Women In Conversation Series Brings Together 3 Leaders In National #MeToo Movement

By Mary Callahan The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The two-hour event featured actor and activist Ashley Judd, Adama Iwu, a corporate lobbyist who last year co-founded a new organization called "We Said Enough" and Bay Area entrepreneur Lindsay Meyer, who went public last year about harassment in the high-tech world.

The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Three leaders in the national movement to expose sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace and wider world took a collective stand Monday during an on-stage conversation in Santa Rosa, each saying in different ways that they had had enough.

From improper advances to groping and sexual assault, the trio described an array of unwelcome conduct that most women recognize, from their own or others' experience, and they said the time had come for women and for men to fight for change.

"This is really about us standing together, breaking the silence and shame that the systematic subjugation of women would hold over all of us," said Adama Iwu, a corporate lobbyist who last year co-founded a new organization called We Said Enough.

Iwu's comments came during a wide-ranging, two-hour event that featured actor and activist Ashley Judd, an early accuser of disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein and a prominent voice in the Time's Up movement that has galvanized much of Hollywood around an effort to change the culture.

Bay Area entrepreneur Lindsay Meyer, who went public last year about harassment in the high-tech world, rounded out the panel brought together at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts as part of a 2-year-old series of discussions called Women in Conversation, co-sponsored by The Press Democrat.

The three women were among The Silence Breakers named Person of the Year last year by Time magazine. They are among the voices behind a rising social movement that gathered strength last year as female accusers in stunning numbers came forward to name prominent men in film, television, media, government, business and other fields as sexual predators and harassers, launching the #MeToo movement and similar campaigns.

"This is a cultural revolution," said Judd, 49, who spoke warmly and personally about her lifelong struggle to make sense of a "misogynist patriarchy," disclosing her experience with childhood sexual abuse, neglect and family dysfunction.

When a threat arises and the human response is either fight, flight or freeze, she said, "I'm a fighter. I'm a talker." It was the same defense that allowed her to escape from an unwanted 1997 hotel room-encounter with Weinstein when she was 29, she said.

She said she started telling her story as soon as she came out of the room. Last year, she was a key, named source in an exposé by the New York Times that broke the Weinstein scandal wide open.

She acknowledged that not all women can be as open about past traumas, but she applauded the fact that what had been ignored for so long was now being heard.

"Every act of defiance is to be celebrated," Judd said.

Iwu, a longtime lobbyist in Sacramento and representative for VISA, said she was shocked into action last October when she was groped and kissed without invitation at a gathering with colleagues. The incident occurred in front of two male friends with whom she had earlier been talking about the Weinstein revelations. She said she was flabbergasted when neither man intervened as she fought off her drunken assailant.

Her response included an open letter she penned, published in the Los Angeles Times and signed by 148 women, exposing a culture of harassment in California politics that she said is enabled in part by the shame and fear that convinces women to keep quiet -- and by the fact that "often these men hold our professional fates in their hands."

Meyer shared that she was working on her first start-up business and still in her 20s when she found herself being harassed by a venture capitalist who had invested in her company and was later accused of similar behavior by six other women, according to news accounts.

The misconduct included texts and messages at all hours of the day and inappropriately probing personal questions, as well as a "hand in between my legs, unsolicited drunk kiss on the forehead, hand-holding when were supposed to be talking about business," she said.

Meyer at the time rationalized his behavior, feeling somehow it was to be endured in the highly competitive, male-dominated world of Silicon Valley startups. When a friend in whom she had confided later alerted a reporter at the New York Times, Meyer had to decide whether to take her story public in a piece about harassment in the high-tech world. It was agonizing, she said.

In doing so, she learned "that the opportunity to say 'bullshit' is more of an obligation," she said.

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