#Metoo sparks fears of backlash

Movement could have consequence of hindering women

13 December 2017 - 05:00 By Ellen Wolfhorst
Sheryl Sandberg addresses a World Economic Forum session.
Sheryl Sandberg addresses a World Economic Forum session.

Nipping at the heels of the #Metoo movement of women recounting sexual harassment and assault is the threat of a backlash against women, a response that could silence the voices speaking out but could be avoided, advocates and experts say.

The threat of a counterblast was highlighted by Sheryl Sandberg, a Facebook executive and writer on women's issues, who said recently she heard "rumblings of a backlash" amid the airing of women's claims across the globe.

Untold numbers of women, many using the social media hashtag #Metoo, have spoken up about being verbally abused, groped, molested and raped in an outpouring that kicked off in October with accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

But Sandberg warned that the number of men afraid to be alone with a female colleague must be "sky-high right now" and the movement could have the unintended consequence of holding women back.

"We need to be concerned about it," said Fatima Goss Graves, head of the National Women's Law Centre.

"The last thing you would want is a solution that involves removing women from leadership opportunities," she said.

Preventing a backlash needs solid workplace policies that protect both accused and accuser so "there's trust both ways that the right thing is going to be done", said Catalina Avalos, an expert in labour and employment law.

"The consequences that the men are facing today don't necessarily mean that you can preclude women and not have a one-on-one lunch, not have a one-on-one meeting," she said.

"We can't allow this fear of accusations to be an excuse for the backlash and an excuse for excluding women."
- Reuters