Yeah, Yeah, #MeToo: The Hashtag You’ve Definitely Seen On Social Media
Like many before me have expressed amid the never-ending waterfall that is social media hashtag hell, I am saddened, disgusted and exhausted by all the stories that have been (and continue to be) shared publicly and vulnerably since the #metoo campaign was launched over a week ago, but I am not in any way surprised. I can’t help but be disgusted by anyone who IS surprised, though. Sorry, but not sorry.
In case you have been hiding under a rock (I know it happens): In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein nightmare, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted the following: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” and within 20 minutes, it had gotten 10,000 replies—not at all surprisingly, if you pay attention at all. In the past seven days, a million people have tweeted using the hashtag, 3.6 billion+ were reached, and 5 billion+ saw the tweets. Many tweeting #metoo are men too, though it’s hard to measure how many of these can be counted as personal disclosures, since retweeting and bigging up the posts of others has also been huge.
Journalist Britni Danielle pointed out that activist Tarana Burke, a Black woman, began the crusade 10 years ago particularly in response to violence against women of colour. Burke is the original founder of the Me Too movement, and although I'm glad Milano has gotten the tag the attention it deserves, it's sadly too predictable the way black women continually get jilted in the credit department. Let's not pretend we can separate gender and racial violence, please. Not for a second.
Why I didn’t hashtag #metoo (at first), and why many continue not to
As @hanp93 tweeted: “I shouldn't have to share the story of the most humiliating night of my life for men to know that sexual assault is bad #HimThough#MeToo.” Many women and non-men are tired of bearing the brunt of hard, emotional labour, of having to relive trauma day in and out, while men/perpetrators continue, for the most part, to stand by, and refrain from taking an active, protective, self-reflexive stance for their own part in the never-ending power grab that is the world as we know it.
Besides, this hashtag stuff is not new. There have been countless attempts to raise awareness about the realities of sexual assault and harassment over the years, both online and off, and very little has been done about it. I remember not long ago when #BeenRapedNeverReported was spreading like wildfire, and yet, it too, burned out. So what’s the point, right? Yes, except there’s always a point, and I think that as overwhelming and tiring as it is, many who are posting feel empowered to share their stories. Anyone who doesn’t should refrain, and as I said on Facebook days before sharing my own accounts of harassment, “keep in mind that a lot of disclosing happens offline.” I mean, goddess, not everyone wants the whole internet to know.
Why I did disclose
I disclosed in the end by sharing with a brief list (with select colourful details) of instances of severe harassment and worse that I have experienced throughout my life as a woman (of colour). In my personal case, much of it has happened at night, on the streets, with strangers. I didn’t wanna share, and then I did. Simple. I have a voice. I wanted to chime in. No regrets. We’re allowed to change our minds. We all have different voices and things to contribute.
Why #metoo might be different
While #metoo is #toomuch in oh-so-many ways, I personally feel like I’m witnessing a few differences with this particular hashtag that set this latest wave of sexual violence awareness apart—and which all previous disclosing and awareness work has made possible.
There have been an increasing number of Hollywoodesque men getting called out for sexual assault and harassment in high profile ways in the last few years. Perhaps in part due to the remove that is possible with social media, and in part due to feeling emboldened by the very public nature of these cases, calling out seems more doable to a larger number of people, in spite of the fact that perpetrators are still getting off with little more than a slap on the wrist.
Besides the usual hordes of naysayers and woman-haters who have responded with violent, disassociative drivel like #notallmen, there have also been some encouraging public strides made by celebrity men and regular men alike, with #IDidThat and #HowIWillChange circulating, and more of an effort (small though it may be) to highlight self-identified rape-culture-contributing behaviours ranging from not taking women as seriously as men, to interrupting them more than men, to sexual coercion and harassment, to rape. Also significant, are prominent men who have come out about their own experiences of sexual assault (by men, for the most part). An extremely important step, I believe, in everyone’s healing, is the ability of men to make themselves vulnerable, be able to actually feel their pain, and get through it as intact human beings with working hearts.
Experience = progress?
Maybe our society is finally inching forward, since discussing the shit out of sexual violence has been happening far longer than you or I or the internet has been around.
Some concrete systemic realities that need to change
To name just a few...
1. The way boys (and girls) are socialized
Nothing new here. How many times have you heard a guy (or a girl) say something about how having a daughter would worry them, and how relatively easy it is to raise a boy? Wrong, wrong, all kinds of wrong. This attitude enables people to continue bombarding girls with instructionals on how to protect themselves while dismissing boys of any responsibility or critical thought. Girls and boys both need to socialized differently, taught about the power dynamics at play in the world, and taught to look critically at pop culture. It happens early, all of it. This is key. Boys can NOT be boys at the expense of girls. And “bros before hos” is NOT an okay way to express brotherhood—again, at the expense of girls.
2. Sex Ed
It’s kind of an extension of #1. But I don’t think this can be stressed enough. Puritanical/religious/or just plain repressed hang-ups of any spot or stripe do a ton of damage. Children need to learn about sex and consent as early as possible. Give me a really good reason why not. Most of the Sex Ed out there is subpar and limited at best, and misinformed at worst, while many schools/states/provinces still disallow this type of integral education altogether. Sex-positivity is good for everyone.
3. The way sexual assault is framed
It’s been said a million times by people as wise and wiser than me, and by me. Sexual assault awareness needs to be about holding perpetrators to account, preventing them from perpetrating, and cutting off the problems at its roots rather than piling advice on top of advice about protective measures and drowning women with it. The framing itself can be very oppressive and victim-blamey, and place all the onus on women to avoid being assaulted rather than aiming at prevention, education, and accountability instead.
Bottom line: There is no answer! But if perpetrators and people who have forwarded/legitimized/facilitated the misogynist agenda even in the most passive of ways are beginning to self-reflect, whether publicly or privately, I for one am all for that.