relations – are areas of research for social and behavioral scientists. Those concerns came up during a conversation Mohmed had with Ryan Keating, an associate professor of history, who suggested that the college put out a call to its faculty to focus on the work they do and say why it matters. And the faculty responded with ideas, one of which was the Dec. 3 presentation on the #MeToo movement.
Though it gained widespread notice in late 2017 as a social media hashtag to spread awareness of sexual assault and harassment, the genesis of #MeToo was in 2006, when activist Tarana Burke founded the Me Too movement “because she, as someone who experienced sexual assault, wanted to do something to help women and girls — particularly women and girls of color — who had also survived sexual violence,” according to a Washington Post article.
In October 2017, in the wake of allegations of years of sexual misconduct by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, actress Alyssa Milano posted on her Twitter account, “Suggested by a friend: 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.”
The panel of Jones (history), associate professor Meredith Conroy (political science), and professor Kathy Nadeau (anthropology) presented not only their own research, but also cited the research of their colleagues in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences to explain beyond the headlines and social media posts why the #MeToo movement matters, not just in the United States, but also from a global perspective.
Conroy discussed the movement in the context of the rise of women in American politics, pointing out that the 2018 election saw the largest increase of women voted into Congress – from 107 seats to 126 seats – since 1992, when representation increased from 32 to 54 seats. Yet, they do not make 25 percent of all legislators in Congress, she said.
“Still much progress to be made,” Conroy said.
Part of the reason for the underrepresentation was because fewer women run than men. Some of it is due to gender norms, including that politics is seen – and framed – in masculine terms, Conroy said. For example, the language used during presidential campaigns tended to attack the opposing candidate’s manhood. Conversely, she said, one study showed that when politics is framed as a community service, more women will decide to run for office than men.
Bringing in the #MeToo movement and the 2018 election into the conversation, Conroy said the movement was more a partisan issue than a gender issue, that Republicans who backed Trump were less inclined to support it than Democrats who backed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Ultimately, it matters that more women – and others underrepresented in politics – get involved because the more inclusive the political process is, the more people perceive it as fair, and the more have trust in government institutions, Conroy said.
Nadeau discussed the implication of gender-based discrimination and gender-based violence. She said that research has shown that 81 percent of women experience sexual harassment, and that 1-in-5 have experienced sexual assault, which is likely to be underreported because it continues to be a taboo topic. Nadeau cited the work of Manijeh Badiee, CSUSB assistant professor of psychology, who is examining ways women can deal interpersonal violence and sexism. “She’s developing a process model for therapists and counselors, researchers and policy-makers to use to address this issue.”
Increasing economic independence is one way for women to combat gender abuse and discrimination, Nadeau said. Women who work lower-paying jobs tend to be more dependent on men, and that increased the likelihood they would experience violence directed at them.
For example, research by Yasmine Dildar, CSUSB assistant professor of economics, showed that 50 percent of women in Turkey experienced “either physical, psychological or sexual violence by their intimate partner.,” Nadeau said. “She tested whether access to economic resources and employment protect women from domestic violence or trigger male backlash and increase their vulnerability in the conservative culture of Turkey. The conclusion was that economic empowerment that comes with employment, having personal income, assets or earning more than their partners often has a protective effect, making them less likely to experience intimate partner abuse.”
The progress of eliminating gender discrimination and violence will likely be a long process, the panelists said. But it is progress that can be achieved.
“So the way forward and out, is actually … using institutions such as ourselves, education, also vocation and professionalization and training; effective government measures in legislation alleviating local poverty; and reconstruction of communities hit by political and natural disasters, can lead to increasing women’s educational levels and opportunities for their personal growth, and social, cultural, political and economic advancement,” Jones said. “Moreover, participation of women making decisions about their own needs is vital, especially to not perpetrate this image as women as victims, but ensure that gender issues are addressed so that we can actually inform and enforce gender equality.”