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Vicky Mochama: Time's Up is refreshing departure from popular, palatable feminism

With a legal defence fund and a focus on vulnerable women, the initiative launched by Hollywood heavy hitters offers a chance at vital structural change, writes Mochama.

The women keep marching forward.

From #MeToo to the Women’s March to the hashtags, protests and organizing that predated them, there is clearly a notable change occurring.

With a full-page ad in the New York Times on Jan. 1, women in Hollywood announced the launch of an anti-harassment initiative called Time’s Up. The organization includes proposed legislation to punish companies that don’t take harassment seriously. It also launched a $13-million legal defence fund for “subsidized legal support to women and men” who’ve experienced harassment and assault at work. There are no appointed leaders, but the organization’s members include Shonda Rhimes, America Ferrera, Universal Pictures chairwoman Donna Langley and Master of None writer and star Lena Waithe, to name a few.

There are many women-led and feminist organizations doing work that complements the work of Time’s Up, from Black Lives Matter to UN Women. But this particular one is worth highlighting to talk about how power can and should be understood differently.

#MeToo has been criticized for focusing largely on privileged white women. Although the Huffington Post reported on the experience that hotel housekeepers have to endure and the New York Times reported on the difficulties that women at a Ford plant have dealt with in trying to change a culture of harassment, the headlines have mostly focused on famous women.

Time’s Up is aiming to ensure change not just in Hollywood but in those spaces where harassment happens unchecked. In their ad, the organization cited farm worker women, home health care aides, immigrant women and more, saying “to women in every industry who are subjected to indignities and offensive behavior that they are expected to tolerate in order to make a living: we stand with you.”

This is a marked contrast from the feminisms that have been popular and palatable, specifically the kind espoused by Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, which she now accepts has serious flaws. Rather than put the onus on women to succeed by initiative alone, this type of organizing confronts the very real obstacles that prevent women of all classes from not only succeeding but from living their lives with dignity.

Recognizing the intersections where harm occurs and is multiplying is essential. Putting substantial support and resources towards tackling the problems that the least privileged and least wealthy women deal with contributes to a vision of the world that is inclusive and is most helpful to the most people.

In her new book Women & Power, historian Mary Beard writes: “You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders. It means, above all, thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb (‘to power’), not as a possession.”

Sharing our experiences and frustrations is a great place to start. When we share our power and resources, we change the structure.

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