Foreign policy advisers Stone and Vogelstein take a world tour of the #MeToo movement in Awakening (PublicAffairs, July.).
How has the internet driven the growth of women’s justice movements around the world?
Vogelstein: The internet became a 21st-century public square for women, especially in places where their physical space and their activism were constrained by state control. The low cost of digital connectivity increased the speed, the scale, and the diversity of the global women’s movement and allowed it to be simultaneously transnational and hyperlocalized.
Stone: Often, speaking out online means you still can experience some of the same threats to your safety that you do physically as a woman human rights activist. But by and large, our interviewees told us that technology, and particularly social media, had been a game changer for them and made them feel like their voices can be heard in a way that was impossible before.
How did you gain your subjects’ trust?
Stone: There’s a tendency to approach these issues with an attitude that Americans are the heroic saviors of these women. For us, it was really important to take a completely different approach. These women are braver, smarter, and more resourceful than anyone could possibly be while facing really challenging circumstances. Our role was to really center their voices, to really capture their victories, which weren’t being captured in global media.
Vogelstein: This is not about the arrival of white Western feminism to the nations that we write about. In many countries, the rise in online activism predates the popularization and viral spread of the #MeToo hashtag. Countries like Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Tunisia all have rich feminist histories, but the stories are just too often not told. We have a lot to learn from the fight that these leaders have waged.
What inspired the women’s power agenda you outline in the book?
Vogelstein: One of the themes we noticed again and again in our conversations with activists was the need and demand for women’s power. For so long, the focus had been on naming and legislating women’s rights. But rights without the power to implement them are not enough.
Stone: When we sat down to think about who we needed to talk to, in order to inform this agenda, it was really important that it be a very diverse and inclusive group of women globally. We bring together the voices of grassroots activists and those of women world leaders like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia, and Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Amina Mohammed.