PBS's new show #MeToo, Now What? is a response to the explosion of #MeToo stories of sexual harassment and assault and the first installment of the five-part series airs Friday, Feb. 2.
Executive editor and host Zainab Salbi promises the 30-minute episodes will ask the tough questions and explore the movement and surrounding issues issue by talking to people from all walks of life. “Expect to always hear the voices of the people—from the military to the restaurant industry, from students to entrepreneurs to senior citizens, and people from all different classes and races,” she tells InStyle.
The founder of Women for Women International, a nonprofit that supports female survivors of war, Salbi has dedicated approximately 25 years of her life to activism in the women's rights space. “I feel like for the longest time, in my speeches from 10 years ago even, I’ve said, ‘Women need to roar.' And now all women are roaring," Salbi explains in a phone call with InStyle this week. "And now for the first time, we’re all united in saying this is not limited to a class, race, or culture—we all have this issue.”
She says she contacted PBS with the idea to deconstruct the #MeToo movement and talk about how people can make it a catalyst for lasting change. She wants her work on this series to facilitate nuanced discussions among women, between women and men, and among men alone—all of which the series will take on. “Let’s not be shy. Bring it on. Address the elephant in the room. It’s better to do that and to resolve it, get it out of the way, than being afraid of talking about things like how class, sexuality, and ways of dressing [play a part in this issue],” she says.
Salbi believes strongly that for things to change, we need to address the structural issues that led us to #MeToo. In her series, she has interviewed people connected to the direct socialization of young girls and boys, like video game developers. “It’s very important that we connect the dots very quickly so we don’t make it only about a moment of anger or pain, we make it a transformative moment that leads to change," she says. "That is the goal.”
These types of discussions, Salbi says, are the first steps in addressing the cultural and systemic issues associated with violence against women.
The first episode will involve a woman-to-woman discussion about harassment asking not only how women have been victimized, but also how things like sexuality and class play into the violence. The following episode will contain interviews with an accused man and the woman who accused him, which Salbi found particularly eye-opening. She will also focus on groups of men talking among themselves about violence against women—something she sees as essential.
“As a women’s rights activist, for the longest time I would only work with women. And at one point I realized, if I really want to stop violence against women in all its forms, then I need to engage men," she says. "So I’ve done that in my work overseas, and perhaps, in this time and space, America is ready to engage men in this discussion.”
Salbi thinks men have been too silent through this reckoning of sorts and wants to hear them talk about sexual harassment in an open and honest way. “I’m very excited about the men’s discussion because it’s the first time you’re hearing men talk about it and asking questions. Let’s talk about how people are dealing with going from [having it all] to being on the sofa, losing everything. How do they feel? What happens after that? What happens after they get fired? How do they process it? That’s taking the discussion a notch further.”
Some men have told Salbi that their actions stem from how they were socialized as kids. Men have told her that they've been rewarded their whole lives for being persistent when pursuing a woman. And they now understand what they’ve done is wrong, but they need guidelines and a discussion to learn what is right. “In my opinion for this to be transformative for men, they need to hear from other men about masculinity. Then need to hear men processing vulnerably how they are dealing with this moment.”
Salbi thinks change is on the horizon, if these nuanced conversations are taken seriously: “This is a moment of renegotiation of the power structure, the protection laws, and how we deal with each other. This is a moment of power, which is great. This is our time to demonstrate how women practice power differently—how we don’t emulate men who hold power through anger and fear.”
As far as how the experience of filming the series has impacted her optimism for the future, Salbi says, “I have seen men and women who have gone through all kinds of violation, and that made me cry. But in the process of seeing the worst, I have also seen the best part of humanity. There is goodness in us. So I believe in the possibility of change.”
Catch Episode 1 of #MeToo, Now What? tonight, Feb. 2, at 8:30 p.m. ET on PBS.