Education and Skills

How the Time's Up movement turned talk into action

In protest against sexual harrassment, 75th Golden Globe attendees wore black. (L-R) Actresses Halle Berry, Reese Witherspoon, Salma Hayek, Ashley Judd and Eva Longoria

Women in black at the Golden Globes ... Halle Berry, Reese Witherspoon, Salma Hayek, Ashley Judd and Eva Longoria Image: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Stéphanie Thomson
Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
Act One

Leading actresses, including household names Reese Witherspoon, Viola Davis and Gabrielle Union, declared #MeToo on Twitter, speaking out about the sexual harassment they had endured on their path to fame.

The movement spread like wildfire. Men from cinema, media and politics were forced to apologise, resign, and in some cases, face criminal charges.

But while patriarchs were falling, the patriarchy seemed stronger than ever, as Susan Faludi wrote in the New York Times. Hashtags might be cathartic. But could a social media movement fix the structural inequalities that allow powerful men to take advantage of women?

Act Two

Perhaps. Because those same Hollywood women have established Time’s Up, the biggest action-oriented response to the stream of sexual harassment allegations.

The movement came to the world’s attention on January 1, when 300 of Hollywood’s leading women published an open letter in the New York Times and La Opinión.

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"The struggle for women to break in, to rise up the ranks and to simply be heard and acknowledged in male-dominated workplaces must end", stated the letter.

"Time’s up on this impenetrable monopoly."

The list of signatories read like a who’s who of the film industry, from Oscar-winning actresses such as Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep to directors like Shonda Rhimes. (The latter is a rarity; just a tiny percentage ‒ 7% this year ‒ of top films are directed by women.)

The movement is leaderless. It consists of loosely aligned working groups, each focused on different parts of the broader issue. Some of their actions have already made headlines, including the call for Golden Globe attendees to wear all black.

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Other plans are less Instagrammable but have the potential for a much deeper impact.

For example, Time Up’s has set up a legal defence fund to help less privileged victims of sexual assault. It has already raised over $16 million. The fund will be administered by the National Women’s Law Center.

A movement for all women

If the movement has been described as revolutionary, it’s not just because of what they plan to do. It’s because of the people those actions will help.

While the #MeToo movement gave some victims a voice, many women were still struggling to be heard, especially poorer women, women of colour, and those working in less glamorous industries. Time’s Up is attempting to reach those people.

“We recognize our privilege and the fact we have access to enormous platforms to amplify our voices,” acknowledged the signatories to the open letter.

“We want all survivors of sexual harassment, everywhere, to be heard, to be believed, and to know that accountability is possible.”

That might seem like a distant dream. For every perpetrator being held accountable for his past actions, many more remain in positions of power. But that’s not stopping these women from trying. As Rhimes explained to the New York Times: “if this group of women can’t fight for a model for other women who don’t have as much power and privilege, then who can?”

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