Make tomorrow better for women and girls

By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist

This week, in the wake of a long list of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, a social media campaign emerged asking women to take a simple and yet anything but simple action: Anyone who has experienced sexual assault or harassment was asked to post their experiences on social media, along with the hashtag #metoo.

For days my Twitter and Facebook feeds have been filled with horrifying and also unsurprising posts from women of all walks of life in every silo of my public, family and social circles. Some of them shared intimate details of specific encounters. Others simply acknowledged they’ve been victimized.

I joined them and posted all that I felt comfortable sharing, a simple #metoo.

Women who had quietly suffered assaults and endured innuendo and smiled through uncomfortable advances gained courage to finally speak out through this campaign.

More than 140 women in the state Capitol—including legislators, lobbyists and high-ranking aides—published a letter alleging a culture of sexual misconduct among the most powerful men in state government.

Local women on social media called out high-ranking political figures within the Orange County Democratic Party and the labor movement. Young Democrats echoed those stories in public calls for action.

The most sickening aspect of seeing so many women’s #metoos is that sexual harassment and assault is not new, nor is the need for us to act.

During the last Presidential election when Donald Trump was recorded bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy,” I actually felt encouraged by so many women and men who called out the behavior for what it was—wrong. It felt like finally the public was saying what so many of us had felt for all these years, that locker room talk is not harmless. That when men in power use that power to hit on, prey on, force themselves on women, they should be held accountable.

It felt like we had made progress from just a few short years earlier when, after county officials initially attempted to brush aside allegations, former Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante finally was convicted for sexually assaulting women who worked for him. Or when former Orange County Assemblyman Mike Duvall got booted from elected office, not because he bragged about a sexual encounter with a lobbyist, but because he bragged near a hot microphone.

But then we lost focus, shifting attention to the next crisis of the day and then the next, and the next. Until another powerful man’s arrest prompted another outcry, and we all began sharing our stories again. In sharing these stories, we reveal not only our collective strength, but also our collective fears. We not only expose injustices, we’re also exposed—in all our uncertainty, self-doubt and paralysis.

In the labor movement, we fight for justice. That’s what we do. We help craft legislation that protects women against assault in the workplace. We stand up when it happens in spite of those rules. We fight not only against harassment and assault that physically targets women, we fight against assaults on women’s economic security, on our mobility in the workplace, on so many of our rights.

The one place this should not exist is within the labor movement. Yet we know we’re not immune.

I’m proud that the AFL-CIO recognized that and took preventative action earlier this year by strengthening its policies to address harassment and discrimination, creating new ways to safely speak out and providing guidance on a process to address allegations as they arise. Together, the men and women who represent Orange County’s working men and women will do what is right—we’ll investigate any and all allegations made yesterday, today and tomorrow, and we’ll take appropriate action.

Personally, I am still not ready to share my many #metoo’s in this column.

But I am committed to standing together with other women and men to confront and tear down the systems that have allowed sexual assault and harassment to persist in the shadows. I am committed to mentoring women into leadership positions so that our voices can change cultures where sexual harassment has become normalized. I’m committed to speaking out and supporting others in speaking out. And I’m committed to having courageous conversations, listening, seeking understanding, and making tomorrow better than today for women and girls.

Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

Publication Date: October 20, 2017