Is#METOO remaking Society
By Paul Knowles
#MeToo: this six-character hashtag may be the most powerful force in western society today. In one astonishingly typical day in late January of this year, two Canadian political leaders lost their jobs, and Globe & Mail columnist John Ibbotson wrote a column headlines, “Powerful men laid low by the hour: #MeToo remaking society literally overnight.”

Gone from office were Nova Scotia Progressive Conservation leader Jamie Ballie (who had already intended to resign within months) and, with a much greater impact, Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown, who was clearly seen as having the best chance of becoming the province’s next premier, in the election later this spring.

Brown has denied guilt, but pressure from his own staff (many of whom quit) and his caucus caused him to reverse his intention to remain as leader to resigning in a matter of a few hours.
None of the accusations have been proven in court. It’s probable that some of these cases will never come to court.

“As a bi-racial woman, I know people had marched in Washington for me. One of the original organizers, back in 2017, put a call out for anyone with experience in organizing small businesses. I raised my hand.”

The two Canadian political leaders are scarcely alone. On the same day as Brown resigned, there were headlines about a federal cabinet minister and at least one more American entertainer, and a full-length published article about the claims made against iconic writer and broadcaster Garrison Keillor.




Twelve years and a few months

#MeToo is not a new idea. Twelve years ago, American Tarana Burke established an activist group called “Me Too”, arising from her work with survivors of sexual violence. Last fall, that phrase morphed into a social media call to justice, when American actor Alyssa Milano sparked a media movement, as women began to share their stories as victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

By the beginning of 2018, the hashtag had been used more than 12 million times – and the trend has not abated.

Community leadership

Exchange Magazine interviewed two Waterloo Region community leaders – Shirley Lichti and Sara Bingham.

Lichti is a marketing communication consultant and trainer, an instructor at Wilfrid Laurier University, and a dedicated volunteer with the Sexual Assault Support Centre and the KW Business Women’s Association. Bingham work as a business advisor for the City of Kitchener, and as a volunteer, is the Executive Director for Women’s March Canada.

“This is the first time that women believe if they speak up, they will be believed.”

Although Lichti and Bingham have been working on the same causes, they told Exchange at the joint interview that they have only met in person because of #MeToo – in fact, while now Facebook friends, their first face to face meeting was at the Exchange interview.

The Women’s March actually predates the widespread use of #MeToo; the first March was held in January 2017, when an estimated 470,000 marched in Washington, DC, and smaller marches were held in communities around North America. In 2018, marches were held in about 40 Canadians cities, including Waterloo Region, where the number attending was significantly higher than at the initial event in 2017.



Sara Bingham

Bingham participated in the 2017 Washington march, which she calls “an amazing experience.” She agreed to take on the onerous but volunteer role as executive director of Women’s March Canada because “as a bi-racial woman, I know people had marched in Washington for me. One of the original organizers, back in 2017, put a call out for anyone with experience in organizing small businesses. I raised my hand.”

Women’s March Canada is now an official not-for-profit organization. Bingham says its goal is four-fold: “health, economic security, regulations (an equal seat at the table) and safety.”



That’s the end – what are the means? “We want to create actions that individuals can do to effect change in the local community.”
That ranges from the political arena to social change. Bingham points to the Waterloo Region Campaign School, where female politicians including Jane Mitchell and Brenda Halloran “address the needs of a woman wanting to run” for political office.

She also talks about a program called “Male Allies”, a Waterloo Region program providing men and boys with the opportunity to learn how they can work to end sexual violence against women and children.
Says Bingham, “That’s a Waterloo Region program I’d like to see across the country.”

So would Lichti. “Male Allies” is a program of the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, and Lichti has been a volunteer and board member with the Centre for 27 years.

“Systems have to change. Institutions have to change. Health care, at the corporate board level,” all must be changed… “It’s very slow.”

She got involved, she says, because “I think I was born an angry woman.” She wanted to solve the horrendous issues of sexual assault, and “I realized I wasn’t going to do it single-handedly.” Working together with others of like mind, she thinks, can bring about “maybe a small change. It’s something I will always do.”

In the days before the exposure of a raft of male celebrities accused of sexual assault and harassment, two prominent names caught public attention: Bill Cosby and Canadian broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi. Ghomeshi, as is well known, went to trial but was not convicted, although he lost his national platform as host of CBC’s “Q”. The Cosby scenario continues to unfold in the courts.

