It’s a movement that has sparked conversation condemning sexual harassment, violence, and misconduct around the world.
It’s taken over Twitter feeds, dominated news headlines, flooded Hollywood’s Golden Globes, Oscars, and Grammy Awards, and unleashed a global reckoning against men who have exploited their power to bully, harass, and sexually assault women around the world.
However, as the world recently celebrated the first International Women’s Day since the #MeToo movement was born, I began to reflect….
Or are they are nothing more than a passing hashtag?
The #MeToo Movement is Born
Now in case you’ve been living under a rock, let me explain how the #MeToo movement began.
Long before hashtags and social media, civil rights activist, Tarana Burke, established the ‘Me Too’ movement to help survivors of sexual violence – particularly for young women of colour from lower-income communities. However, it wasn’t until October 15, 2017, that ‘me too’ became a global phenomenon.
In the wake of allegations against Harvey Weinstein, American actress, Alyssa Milano, posted a tweet urging women to speak out about their experiences of sexual harassment and assault by using the phrase ‘me too’.
The tweet activated a global cascade of millions of women – and some men – sharing their own personal experiences, and overnight, #MeToo became a rallying cry against sexual harassment and assault around the world.
On January 1, 2018, more than 300 women in Hollywood announced the formation of #TimesUp, an effort to counter sexual assault, harassment, and inequality in the workplace. The movement is designed to combat sexism at its foundations. There’s no doubt the awareness that #MeToo and #TimesUp have empowered sexual violence victims to stand up in solidarity and highlight the magnitude of the issue, however the movements continue to spark controversy.
Is redesigning the #MeToo movement doing more harm than good?
If we take a look at recent allegations against comedian, Aziz Ansari, apparently so.
Of all the stories about sexual harassment and violence that have been brought to light under the #MeToo movement, perhaps nothing has sparked more controversy than a recount from an anonymous 23-year-old who published a lengthy article on Babe.net about a date night with Ansari that went horribly wrong.
Critics suggest that the Ansari story has highlighted the conflicting and complex portrait of the power and limitations of the #MeToo movement.
“Unfortunately, by casting the net far and wide, and by lumping all transgressions together, the #metoo movement is losing credibility ” Psychologist, Deborah Davies, explains.
Relationships Author, Carole Lieberman, also voiced her concerns.
“Too many women have joined #MeToo quickly and unthinkingly. Though they may have wanted to be in solidarity with other women, the stories of dates gone wrong or women scorned have detracted from women who have been raped or seriously sexually assaulted” she stressed.
Lumping trivial experiences with genuine accounts of sexual assault seems as though #MeToo has provided a platform for opportunists to exploit for their own agenda and lump all discrimination faced by women under a single category: ‘women’s issues’.
We cannot allow #MeToo to be used as a partisan tool rather than a platform for lasting social change.
A War of Words
There’s no denying #MeToo’s achievements in giving women the power to stand as a collective voice and start an open conversation about sexual harassment and violence.
“Since the #MeToo movement, we’ve seen a 40% increase in the complaints that are brought forward. Women are more prepared and trust in the process,” Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Kristen Hilton explained on a recent episode of ABC’s Q&A.
However, Q&A panelist, Janette Albrechtsen, voiced her concerns:
“We can’t just hear from the women. It’s a conversation that needs to happen with everyone involved.”
It’s a common criticism of the #MeToo movement.
In what was intended to start a conversation to end harassment and violence, #MeToo has been fuelled with contant outrage and backlash.
“The irony of #MeToo is that Hollywood had been silent for years about this issue. Then all of a sudden they were all saying the same thing. And if you diverged from that in the slightest way, you were hounded down as a traitor to the movement”, Albrechtsen explained.
Take Matt Damon, for example.
The Hollywood actor was slammed with criticism after suggesting there is a ‘spectrum’ when it comes to sexual misconduct. “There’s a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation,” Damon explained. “Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated.”
If you ask me, Damon hit the nail right on the head.
What’s concerning is that a divide is forming. Not between abuse victims and their perpetrators, but between the people broadcasting these accusations and anyone who challenges them.
In fact, even silence seems to cause controversy.
Actress, Meryl Streep, was accused of being aware of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct and failing to speak up. Hollywood quickly took revenge and plastered posters of the actress with ‘she knew’ written across her face.
It’s ironic how a movement, intended to bring about positive social change, has instead pitted men against women and even women against each other.
How can this possibly be empowering?
So, how then, can the #MeToo movement become more inclusive and inspire real change despite backlash?
Experts say it’s going to take a coordinated effort between anti-violence organisations, the media, Hollywood, and engaging both men and women to take concrete steps towards creating lasting social change.
The Silenced Voice
Through #MeToo, women are at last being heard. But which women?
With the nature of celebrities, social media, and the privileges of race it’s no surprise that #MeToo has cast the spotlight in one direction, leaving many of those who bear the heaviest burden in the shadows.
Featuring on ABC’s Q&A, Shelly Smith argues,
“The #MeToo movement is great, but it mostly centres around rich, mostly white, mostly straight women.”
It made me reflect – is the #MeToo movement make a difference where it’s most needed to help women facing deeper systematic oppression?
What does #MeToo mean for women who face discrimination of colour? Of Religion? For women in sweatshops in third-world countries? For women oppressed by the harsh barriers of their societies that prevent them from achieving true equality?
To strengthen the fight against gender violence, and support the philosophy behind #MeToo, we need to have bigger conversations. We need a public discourse that addresses discrimination and violence across gender, race, and religion globally.
If women in the Western world don’t shine the light for the oppressed women around the world, then who on earth does?
Through the #MeToo movement, the outpouring of testimony from women who have experienced harassment and abuse has been overwhelmingly powerful.
However, the question still remains.
Where to from here?
Can a hashtag – no matter how widespread – create lasting social change that will reduce sexual harassment and violence against women around the world?
For #MeToo, this cannot, and must not be the end of the story.
If it’s unwanted, its harassment.
If you feel you have been a victim of sexual harassment or violence, report it. Please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) for assistance and support. For more information, please visit https://www.1800respect.org.au