#MeToo 5 years later: What has changed in Europe since the start of the movement?

It’s already been five years since the #MeToo movement exploded in the United States, rocking Hollywood and sparking global conversations about sexism, sexual harassment and abuse faced by women across the planet, regardless of their industry. activity.

Behavior that five years ago was generally considered acceptable, even tolerated as a necessary evil, would no longer fly internationally today, as it did at the Cannes or Berlin film festivals. But beyond the media scrutiny of these high-profile events, has our society really changed, and if so, how?

While in countries like the UK and Sweden the movement found fertile ground in 2017, in other countries like Italy, France and Spain #MeToo gained some momentum but didn’t basically failed to inspire the same upheaval.

“There were a number of countries, not just in Europe but especially in Europe, where people were like, ‘Oh, it’s just an American thing’ or ‘It’s just Hollywood,'” the writer said. and internationally renowned feminist theorist Cynthia Enloe, now a research professor of women’s and gender studies at Clark University in Massachusetts, told Euronews Culture.

“And especially Italy and France have been the hardest to break, to really get people to understand that this is not an American thing. It’s not about being prudish about what’s going on at the work.”

In Germany, surprisingly, the movement barely took shape, while in Eastern Europe it was almost completely absent. According to Enloe, this is because the countries of Eastern Europe share a different history from that of Western Europe, a history marred by the distortion of feminism by the Soviet era.

The boundary between seduction and harassment: France

In France in 2017, #MeToo became #BalanceTonPorc, which can be translated to the much more radical “out your pig”, a phrase coined by New York-based French journalist Sandra Muller. But as the hashtag gained traction on social media, the French film industry – and French society as a whole – was reluctant to come under the lens of American #MeToo-inspired scrutiny.

In a now infamous open letter signed by, among others, actress Catherine Deneuve in January 2018, the French icon and more than 100 French women in the cinema said that the #MeToo movement had become “a witch hunt” and that the men had the right to flirt with women without their flirting being mistaken for predatory behavior.

France’s secrets of seduction, a cliché that weighs on French people all over the world but which is also what many foreigners love in the country; should have been protected, said Deneuve and his colleagues.

But where do you draw the line between seduction and harassment?

The #MeToo movement “has broken the taboo on sexual harassment”, according to the women’s foundationParisian association fighting for women’s rights and supporting victims of sexual violence.

The kind of rejection of #MeToo in the name of letting “boys be boys” promoted by Deneuve sparked outrage in France, which forced the actor to apologize to victims of sexual violence soon after the publication of the controversial open letter.

Since 2017, France has become a country where sexual harassment is taken much more seriously.

In 2019, the former Secretary of State for Gender Equality Marlène Schiappa passed a law punishing sexual harassment in the street with fines of up to 750 euros, while cracking down on online abuse. For the first time in France, thanks to Schiappa, catcalling has become an offense that women can report to the authorities.

But the Women’s Foundation argues that there is a lack of political action to support the shifts in consciousness that have already occurred in French society.

Since 2017, reported episodes of sexual violence in France have increased by 82%, according to the organization, and less than one in three attackers are prosecuted. Each year in France, an estimated 94,000 people are victims of sexual violence or attempted sexual violence, but since 2020 only 732 people have been found guilty of committing violence.

There have also been other more symbolic setbacks: director Luc Besson, one of the most prominent figures in French cinema accused of rape in 2017, was acquitted This year.

#YoTambien and the ‘Wolf Pack’ trial: #MeToo in Spain

In Spain, #MeToo has become #YoTambien, a direct translation of the original hashtag, and #Cuéntalo, a direct invitation for women to speak out about the harassment and violence they have experienced.

This feminist movement really gained momentum in the country after the verdict of the infamous “La Manada” or “Pack of wolves” trial of 2018, where the court did not convict five men for the gang rape of a young woman. in Pamplona in 2016.

As rape was not legally defined in Spanish criminal law, the five men were convicted of the lesser offense of “sexual abuse”. More chillingly, the court found that the five men did not use violence to coerce the woman because she was not seen resisting what was in fact clearly a violation in itself.

