Arts & Culture

#MeToo: The Impact, The Reality  

By: Sarina D. (’19)

On Monday, October 15th, Twitter was flooded with thousands and thousands of tweets, all of them sharing two short but immensely powerful words: me too.

It all started when 44-year-old actress Alyssa Milano, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, tweeted out, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” She was bringing back a hashtag first used a decade ago by a woman who had been groped on a bus.

Milano expected some voices of Hollywood to chime in with condolences and similar experiences in the industry, but what she did not expect was a movement that would inspire millions of men and women globally to, often for the first time, come out as survivors of sexual violence.

She did not expect that the hashtag would be used more than 500,000 times within the next twenty-four hours, or that it would be retweeted 1.7 million times over the next few days in over 85 countries.

She did not expect that this movement would empower and finally bring a voice to sexual harassment victims.

And perhaps most importantly, she did not expect that this movement would finally force our society and government to reexamine the social and political climates and systems which have condoned and perpetuated this despicable violence for so long.

Milano hoped to engender some solidarity among victims with similar experiences, but what she got instead was a rallying cry from women of every occupation, ethnicity, and background- a rallying cry that said we will not be ignored any longer, and our voices will take center stage.

Thanks to the globalization of social media, while kicking off in America, the movement took on a form of its own in each nation. In Italy, women rallied behind #QuellaVoltaChe, which translates to “That time when.” In France, women decided to speak up about their experiences with #BalanceTonPorc, which roughly translates to “snitch out your pig.”

So why have we allowed this to go on for so long? Why do the men who are supposed to be pillars of our society commit felonies and STILL command the respect of the American public?

It may have started with musicians, actors, models, but it spread to restaurant employees, retail associates, accountants, policewoman- human beings.  It even surged onto Capitol Hill when our Congresswoman, Jackie Speier, started the #MeToo Congress Campaign, encouraging government officials to speak out about their own experiences of sexual assault. It became evident that there is no one industry or one type of woman that is likely to become a victim, exposing the shortcomings of victim-blaming culture; rather, we are faced with a systemic problem that is going to take a lot of work on every level.

What Weinstein did is inexcusable, and #MeToo asserts this with every new tweet. Unfortunately, however, he isn’t standing alone as a known perpetrator. He’s at the top of a long list of powerful men on Capitol Hill and in Hollywood who have been accused of sexual violence by numerous individuals. Also headlining that list are Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, George Bush, Kevin Spacey, Ben Affleck, Roy Moore, and current US President Donald Trump.

So why have we allowed this to go on for so long? Why do the men who are supposed to be pillars of our society commit felonies and STILL command the respect of the American public?

It starts from the beginning. From a young age we’re taught to say no when we feel uncomfortable and to tell someone. But we’re also told that girls should cover up in front of men, hide their bodies as much as possible, and never walk alone at night. This teaches young girls that men are predators and they need to avoid becoming prey, and it teaches young boys that they will inevitably become predators. In essence, we are telling our daughters that they should change their behavior to compensate for a man’s illegal and amoral actions, while assuring our sons that they are incapable of controlling their own bodies.

Combine these conflicting ideals with a male-dominated workforce and what you get is hundreds of women who are assaulted by men of power. It’s a cyclical system; our society perpetuates male dominance through messages instilled in adolescence, these men ascend to positions of authority in the workforce, and they then use their authority to keep women they have assaulted quiet, maintaining their preponderance. When it is the group in power who breaks the rules, nothing ever changes and they never receive punishment. Men use their power as leaders to both coerce women into sexual acts for the benefit of their careers and to silence victims when the truth comes out.  As stated by sexual violence expert Kara Marad, “If women are in position of authority, they will help stop the submission of other women. So that men can’t corner them, can’t force them into sexual acts, because women won’t need the financial stability.” Thus, the problem is not only that men abuse their power, but that the lack of women in power allows for the perpetuation of this system.

In addition to harnessing the burden of the trauma from harassment, women who are assaulted are forced into silence and submission because their careers and reputations are on the line. Even men who are not social magnates or CEOS with large followings are often trusted more on the basis that they are men, perpetuating the cycle.