Lichti was one of the organizers of Voices Carry, an alternative fundraiser staged when Cosby appeared at the Centre in the Square in 2014. It was a success, attracting 800 people and garnering a lot of media coverage.

They will be believed

Both Lichti and Bingham clearly have been involved as advocates and activists in sexual assault and sexual harassment issues long before #MeToo started to trend.

But they both welcome the changes engendered by the social media movement.

Lichti points to the vital need to teach boys “about healthy relationships,” especially in an era where “the way young boys learn about sex is through porn.”

Bingham points out that the increasing willingness of women to identify their assailants is important. The horrendous experiences of victimized women who appear as accusers in court are well documented – see the Ghomeshi cases, for example – demonstrate the risks women still take when they go public with accusations. Bingham asks, “If you don’t believe the women… why would I even try?”


Shirley Lichti


But the outpouring of information sparked by #MeToo has changed that – women coming forward with their stories are no longer alone. Lichti says “this is the first time that women believe if they speak up, they will be believed.”

Bingham also points out that the sheer mass of the #MeToo movement has forced the media to take notice – and she points out that our interview is a case in point. Because of #MeToo, she says, “We are having a conversation and moving forward.”

But both Lichti and Bingham know that gaining attention – through the Women’s March or #MeToo – is not nearly enough. Says Bingham, “Systems have to change. Institutions have to change. Health care, at the corporate board level” all must be changed. And she acknowledges, “It’s very slow.”

Lichti adds, “It generally starts at the roots level.” Bingham agrees: “CEOs of big companies aren’t going to change.”

Bingham quotes studies that demonstrate a certain level of female participation that initiates change – “once you get past 30% of women on boards and councils, that’s when change happens.”

Lichti is passionate about the need to create safe spaces. That’s not a cliché, it is an absolute necessity if sexual harassment and assault are to be topped. “It’s a matter of power,” she says. Women are often caught in situations where “it’s not safe to speak up.” She points to examples like the recent revelations about Soulpepper Theatre (”Are you going to jeopardize your job?”) or CBC Radio, where, she says, “all the women at CBC knew. If everybody knew, why didn’t anybody say anything? It wasn’t safe.”

Due process

#MeToo and the current wave of accusations have raised questions of due process. For example, Patrick Brown is gone as PC leader after a media report, but has not been found guilty in court. In fact, at time of writing, there is no police involvement in the case.

But asked about this – and if some issues should have been dealt with through human resources departments instead of through public “outings” – both Lichti and Bingham offer reasons why existing systems won’t work.

Bingham notes that victims may well – and correctly – believe that “HR may not believe me. Police may not believe me.”

She adds, “We are talking about things that are absolutely illegal, but the system is set up so it is not a fair system.”

Lichti says that #MeToo has allowed women to come forward with their stories. After #MeToo began to trend, she says, “the phone line were flooded” at the Sexual Assault Centre.

She’s encouraged that women are speaking up, but it has created a challenge, at the same time. “With all the women coming forward, our wait list has expanded like you wouldn’t believe, but the funding didn’t change.” The primary funding comes from the Ministry of the Attorney General.

“When it comes to fundraising, and you talk about sexual assault, donors back off. It’s really, really tough.”

So while, in Bingham’s phrase, #MeToo has shone “a bright light” on an ill, long kept in the shadows, the work has just begun.

Lichti points to the vital need to teach boys “about healthy relationships,” especially in an era where “the way young boys learn about sex is through porn.”

“Male Allies is trying to have that dialogue with young boys and young men.” Until now, “that dialogue has not been happening.”
Lichti raises another key issue – although a seldom discussed one – related to Waterloo Region and its neighbours. “Any community along the 401,” she says, “has a human trafficking problem.”

Bingham points to the ongoing value of the Women’s March – which is not only for women, she notes – as a place for people to express their support for the cause.

She also is working with her colleagues to ensure that more women enter politics, and are successful in their bids for election.

As with any important social issue, there is the question of funding. Lichti had stated that increased work load at the Sexual Assault Centre does not result in increased funding. But she returned to the theme, pointing out, “When it comes to fundraising, and you talk about sexual assault, donors back off. It’s really, really tough. I’m hoping that through all this dialogue, a number of organizations may change their minds and get involved.”


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ISSN 0824-45
Copyright, 2018.