The controversial verdict triggered massive protests in Spain and led the court to change its verdict a year later while increasing the men’s sentences from nine to 15 years in prison each.

More importantly, the case brought about a permanent and significant change in Spanish law. This year, the Spanish congress passed the “Only Yes Means Yes” Sexual Consent Law, which states that consent cannot be assumed by default or by silence alone.

“#MeToo never really reached Italy”

The Italian actor was one of the first people to point the finger at Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who eventually received more than 80 charges of rape and sexual harassment. Asia Argentodaughter of director Dario Argento.

While Argento became one of the leading figures in #MeToo, her position in the movement then became quite difficult as she was accused of sexually harassing an 18-year-old rock actor and musician while she was 37 years old.

But it’s not just Argento’s figure that has led to skepticism towards #MeToo in Italy. Although writer Giulia Blasi launched #Quellavoltache in 2017, “that time when”, asking women to tell their stories of sexual harassment and to speak about their experiences of not believing when reporting on such cases, “# MeToo never really reached Italy,” Italian journalist Jennifer Guerra, author of two books on feminism and gender politics, told Euronews Culture.

“Apart from the case of Fausto Brizzi, who passed away after a while, and what happened in the theater world, where there were developments, no one in Italy opened the Pandora’s box,” she said.

Guerra believes that “gender-based violence is a phenomenon that knows no borders”, it is impossible that no Italian celebrity has not committed violence or major sexual harassment. Guerra instead believes that the move was greeted with great hostility by the Italian media.

“When cases involving famous or influential people have come to light, we have seen outright smear campaigns aimed at discrediting those who said they had been victims of violence or harassment,” she said. “Famous and respected journalists have no qualms about treating those who expose sexual abuse as mythomaniacs or attention-seekers, and always put the reputation of the accused first.”

But Guerra thinks something has changed in Italy since the #MeToo explosion, especially among young women.

“We have less tolerance for unwanted and harassing behavior, we’ve learned to recognize it, and we have a new language to define it,” she said. “Unfortunately, this public awareness has not been followed by an adequate response from the media, intellectuals and the political class.”

What can we think of #MeToo today?

There is no doubt that #MeToo has helped create a new awareness of what sexual harassment is and taught us all how to recognize it, report it and refuse to accept it as a necessary and negligible evil.

The biggest change brought about by the movement, according to Enloe, is public awareness.

People in South Korea — where #MeToo had a huge impact — used to think that someone working at a big TV station was “lucky to have the job,” Enloe said. Now people think that a woman should also be able to do her job properly and fairly, without being harassed.

“And that shift from ‘She’s lucky to have the job’ to ‘Well, she’s competent and she should be able to do her best without being interfered with by some jerk who’s her boss or has more influence. her at the station’ – is a real change, and I think that change is really hard to achieve,” Enloe said.

To spark such change, a “brave and bold type of effort” was taken up by “women who weren’t known at all,” Enloe said, pointing out that while the #MeToo movement has truly exploded in Hollywood, he was really chosen by normal women away from the spotlight.

In fact, the social movement began in 2006, when New York educator Tarana Burke decided to bring together other activists and survivors of sexual violence.

More than a decade later, people began to look more closely at power dynamics in the workplace and in public spaces and wonder who enjoyed impunity when committing abuses (the answer : powerful men).

“People, what they used to tolerate, ignore or trivialize, they don’t do anymore,” Enloe said. “And it’s not going away.”

Unfortunately, sexual violence and harassment have not gone away either. That’s why, Enloe said, the feminist movement must now keep up the pressure to continue its fight against abuse – even beyond just sexual harassment.

“Now that we are in the midst of multiple crises, I think the women’s movement of all kinds will approach climate change as a feminist issue, which is so much about masculinity, the distorted forms of masculinity that have brought us to this terrible crisis in the environment,” Enloe said. “And to take on that will take all the feminist energy and feminist thinking we can all muster.”

Five years later, the movement is far from dying out.

“Like any movement, it buzzes with headlines and then bursts into public view when something particularly outrageous happens or is made into a story,” Enloe said. “But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Social movements don’t always make the headlines, but that doesn’t mean women don’t talk about it, don’t share stories, don’t understand what they should do next.”