The former administration created an environment where women were heard and defended. The current White House can’t really reverse that.
Women are increasingly speaking up about the sexual assault, harassment and discrimination they face at work and at school. And, as we’ve seen this week with the firing of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein from his own company, they’re finally being taken seriously.
The question is: Why now? Certainly, the bravery of a handful of well-known and powerful women such as Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly and Ashley Judd has been critical in exposing serial sexual abusers like Fox News founder Roger Ailes and Weinstein. And social networks like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Medium give platforms to women like former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, whose story of harassment led to the ouster of that company’s CEO.
But some of the credit for this new world also goes to the former president. Yep, when it comes to women speaking up and getting heard, we can all say a collective, “Thanks, Obama.”
The White House under Barack Obama made women’s rights a priority, creating an atmosphere and a legal framework where women were respected and believed and defended. And even as the current White House works overtime to shut down women’s rights, the Obama legacy is hardly going away. Indeed, the election of Donald Trump seems to have further emboldened women’s voices.
“We definitely had an administration that cared about women’s rights and now we have an administration that is doing everything in its power to limit them,” said Nancy Erika Smith, the lawyer who represented Carlson in the Fox News host’s sexual discrimination lawsuit against Ailes. “We all woke up on November 9 and said, ‘What the fuck?’ and felt the need to do something.”
The election of a man with a track record of misogyny who’s been accused of sexual assault by multiple women cemented Smith’s intention to speak up for women (of course, not all women, since more than half of white women voted for Trump) and fortified the resolve of millions of others. “I don’t put up with anything anymore. I am so done with it,” Smith said.
Smith hasn’t seen an increase in clients coming to her with sexual harassment cases ― there’s always a steady stream, she said ― but others say they have noticed a change.
More women are calling the National Women’s Law Center for help dealing with harassment, discrimination and abuse, said Fatima Goss Graves, the group’s president and CEO.
“This is a decades-old problem. But it is NOW that the complaints that are long-running are breaking through and being heard,” Goss Graves said.