News Local/State

IL + #MeToo: “You Can’t Legislate That”

State Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez sits behind a stack of reports and findings related to the House Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Task Force.

State Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez sits behind a stack of reports and findings related to the House Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Task Force. Rachel Otwell/NPR Illinois

This month marks a year since the Me Too movement went viral as a hashtag on social media (after having first been started in 2006 by Tarana Burke.) This week, we hear from several women in Illinois whose work in government has been affected. Today we hear from State Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez of Springfield who is the Republican spokesperson for the House Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Task Force

So far, in Illinois the movement has played out in the form of a letter that was signed by about 200 people who work in or around the statehouse and say they've witnessed misogyny and sexual harassment on the job. Task forces, like the one Wojcicki Jimenez chairs, have been created. People, some very high up, accused of harassing behavior have lost jobs. But still - many say there is much work to come. 

In this interview, Wojcicki Jimenez tells us, "We need the men to come along and be part of the change." She also talks about some of what has been accomplished so far within the legislature, as well as her own experiences.

Interview highlights

On her initial reaction to #MeToo

Initially, I thought, wow, gosh, this is getting a lot of coverage. It was something that I had experienced as a spectrum: whether it be inappropriate comments or harassment, all the way up to when I was a TV reporter in the Champaign area, I had a felony stalking charge that we had to file against someone. And so for me it was sort of an awareness like, oh, well maybe this isn't just me in my career.

On the House task force that formed in response to #MeToo 

We've made a number of changes in legislation and we thought it was very important as a task force that we look to our own processes first and our own trainings and what we require and do not require.

And even in the very beginning, last year when this started to explode all over the country, we found in our own policy books that we didn't have a prohibition on sexual harassment. It was just things like that, that you say, 'Okay, we've got to beef this up. We're going to have training. Absolutely. That's mandated for members and staff and you know, we're going to tweak some of our processes, have more transparency around [how sexual assault and harassment claims are filed] and where they go and to shine some light on the process.'

Because people are saying, 'Well is this really a big deal or is it just overblown?' And I think for those of us who are neck deep in the work, we know that it's an issue that is a major issue for a lot of women. 

On creating a cultural shift 

There's a couple of paths that people are on right now. There is the legislative reform type path and that's one thing that you can absolutely do. You can see where we add in either more restrictions or transparency in the process. Or where we are we mandate that if you apply for a license through our State Department, that you have to have a sexual harassment policy. There are all those types of things that we're working on, that we can do.

And then there's another path that's more societal, cultural and behavioral. And that is going to take a while, because you can't legislate that. Most big shifts have changed not when the group that's being discriminated against overcomes, it's when the rest of the people come together and say, 'You know what, we're not gonna do that anymore.' 

And when I give that example, that means the men. So the women are talking about it. I think when you talk to your female friends or your coworkers or your family members, they will have a story for you. We need the men to come along and be part of the change.

Because that's the way a change is going to happen: when the bystanders step in, in the moment where this behavior is happening, and they say, 'Stop, you can't do that anymore. That's not appropriate for the workplace or otherwise. And not because you're a woman, not because you could be somebody's mom or sister or friend. It's just because you're a human being that's not respectful behavior and we're not going to do that anymore.'  

Interview segments have been edited for clarity.