How law shapes the #MeToo movement


The one-day conference—the basis for the 2019 Legal Forum, a student journal that publishes a single volume each year on a pressing legal issue—was designed to examine the #MeToo movement through a variety of lenses. The five panels focused on social science research, rhetoric and media coverage, identity and social structures, institutional responses to sexual harassment and assault, and achieving justice for survivors. It drew panelists from nearly a dozen institutions, and Mary Anne Case, the Arnold I. Shure Professor of Law, served as the conference’s faculty adviser.Scholars brought a variety of perspectives and drew from many disciplines. They engaged in energetic discussions about the media’s use of outdated and overtly sexualized definitions of sexual harassment, a narrowing that scholars argued can minimize stories of the more common, nonsexual gender-based hostility; the benefits and dangers of whisper campaigns and other informal channels of accusation; the unpredictability of revolutionary movements like #MeToo; the need to create a framework that includes the LGBTQ community and people of color in the conversation; the ways in which society’s tolerance for harassment and abuse has changed; the best ways to effect legal, institutional and societal change; and more.
Claudia Flores, a clinical professor and the director of the Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, talked about innovative approaches to reducing sexual harassment in the workplace. Law, she said, largely relies on the idea that sexual harassment stems from the behavior of wayward employees—the “bad apple” theory—despite studies highlighting workplace culture as a factor in patterns of abuse. She talked about programs that aim at cultural changes within institutions, such as the Fair Food Program, a successful consumer-driven model in which major retailers and restaurant chains agree only to work with farms that agree to certain conditions aimed at protecting female farmworkers from violence and abuse.
Lesley Wexler, …

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