Content warning: This article includes mentions of sexual assault and harassment.

"What if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open." This quote by poet Muriel Rukeyser is what Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, the director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at the University, opened Dr. Keren R. McGinity's lecture "#UsToo: How Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Women changed our Communities." 

As part of the lecture, Dr. Fishbayn Joffe highlighted the importance of women sharing their stories. The #MeToo movement gave women and survivors of sexual harassment and sexual abuse in the workplace the opportunity to speak out. The campaign inspired many to engage in public and personal conversations. This movement had a large impact on several fields, including religious communities.

Dr. Fishbayn Joffe introduced Dr. McGinity, an "inaugural Interfaith Specialist at United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and a Research Associate at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at the University. Dr. McGinity is an author of many books, including #UsToo: How Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Women changed our Communities, the topic of the event.

Dr. McGinity opened by dedicating her talk to her mother, who "raised me to be the woman I am today." She noted that October 2023 marked the sixth anniversary of the #MeToo movement, a phrase coined by Tarana Burke, an activist from New York. Dr. McGinity said she was accustomed to bearing witness to change over time and never suspected she would serve as a catalyst for systematic and structural changes in the Jewish community.

In her book, Dr. McGinity chose to focus on Muslim, Jewish and Christian women's experiences for several reasons; Jewish and Muslim are both minority groups and experience prejudices — a factor that discourages those from speaking out because they fear they would disparage their communities — and minority religious communities are insulated and often depend on one another. She also included Christian women because of how activism influences faith.

The phrase #UsToo was coined by Sophia Nelson, who created the phrase to include minorities. The phrase suggests that “social Justice requires all hands on deck everyone’s hands.” Dr. McGinity examined how Jewish and Muslim women face triple discrimination through sexism, racism and Islamophobia or antisemitism. This triple discrimination brings  unique perspectives to these groups. Based on this realization, Dr. McGinity said she used a “gender-ethno-religious approach” when conducting her research. 

In the lecture, Dr. McGinity spoke about Debbie Findling and her experience when she spoke up before the #MeToo movement. Findling was harassed by her supervisor at a Jewish Community Center in Southern California. Findling reported her supervisor’s actions to the community center's top official, and she eventually moved to another center. He was promoted to other executive leadership positions. 

After the #MeToo movement, when Rhonda Abrams, a 27-year-old Hillel executive director, met with a donor for breakfast as per the donor’s request, she was sexually harassed. Unsure about speaking, she eventually went to her local board, who cut all communication with the donor, offering to make up for lost funds and lead discussion around sexual harassment.

Dr. McGinity reflected on her own experience of sexual harassment and the difficulty of speaking up. When she spoke out, other survivors came forward as well, and eventually, he was forced to resign from his position.

Additionally, Dr. McGinity spoke on the founding of the Safety, Respect and Equity Network — a Jewish organization of over 150 groups committed to creating safe, respectful and equitable workplaces and communication spaces in North America. The organization intends to build healthy Jewish communities by partnering with Jewish institutions to prevent and respond to sexual abuse and other abuses of power.

Dr. McGinity’s book highlights Muslim women's experiences. She talks about a young woman named Nadya Ali who heard about her cousin's experience of abuse and created a film called “Breaking Silence” to discuss sex and sexual misconduct in the Muslim community. The lack of communication around sex in her community did not prevent abuse. 

According to the CDC, “Over half of women and almost 1 in 3 men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes."

Dr. McGinity discussed how bilateral fear is unique to Muslim women and hijabs play a distinctive role. Some women wear hijabs for a variety of reasons and have experienced a unique form of sexual harassment because of it. To explain this, Dr. McGinity showed a video of Mona Haydar, a young activist who talked about how the internet interjects its opinion on her because she wears a hijab.

Dr. McGinity’s research found that when a woman experienced unwanted sexual advances from faith leaders, Muslim women were 54% likely to report the incident to the police, a higher percentage than other groups. Other groups are more likely to report the incident internally. Dr. McGinity said this shows that Muslim women are more comfortable telling strangers about abuse than families and their community.

Christian women also face powerful church hierarchies, cover-ups and systems that support abusers. Dr. McGinity told the story of Ruth Everhart, who was sexually harassed by a pastor twice her age and described the power imbalance between them. She was not supported by her community when she tried to speak out.

Another woman, Ashley Easter, described her childhood as very cult-like, in which she was required to submit to her father and then to her husband. After her family condoned a courtship with an abusive and controlling man, Easter escaped from her very religious community. She still remains strong in her faith.

Dr. McGinity reflected on the progress that has been made, but remarks that until we live in a society that tells us not to rape and not "don't get raped," there is much to do. She encouraged people to become upstanders, stating that action is not optional.

Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center employees from the University wrapped up the presentation by reminding students that PARC is a confidential student resource for those experiencing violence. PARC offers peer advocates and staff advocates for students to reach out to for support.

— Editor’s Note: Justice editor Julia Hardy ’26 is a member of PARC and did not contribute to the writing or editing of this article.

— Correction: an earlier version of this article stated that Dr. Fishbayn Joffe "opened their lecture," but she opened Dr. McGinity's lecture. The article also wrongly stated that Dr. McGinity was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Contemporary Jewish Life at the University of Michigan's Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, and this title was changed to "an inaugural Interfaith Specialist at United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and a Research Associate at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at the University."