Tina Tchen is one of the nation’s leading voices in the fight against sexual misconduct.
For years, she worked on Title IX initiatives and was instrumental in forming the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. And for the last year, the former assistant to President Obama and Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama has led the legal defense fund for “Time’s Up,” an organization created in the wake of the #MeToo movement that works toward safe, fair, and dignified work for women of all kinds.
Tchen will be part of a Chicago Ideas Week panel speaking tonight at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The theme of the conversation is #TimesUp: What’s Next? Tchen stopped by the Morning Shift to give a preview of the panel and to talk about her work.
On the high demand for the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund
Tina Tchen: We haven’t been doing any advertising; we only just recently made our first outreach grants. So without any work being done to reach people, to try to bring cases in, over 3500 people have come forward, just hearing about it, just seeing it on the Golden Globes, just needing help. So 3500. Mostly women, but some men as well coming forward to seek help at the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. Happily, 800 lawyers have also stepped forward and offered their time, either on a pro bono or reduced-fee basis.
Why #MeToo started in Hollywood
Tchen: When I compare why it’s this moment instead of the prior moments that we’ve had like Anita Hill’s testimony 27 years ago—you know, we’ve talked about these issues of sexual harassment in the workplace before as a country—but what is it about this moment this last year that’s fueled such velocity? And I think it’s because it did start in Hollywood. Because unlike Anita Hill—who was incredible and eloquent and courageous—nobody knew who she was, you know, you didn’t relate to her. In our celebrity-driven culture, I like to say, like, we all think we’re Natalie Portman’s best friend. We see her on TV, we follow her on social media, we really all think she’s our girlfriend. And so when she speaks out, or America Ferrera speaks out—[people] who are watched on TV at night—I think that reached people in a much more personal way, because we could connect with that story. But then, and I really give the women of Hollywood credit, what those women did…is they themselves recognized that they were women of privilege, that they had a platform. And they have been tireless in using that platform to speak out on behalf of low-income women. That’s why we have, and they have, championed the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.
On Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings
Tchen: That whole experience that the country has gone through for the last month has been deeply triggering in a way that I haven’t seen other similar conversations happen, I think because Dr. Blasey Ford talked so eloquently in her testimony, and so painfully—her pain was evident. And it resonated with so many people who’ve had similar experiences in different ways. And then the way her evidence was treated. And this isn’t about whether Justice Kavanaugh should have gone on or off the bench—that’s an entirely different program…What I’m so angry about is the idea that many senators said there was no evidence about what happened. Well, you had a woman testify under oath. You know, you had her testify consistently over time and over years, and hold up under the questioning that she had with a consistent story. That’s evidence. That is evidence, and that needs to be respected as evidence. You can reject that evidence, and say you don’t believe it, or say it’s countered, but don’t say it’s no evidence. And that’s what I hope we can get to. What’s been so problematic for so many women is they don’t think they’ll be believed in the first instance, so they don’t come forward.
GUEST: Tina Tchen-Partner at Buckley Sandler, where she leads the firm’s Chicago office, heading up their Workplace Cultural Compliance Practice and a Leader of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund
LEARN MORE: Time’s Up Now
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was adapted for the web by Char Daston.