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In our opinion: #MeToo movement needs help across the spectrum to sustain its momentum

In this Friday, Oct. 27, 2017, photo, workers assemble Ford trucks at the Ford Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, Ky.
In this Friday, Oct. 27, 2017, photo, workers assemble Ford trucks at the Ford Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, Ky.
Timothy D. Easley, AP

The #MeToo movement this year has toppled moguls across the media, political and entertainment industries; however, in the most high-profile cases, many of the victims grabbing headlines have occupied relatively privileged places in the social hierarchy. Women like Selma Hayek and Angelina Jolie have penned op-eds and issued public statements. However, the full effect of this movement across the socioeconomic spectrum depends on whether women from all walks of life can find justice and recourse.

The New York Times recently published an extensive investigation into litigation regarding harassment and abuse at Ford Motor Company’s Chicago factories spanning multiple decades. In the piece, women who worked at the plant courageously recount their experiences with sexual misconduct. According to their accounts, many had come forward to Ford previously with little recourse. Ford has since apologized.

A central consideration in the case of Ford is to what extent individuals are bound to the power imbalance Brit Marling, in the Atlantic, describes as the “economics of consent.” For many of these women, a unionized job at Ford, with its wages paying out dividends higher than any other comparable plant would, is a significant asset. These women must calculate a daunting risk that others with more financial stability or social mobility do not: should they take concessions in justice to maintain their livelihood? Although Ford has said it "will learn and do better," when human resources fail to provide a reliable avenue for recourse, victims may feel anxiety over whether reporting would affect their reputation, limiting opportunities for promotion, or worse, risk their job.

The #MeToo movement’s strength will hopefully continue to extend to blue-collar women as they demand to be heard, respected and valued. Creating a culture where high-profile women win in the longstanding public “he-said, she-said” battles is an important step forward, but safety in the workforce will only come if women and men who do not necessarily enjoy notoriety are able to successfully, and without retribution, create an environment free from sexual misconduct. This will require the creation of more effective HR apparatuses, but also an ongoing societal awakening that extends beyond the highest echelons of social status. It requires colleagues treating each other with respect and dignity.

The #MeToo movement has made unprecedented strides in creating a cultural expectation for improving workforce environments, but this must extend in actuality to all workers — regardless of industry or prestige. In blue- and white-collar settings, a culture of misogynistic misconduct has sadly gone unaddressed. Efforts within every facet of society will be required to sustain this positive momentum moving forward.