An Organization Made Up of the Rich and Powerful Can’t Defend Women Against the Rich and Powerful

The recent turmoil at Time's Up reveals the shortcomings of the #MeToo-oriented legal defense group

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An Organization Made Up of the Rich and Powerful Can’t Defend Women Against the Rich and Powerful
Photo:Roy Rochlin (Getty Images)

Time’s Up was conceived as a legal defense fund for survivors of sexual assault, made up of heavy hitters. In January 2018, at the peak of the #MeToo movement, four women came together to form the organization: Tina Tchen, a former member of the Obama administration; Hilary Rosen, a partner at one of the top Democratic public relations firms; Fatima Goss Graves, the founder and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center; and Roberta Kaplan, the attorney who argued the landmark same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court.

These were powerful figures, who intended to use their influence and clout to defend women against men who were equally powerful and influential. As sensible as the proposition may sound, this is precisely where Time’s Up went awry. Though the organization has given its full-throated support to, say, McDonald’s workers fighting sexual harassment, it has been much more circumspect about allegations against liberal men in its leaders’ circles, particularly those who have fashioned themselves as feminist allies—men with whom they’ve undoubtedly attended numerous galas, extravagant dinners, and political events.

Over the last couple of years, it has become clear that the leaders of Time’s Up are largely unwilling to take up cases against men they view as their allies. When, in 2019, Tara Reade went to the group seeking support for her allegations of sexual assault against Joe Biden, Time’s Up directors turned her away, telling her that defending her could risk their nonprofit status since she was accusing a candidate for federal office. In a public statement at the time, Time’s Up said of Reade’s accusations: “No longer can claims like this go ignored.”

But on Monday, Kaplan resigned from the organization on the heels of New York State Attorney General Letitia James’s report into Andrew Cuomo, which revealed that the Time’s Up cofounder had been privately advising the administration in an effort to discredit Lindsey Boylan, a former aide who accused the governor of sexual harassment.

According to the report, Kaplan helped Cuomo draft an op-ed letter that “denied the legitimacy of Ms. Boylan’s allegations, impugned her credibility, and attacked her claims as politically motivated.” Kaplan brought the letter back to “the head of Time’s Up,” who suggested some changes to the statement—namely removing mention of Boylan’s “interactions with male colleagues”—but otherwise approved it for release. The two Time’s Up leaders, however, were the only people who thought the letter was a good idea, and so it was never published.

“Unfortunately, recent events have made it clear that even our apparent allies in the fight to advance women can turn out to be abusers,” Kaplan wrote in her resignation letter. “We have felt the raw, personal and profound pain of that betrayal.” She concluded that it was no longer possible to maintain an “active law practice” while working on the Time’s Up board.

These recent allegations only further prove that the interests of the rich and powerful ultimately lie with the rich and powerful. At its core, Time’s Up is a corporate nonprofit that must fundraise, appease donors, and protect the reputations of its prominent board members. True feminist solidarity can’t exist under these conditions. In March, Time’s Up asked its volunteers to sign nondisclosure agreements, promising not to disparage the group or its employees—the exact legal agreement the group decried as a tool for silencing survivors of harassment and assault. That same month, 18 members of the organization’s healthcare branch resigned after Esther Choo, a board member at the org, was named in a lawsuit alleging that she failed to report a sexual harassment claim at the hospital where she worked.

It’s hard to see how Time’s Up could recover from being so profoundly compromised. Kaplan may have been genuinely surprised by the allegations against Cuomo, who has claimed to be a champion for women’s rights for years—but she certainly knew whose side she was on when she learned of them.

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