#MeToo’s global impact: Big in some places, scanty in others

Published 8:12 am Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Thanks to the vast reach of social media and the prevalence of sexual misconduct in virtually every society, the #MeToo movement has proven itself a genuinely global phenomenon. Yet its impact varies widely from country to country, from potentially momentous to inconsequential.

No other nation has experienced anything close to the developments in the United States, the movement’s birthplace, where scores of prominent men — among them politicians, media stars and movie moguls — have lost jobs and reputations after facing sexual misconduct allegations.

As the global women’s movement prepares for International Women’s Day on Thursday, it’s clear the record elsewhere is mixed.

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In Western Europe, some VIPs have been discredited and some new anti-harassment laws are in the works. Worldwide, the fallout includes backlashes against women who speak out, divisions within feminist ranks and minimal repercussions for accused harassers. And in many countries, the U.S. included, the movement has consisted primarily of well-educated professionals, largely leaving out working-class and poor women. Some skeptics have coined the hashtag #WeFew.

In some countries where the movement hasn’t caught fire, analysts have suggested that resistance to American cultural trends is among the factors.

“I wish it hadn’t started in the U.S.,” said Anne Marie Goetz, a professor of global affairs at New York University and a former United Nations adviser on women’s issues.

“The fastest way to discredit any women’s rights struggle is to say it comes from somewhere else,” Goetz said. “That’s been a longstanding putdown of feminist movements all around the world.”

In China, discussion of #MeToo has sometimes been censored on social media and branded as a destabilizing foreign movement. To thwart the censors, social media users have made creative use of hashtags such as #RiceBunny — a phrase which in China is pronounced “me too.”

The hashtags — and women’s accounts of harassment — proliferated in January after Luo Xixi, an academic now based in the U.S., accused a renowned Beijing-based professor of sexual misconduct when she was a graduate student. Other women lodged similar allegations, and the professor was fired.