By now, almost three weeks after this hashtag blew up, you might be totally over it. However, the conversations this campaign has sparked have lit a fire under me that I am not ready to let go of. That is partly because the singular campaign has diverged into multi-dimensional conversations about a the widespread and complex issue of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment that has become almost universally pervasive.
The campaign was originally launched over 10 years by activist Tarana Burke, but it was given new life when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” That singular tweet started a campaign that spread like wildfire over social media. It was originally linked to the scandal surrounding Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct over the past several decades. But quickly it took on a life of its own.
I’m a Facebook girl, and it didn’t take long for the original tweet to make it over to my newsfeed on that platform. The message evolved into a movement aimed at showing the world how pervasive sexual assault and harassment are in the lives of girls and women. It then made another evolutionary leap as men started to share about sexual misconduct directed towards them.
When I pasted #metoo on my own wall, my primary focus was continuing the work I have done my entire adult life. I give a voice, a face, a name to marginalized groups. I am called to speak up and say, “Hey, here I am. You are not alone. I am part of the “they” you are afraid of and are discriminating against. I am here!” Many cannot identify themselves as a member of the LGBT community, the Pagan community, the sex positive community, etc. I say me too to all of the people in those groups and more.
I say me too to those who have been sexually harassed, assaulted, and raped. I add my voice to the millions (no billions) of others who do speak up…and for those who cannot.
Many people expressed sadness and horror at how many people they knew personally had added their “me too.” Others expressed exasperation at the surprise. “Of course,” they said. “Of course almost every woman you know (and a large number of men) have been harassed and assaulted. Why are you surprised?! What is the point? The statistics are well known. Nothing has changed. Nothing is going to change. Why are we having this conversation?”
My answer is that there are a lot of good reasons to have this conversation.
1. #Metoo has indeed raised awareness, whether that awareness leads to behavioral or policy changes directly remains to be seen, but as with many issues of this magnitude, it is not usually one particular act that causes the big shift.
2. It has helped me to process my own #metoo situations in yet another layer of healing.
3. It has given a platform for some people who have never been able to talk about their situation. Even if all they say is “me too,” for some that step is huge. I honor that. Some have chosen to share their own stories. I honor that too. These conversations are a necessary step in the healing process.
4. It gives, at least in some ways, a sense of scope that perpetrators, victims, and bystanders can wrap their heads around more easily than cold statistics.
5. And most importantly, in my opinion, it gives us names and faces. This mind-boggling pervasive and complex issue becomes much more personal, both in the sense of this has happened to so many people we know…and, for many of us, I always knew I wasn’t alone, and now I don’t feel that I’m alone.
Another frustration that many people have expressed is that the perpetrators aren’t getting the message. They don’t realize that we’re talking about them. It’s true. People can recognize blatant forms of rape (violent, unwanted sexual penetration by a stranger), but fail to see rape when it is committed by a spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend. (Yes, women can rape men! I saw a woman on a friend’s newsfeed making incredulous comments and laughing about the idea – her ignorant comments absolutely infuriated me. Unfortunately her ignorance is not isolated.) They don’t take coercion or less aggressive means of force into account. And that’s not even getting into other forms of sexual assault or harassment that many people don’t even realize they’re committing. I’ve had one or two men who have touched or talked to me in unwanted manners comment on my posts about how awful they feel to know I have experienced these things, not even realizing that they are contributing to the problem. I’m not worried about that. Others are getting it. Others are taking responsibilities for their actions. Others are making changes in how they interact with people going forward.
There’s one more objection that I’ve seen that I think needs to be addressed. An acquaintance of mine said that he thought that all these “me too” posts were a bad idea because it could come back and bite all of us in the form of insurance companies denying benefits, not being hired by potential employers. Well you know what? Keeping our mouths shut about the abuse we have experienced has been the status quo going farther back than I can remember. So maybe for you as a middle-aged white man that’s working out okay, but it sure isn’t for me. The time for silence is over! Let’s keep this conversation going. Let’s address it socially, legally, in the media, and every other avenue that leads to positive change.
As with many issues of this magnitude, it is not usually one particular act that causes the big shift. Rather it is these individual acts, conversations, innovations, and social movements and beyond that combine to create change.