The Me Too Movement takes its name from the phrase created a decade ago by civil rights activist Tarana Burke and popularized by Alyssa Milano when she encouraged women to tweet it to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Since October 2017, #MeToo has been posted millions of times online, often with accompanying accounts of sexual harassment or sexual assault many of which occur in the workplace. The magnitude of the problem is, without question, huge.
As the Jewish festival of Purim approaches, what comes to mind is the Book of Esther’s story of Queen Vashti whose own “Me Too moment” is perhaps the first recorded instance of a woman standing up against sexual harassment and paying a steep price for her resistance. Queen Vashti’s husband, the Persian King Ahasuerus, hosted a banquet for his princes, nobles, and servants. Following seven days of drunken debauchery, he ordered seven of his men to summon Queen Vashti. The King ordered that she appear naked, wearing only her crown, to dance for him and his guests. Humiliated, Vashti refused. The King asked his advisors how Vashti should be punished for her disobedience. Convinced that Vashti had insulted not only the king, but all the husbands of Persia–whose own wives might be influenced and emboldened by Vashti to disobey their husbands’ directives–the king’s top aide advised him to dismiss Queen Vashti and replace her. And that’s exactly what the king did. Vashti was retaliated against. She was fired. And she was replaced by a younger queen–Esther. While Queen Esther is the heroine of the Jewish Purim festival, perhaps Queen Vashti is the biblical heroine for the Me Too Movement: #MeToo; #Vashti!
A 2018 article in the Washington Post featured women in their sixties, seventies, and eighties discussing the Me Too Movement and sharing their memories of sexual harassment and sexual assault in, and out of, the workplace. One of the women commented: “It catches my breath that we’re having this kind of conversation in 2018, when we thought all this would be done.” (Sharing Stories from Decades Ago, Older Women Find Their Place in #MeToo) As their conversations illustrate, “all this” is complicated, multi-faceted, and it is highly unlikely that we will ever be “done” experiencing and responding to sexual harassment and sexual assault–especially in the workplace. Policies and laws may not change or control the attitudes and behaviors of bad actors; however, effective policies and laws that are enforced can change and control responses and outcomes for bad actors and their victims.
(See previous blog posts on sex harassment)