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Change Takes Time: Coloradans Reflect On #MeToo

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#MeToo, a movement to raise awareness of sexual harassment and assault, was started by civil rights activist Tarana Burke over a decade ago. Since its resurgence in fall 2017, national and regional headlines have been dominated by stories of accusers detailing allegations against bosses, colleagues and even lawmakers.

KUNC hosts Kyra Buckley and Desmond O’Boyle wanted to know how people in our Colorado communities were talking about the movement and if it’s changed the way they think or act.

Through Curious Colorado, we heard from listeners all along the Front Range, including a construction administrator, an HR manager, a sexual assault survivor, an umpire and members of a church. We also met a with a group of young women and discussed how #MeToo is impacting their career aspirations and their conversations with peers -- online and in person.

Natalie Seils of Fort Collins, a mom and survivor of sexual assault

Credit Natalie Seils
Natalie Seils of Fort Collins, and her son.

Natalie Seils felt she had heard very little, if anything, about the need for partners, particularly men, to help women who have been a victim of sexual assault. Seils has been diagnosed with PTSD as a result from an assault that happened years ago.

She has seen positive things come out of the #MeToo movement, but just saying you support women and victims of sexual violence isn’t enough.

“The impression I get is they think their work is already done. Like, ‘I support women, I support you,’” she says. “But the truth is, that work isn’t done. Every single person, every human and every man needs to do some soul searching here and figure out those little things you’ve done to dismiss women, or write them off, or cause other women hurt.”

Seils is also the mother of a son and her intention is to raise him from an early age to not use microaggressions, like referring to women as “crazy,” to promote misogyny.

Rich Young, teaches classes at Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins

The Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins has decided to sexual assault and harassment part of its messages. The church added classes aimed at giving people a space to talk about their feelings and experiences around the #MeToo movement.

Credit his son, Calvin Spangler Young
Rich Young hosts classes at Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins for me to talk about the #MeToo movement

The church's reverend, Gretchen Haley, directly addressed the issue in a sermon that inspired parishioner Rich Young to host a weekly class for men to talk about the #MeToo movement.

The class addresses subtle behaviors, such as offhand comments in the workplace.

While Young acknowledges that he isn’t tackling the larger problems of power and authority, he hopes the men in his class can support subtle changes in their workplaces and friend circles.

“As these people carry these ideas out into the world, they do have legs, and they do start to travel further,” says Young.

He also feels there needs to be a certain level of forgiveness.

“We really need build a culture where it’s OK to mess up and put your foot in it and say something sexist, and then realize you’ve made a mistake or get called out on it,” he says. “And then respond to that moment — of that lapse of judgement or such — with some suppleness and some ability to learn from it.”

To change a culture, Young says, people need to know if they make a mistake, they won’t necessarily lose everything.

Rick Waters, works for a construction company in Denver

Rick Waters is concerned the #MeToo movement may have far reaching implications that go too far. He says he’s worried about being falsely accused of harassment.

“The rule of law has been abandoned,” Waters says. “It’s a circumstance when even well-behaving men have no defense, because the current climate is ‘believe all women all the time.”’

After seeing a male coworker lose his job over an offensive joke years ago, Waters says he’s been extra cautious in the workplace.

“It has been at least 35 years since I have commented on a woman's appearance at the workplace,” he says. “There’s a woman who is a sales rep I occasionally do business with. I will only meet her in our conference room that’s glass walled, and the door stays open.”

That’s not to say that women aren’t capable of working in the same environments as men, Walter says. For him, it’s about being falsely accused of something he didn’t do and potentially losing his livelihood.

Nikki Larcher, co-owner of Simply HR

Credit Simply HR
Tina Todd, left, and Nikki Larcher, right. Co-Counders of Simply HR.

Nikki Larcher and Tina Todd are co-owners of Simply HR, a company focused on helping small businesses in northern Colorado manage employees. Since the start of the #MeToo movement, they have noticed an uptick in companies reaching out to them.

“They’re reaching out to us to say, ‘I’m aware of #MeToo. We want to make sure that we’re in compliance and that we have procedures in place,’” she says. “So they’re actually starting the conversation, which I think is definitely something that the #MeToo movement has brought upon on our organization.”

There are many large corporations that have been criticized for not having a strong policy in place to address sexual harassment and assault at the workplace. In an effort to help make these conversations easier, Tina and Nikki launched a comic book to help make the conversation easier in the workplace.

Define the Line is a workplace harassment tool to help managers and coworkers to better deal with sexual harassment. They wanted to change the method of delivery, from the standard sexual harassment training video, to a modern medium that includes interaction and checklists to help workers and managers better identify harassment and responses.

Students at Fossil Ridge High School, Fort Collins

Maggie Bishop, 16, meets regularly with her friends to talk about news and politics. She wants to be a journalist, and says it was important that #MeToo started on the internet -- and that celebrities helped spread it.

What sets it apart from other movements touted by celebrities, she says, is that women in all industries began to step forward.

“It gave people everywhere -- no matter what career, no matter what age -- it gave them the courage to stand up and say it happened to me too,” she says.

Bishop says #MeToo shows people her age that social media can be an effective tool. That’s good, she says, because sometimes traditional media and news get it wrong.

“This isn’t about women being victims,” Bishop says. “This isn’t about women sharing their weakness or just wanting people’s sympathy, this is about us coming together in strength -- that this took more strength than anything. So this isn’t about weakness, it’s about the strength that it took to say these things.”

Bishop’s friend Kelsey Byrne, 15, is a fan of the TV show Jane the Virgin and follows the lead actress on Instagram. Byrne saw her and other celebrities, and then people from her own life begin to post with the hashtag. She says people should be thinking critically about sexual harassment and other issues raised by #MeToo.

“It’s been starting to question things people have thought of as very black and white for so long, so they start to question, ‘If this isn’t the case, then what else am I thinking about could be wrong,’ which I think is a great idea,” says Byrne. “We should always be questioning these things and learning how we can evolve and improve ourselves.”

Lena Bodenhamer, 16, wants to go into journalism. She says the #MeToo movement leaves her wondering if some of the barriers women describe will also affect her.

Credit Karlie Huckels / KUNC
Kyra Buckley with (from left to right) Kelsey Byrne, Maggie Bishop and Lena Bodenhamner.

“When I think about my own personal career, I think there is a bit of fear around it.” she says. “I do not want my career to be compromised by sexual assault or an external factor that could control the path in which my career goes.”

All three women agree that their generation must drive the change needed to address the problems highlighted in the #MeToo movement. Bodenhamer says that can be hard when her peers see sexual assault as a “taboo” or “adult” topic.

“But I think the conversations about it are the most important because we need to break silence about these issues in order to establish things like boundaries,”she says.

When #MeToo is interrelated to other issues, like workplace equality, she says, it’s even more important people talk about it.

“These are all issues that especially young people need to be involved in because they’re issues that will be past on through generations, and its up to us to solve them,” Bodenhamer says.

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