As women, when a higher authority overpowers us, we are told to be quiet, and we stay quiet. There are several instances in which individual women speak out against politicians and actors and directors and producers and tech leaders and managers and supervisors, yet unfortunately their one voice is not sufficient in the court of public opinion or our justice system. These women get swept into the shadows and their reputations and professional lives suffer irreparable harm.

Are we finally addressing the rampant sexual assault in our society head-on? Are we finally beginning to acknowledge our bias as a society and are we working to eradicate it?

So, unfortunately, it takes several woman to corroborate a story, which is what happened with Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby and many of the other men we now know as horrific perpetrators of assault and violence against women. These cases are triumphs in that they were not only taken to court but highly publicized in the media, engendering outrage from the public. However, they subtly reveal the reality in that it still takes many victims, an exorbitance of evidence, and a clear pattern of stories to take down a sexual assaulter. When it is the word of a woman against the word of a man, the man is wrongly invincible for many more years and many more cases. Take Cosby, whose victims were ignored time after time after time again until someone finally decided the threshold had been crossed and we should accept it as the truth. This disease spreads from Hollywood and Capitol Hill to college campuses, schools, and standard industries, where women are ‘slut-shamed’ and ignored when assaulted.

As a result, as we examine the impact of the #MeToo campaign, we must ask ourselves if the Weinstein case finally crossed an intangible line in which women refused to be ignored.  Are we finally addressing the rampant sexual assault in our society head-on? Are we finally beginning to acknowledge our bias as a society and are we working to eradicate it?

On October 5th, Weinstein spoke to the press, stating, “I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then,” he begins. “I have since learned it’s not an excuse, in the office – or out of it. To anyone. I realized some time ago that I needed to be a better person and my interactions with the people I work with have changed. I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.”

But his apology means nothing. For the first time, our society refused to rally around the man in power. We refused to accept his repulsive and criminal behavior on the basis that “it wasn’t as big of a crime in his day.” We refused to continue to pedestalize a known felon and leave his victims not only unheard but judged and marginalized.  

So, the Weinstein case and the #MeToo campaign marks an era in which the issue of sexual assault headlines the newspapers, floods social media, and even appears in new legislation. As more and more victims come out with stories, we are forced to acknowledge that this is a common experience shared by women around the world, and for each of these women, and each of these stories, there is a perpetrator, who will most likely live his life without ever paying retribution for his actions. And these men aren’t just outward perverts or hotshot directors; rather, they are often our neighbors, colleagues, peers, athletes. They are often men that we know personally and see as good people, accentuating that this is a problem that goes deeper than finding and persecuting the “few bad seeds” in the media.

“Talking about victimization doesn’t end victimization. We need people to intervene. We need whistle-blowers. Parents need to be great role models. Ask your school, church, civic organizations and youth sports clubs to be proactive. Walk the walk in your own home.”

Many question whether a hashtag, meme or any viral moment, no matter how widespread, can actually turn into a lasting initiative that yields social change. While #MeToo may have been instrumental in spreading awareness, awareness is only the first step.

How we convert that awareness to concrete social change will truly measure the success of the movement. Now it is up to policy makers, celebrities with platforms and influence, and us as citizens to take that awareness and convert it to concrete social and political change. As stated by Kristen Houser, chief public affairs officer at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “Talking about victimization doesn’t end victimization. We need people to intervene. We need whistle-blowers. Parents need to be great role models. Ask your school, church, civic organizations and youth sports clubs to be proactive. Walk the walk in your own home.” In addition, while our judicial systems and representatives can work to reform the legal system and policies which perpetuate victim-blaming or fail to properly examine sexual assault accusations, a true end to this rampant violence will ultimately come from social change. It goes back to the messages society instills in children from a young age.  It’s about what we tell girls in regards to their role in society due to their gender, and what we tell our boys about the way they should perceive girls. It’s about when we stop teaching girls how to not be sexually harassed, and start teaching boys to not be predators.

#MeToo has already sparked debate over legislative possibilities in Congress and in state administrative bodies throughout the country, and has called upon anti-violence organizations to take center stage on these issues. As a result, while it is true that we still have a long way to go, we have taken a very important first step towards acknowledging and addressing the severity of the problem.

#MeToo has done its job on leaving a lasting impact across industries and countries, and now it is up to us to decide how we go about truly altering the structures of our society which have let this despicable violence slip into the shadows for so long.

Categories: Arts & Culture, Uncategorized

Tagged as:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s