Carly Wanna

Laura Pappano ’84, Yale Poynter Fellow-in-Residence in Gender Equality, moderated a panel called “#MeToo Evolving: People, Politics + Power. Now.” about the future of the #MeToo movement on Tuesday night.

“What is this now? What is this turning into?” Pappano asked an audience of more than 70 people in the Loria Center.

Pappano’s question served as the focal point of the panel, which included Patricia Russo LAW ’77, executive director of the Women’s Campaign School at Yale — a political campaign training program for women; assistant managing editor for The New York Times Rebecca Corbett; co-host of Showtime’s The Circus Alex Wagner and founding editor of Them Meredith Talusan. The women discussed the unprecedented number of female candidates running in the 2018 midterm elections, allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful men and violence towards more marginalized groups, like transgender and gender-nonconforming people.

The panel was co-sponsored by the Women Faculty Forum and the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

“It’s become a handle, a movement, a platform, a rallying cry, a contentious last word in arguments,” Pappano said. “The conversation’s gotten really complicated, and it even gets more so every week, so we are here today to take a little pause, to dig in, to look at how we got here, what it means now, what it means and where we’re going.”

Pappano said that planning for the forum began in August. She said that she reached out to a variety of potential candidates, including Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement in 2006. Although Pappano said she could not secure Burke for the conversation, she still said the panelists who attended represented “different” and “interesting” voices.

She added that the panel was especially poignant because it followed the midterm elections and the Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90 hearings, which rattled Yale’s campus and the nation.

“I’m really hoping that having these fantastic people in the room applying their insights to these questions will help us walk away with some sense of distance travelled and … figure out where we pivot,” Pappano said.

Corbett said that the movement has become a global phenomenon, while Wagner commented on the degree to which #MeToo has become a partisan issue within the United States following the Kavanaugh hearings.

Russo said that the uptick in the number of women running for office was inspired by the rise of President Donald Trump, “in everyday and in every way.” Still, Wagner was careful to separate the different topics the panelists tackled.

“I think ‘MeToo’ is one feeling, and women running for office and feeling enfranchised to run for office is another thing,” Wagner said.

Several times throughout the evening, the panelists also paid homage to the roots of the #MeToo movement –– Burke’s brainchild that became part of a campaign through which low-income women of color could voice their stories relating to sexual violence. That initiative, Pappano said, was created around empathy, but its current manifestation serves as “a kind of weapon.”

“We need to challenge ourselves to care about people who are not celebrities, who are not in positions of power, to see how these issues are affecting people who do not have access to celebrity or money,” Talusan said.

Claire Bowern, chair of the Women’s Faculty Forum, which co-sponsored the event, said that the panel served as an opportunity to discuss and analyze prevalent cultural issues of harassment and sexual assault. She added that she “never understood” claims that “academia is sheltered from ‘real life,’” claiming that academia is second only to the military in terms of the prevalence of sexual harassment.

Gayani Kadurugamuwa SPH ’19 said she enjoyed the opportunity to hear “prominent” people discuss the #MeToo movement. She added that she thought many people came to the discussion because they had experienced a “high roller coaster of emotions” on the subject matter.

The Yale Women Faculty Forum was established in 2001.

Carly Wanna | carly.wanna@yale.edu