The Problem With #MeToo And How We Can All Do Better

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If you follow any women at all on social media it’s likely you saw #MeToo floating around a lot in the past couple of weeks. #MeToo was a social media campaign aimed at being a way for women to express how widespread sexual assault and harassment are in our culture. Supported on Twitter by Alyssa Milano, the hashtag campaign has gone completely viral on basically all platforms. Seeing friends, family, coworkers, and casual acquaintances all share the same types of stories is jarring. But it’s a testament to the nasty realization that rape and harassment culture has become normalized.

Before we go much further, it’s important to mention that men and queer people are also victims of sexual violence. However, what the #MeToo campaign seeks to show is how gender-based violence against women in particular results from a misogynistic society that allows sexual assault and harassment to become so widespread.

The pervasive hashtag brought a lot of visibility to the breadth of people sexual harassment has affected. And that’s great! Visibility is the best way to bring change. I commend any woman brave enough to share her personal, painful stories in pursuit of change. But I hope that the stories shared and the memories recounted are not in vain.

#MeToo and Fleeting Social Media Trends

It’s no big surprise that many social media trends pass by in the blink of an eye. Prevalent hashtags come and go and in a matter of weeks, we’re on to the next big thing. But when it comes to something as serious as sexual harassment, can the public consciousness pay attention long enough to enact real change?

This hashtag campaign was put forward by Alyssa Milano in earnest (inspired by the campaign started by Tarana Burke in 2010), with the hope that this would bring awareness. But at the end of the day, it adds to the everyday exhaustion of social media. We are barraged with bad news after bad news after bad news on the daily now — how much more can we take? Things start to feel hopeless after you see your 20th friend identify themselves as a rape survivor. It turns from “I want to help!” to “Is there actually any possible way to stop this?” real quick. Outrage can only be effective if it gets people up from looking at their screens instead of screaming into them.

Social media outrage and burnout is a very real problem. We’ve become desensitized to the horrors we see on the internet every day. It’s hard to think about what we can do when problems seem too big to overcome. The statistic that circulates is that one in five women are the victims of sexual assault by the time they graduate college, but this campaign has made it clear the numbers are way higher than that. And knowing how many predators are out there, only identified by their victims, may seem like an unsolvable issue.

Outing Victims Instead of their Predators

This campaign was surely created with good intentions. And not to be someone who finds “offense” with everything (except, excuse me, who are you to say what should or shouldn’t offend someone?! I digress…) but there are some fundamental issues with the hashtag. We’re encouraging women to out themselves as victims with no guarantee of justice or change. Women shouldn’t have to bleed themselves dry time and time again in order for you to listen.

Why aren’t we asking men to out the men they know that have harassed or assaulted women? Why aren’t we naming names and not caring if it “ruins their reputation”? The sad truth is that when women say they’ve been assaulted, they are seen differently. Their victimhood becomes a defining attribute despite it not being something they asked for. The men who made them victims should be the ones paying for it with their reputation.

#MeToo helped to show the magnitude of women who’ve been made to feel uncomfortable, or worse, by a man. And while that’s important to recognize the this is the norm and not some rare occurrence, it’s also important that we talk about it before women become victims. Talk to boys and men about their actions. Out them when they are wrong. Women should not be made to reveal the most intimate, painful parts of themselves to prove a point. Furthermore, men shouldn’t need to know that ten of their personal friends were sexually assaulted to care. Every single victim that they’ve ever heard of should’ve made them care already.

Sexual Assault & Harassment: Rhetoric & Rape Culture

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It’s On Us

We always talk about sexual harassment and assault in terms of what happened to a woman, not who did it to her. A powerful quote about this is making the rounds and it puts things in a completely new light. The quote, said by educator and activist Jackson Katz during a TED talk says,

“We talk about how many women were raped last year, not how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. And we talk about how many teenage girls in the state of Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many boys and men impregnated teenage girls.”

When we encourage women to speak out about their experiences with assault or harassment, we’re bringing visibility, sure, but we’re also putting the onus of their experiences on them. We talk about these things after they’re done instead of going to the source — the harasser, the assailant, the rapist, etc. — which would be the only way of nipping it in the bud altogether.

Ending this is not, and never will be, on women. So why do we talk about it in such a gendered way that it becomes all about women? To tackle these issues and bring an end to rape culture we have to talk about this stuff before women become victims and we need to be talking about it with the young men who make them victims. Don’t teach women not to dress provocatively, teach men not to think that a woman’s clothes dictate her sexuality. Resist telling women they shouldn’t drink too much, and teach men to put them to bed when they’ve had too many and just leave them there. And do not tell women that they should’ve said no more, and teach men that if a woman is stoic, cold, and scared they do not want what is happening to happen. Don’t teach men that sometimes a ‘no’ is really a ‘yes,’ and teach women to know that when this happens, it’s not her fault.

Learning from Hollywood for a change

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One positive thing coming out of the Harvey Weinstein story is that many women (and men) in Hollywood have begun outing the people who have sexually harassed and assaulted them. If you’re going to own your narrative, why not take down whoever forced that narrative upon you? Sadly, this is easier said than done. Most women who are harassed and assaulted don’t ever speak up out of fear. They’re scared of what their harasser/rapist may do to them, or what happens if no one believes them. All we can do in response is create a world where rape culture is nonexistent and survivors will know they’re believed. It’s when we encourage women to speak up, loud and proud that change happens. Up until now, ruining a man’s reputation was not worse than raping a woman and that’s why so many of these victims in Hollywood and beyond stayed silent for so long.

It’s never, ever on the woman to prevent an assault. But we can use our voices to say that this will not be tolerated anymore. We won’t hide in the shadows and let men dictate how these interactions will go. If they’re going to make us victims, we’re going to make sure the world knows what they’ve done.

#Metoo & Beyond

#MeToo created a global conversation about something that is often talked about in whispers and behind closed doors. And that is monumentally important. But it’s not enough. I hope it affected you. I hope you were saddened by the women you love revealing their deepest, darkest secrets. And I hope it inspires you to do better, be better, and make those around you better in the process. It’s the only way we’ll be able to fight this battle.

#MeToo. #YouToo. #TooMany.