Harvey Weinstein stirred up a hornet's nest of sexual abuse allegations, which resulted in rapidly accumulating charges levelled against a significantly horrifying number of men. It also fuelled (or should we say refuelled?) the ‘Me Too’ hashtag.
In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted the hashtag to her followers, urging them to come out with their own experiences.
“If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted,”
“write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
The hashtag, we have since learned, was initiated by Tarana Burke, a black woman several years ago, but never really caught steam.
Not very surprisingly, (especially considering us Srilankans have been hit with staggering statistics of harassment locally) the results have been sickening and disturbing - according to CBS news, in just 48 hours, the hashtag was tweeted nearly a million times. Facebook, on the other hand, has over 12 million #MeToo posts in less than 24 hours. The numbers are just the tip of an iceberg - many women who are sexually harassed don’t have access to social media, let alone technology.
The proponents of the hashtag are enthusiastically - and ofttimes aggressively - vocal that the numbers tell a story: that for women, monsters are everywhere. It is a strategy that has worked. Many women have been able to find their voice and have called out many males voraciously attesting that these men abused them in the past. Trial by social media ensues and the guilty verdict is bestowed before the accused has been given a chance to voice their side of the story. Eventually, the accused are ostracised, and may probably lose their job in the process.
Before long, the darker side of the campaign rears its ugly head, and the movement seems to have transitioned from a platform providing an outlet to voice experiences in order to create awareness, to serving as a springboard for a witch hunt. Recently, author Margaret Atwood received considerable flak online for insisting that due process be applied and everyone’s rights be respected.
“Are these Good Feminists fair-minded people? If not, they are just feeding into the very old narrative that holds women to be incapable of fairness or of considered judgment, and they are giving the opponents of women yet another reason to deny them positions of decision-making in the world,”
Several voices added to the conundrum - Heather Wilhelm of National Review stated:
“Not all women are victims. Not all men are guilty of assault.”
This is what necessitates a distinction and a modicum of understanding - ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ is not how things work anymore, instead, ‘ guilty until proven guilty’ seems to be the unwritten understanding. Stones are cast on all men. Even those who have vociferously fought for women get caught in the crossfire.
“Now I am the first one to admit that the #MeToo campaign has gathered more steam than others. In the sense that the sheer number of people who have come out and the truth which they have brought out is baffling, to say the least”
Tanmay Mehra wrote in an impassioned piece on the issue. “But at the end of the day, what was the purpose of the campaign? To create awareness about the deep-rooted misogyny and to change mindsets. But that doesn’t happen. Because no matter how large the social media sphere is, at the end of the day it is an echo chamber. Voiced are heard only by those who speak, the target audience is nowhere to be found”.
A comment on an online forum described the dilemma perfectly
“The severity of sexual harassment is slowly becoming diluted. People who grope women’s private parts being placed at the same levels as a socially awkward person who has their foot in their mouth is really taking away from the traumatic nature of sexual harassment in the workplace. Compliments will turn into insults, questions will be treated as accusations, and conversations will become much more tense and unpleasant.”
Hashtags allow us to be a part of the conversation, to voice our opinion. The prospect is incredibly exciting and makes us feel important. But how tangible have the outcomes of such hashtags been? Sure, they kick-started a conversation, but not much else. Nevertheless, it must be accepted that the #MeToo movement has gained considerable traction and shows no signs of slowing down. It hasn't been left behind in 2017, and instead continues to drive the conversation and get - no, force - people to acknowledge the plight that is a reality for women; rich or poor, black or white, nude or in a burka, from the east or west. It has also proven that there is strength in solidarity. Sexual harassment can never and must never be undermined, yet, the campaigns lead to more questions than answers.
Life Online spoke to a few people who shared their views on the movement. Here’s what they had to say.
#MeToo will hopefully not be forgotten and will continue to grow, making women feel supported to come forward and bare their truths to the world. We, women, are often blamed for any harassment we go through, questioned about the choice of clothing we wear, our attitude, whether or not we've been behaving "decently". All of these questions hurt the cause, and if this campaign can help to make people see that it's not just a certain girl/woman who gets sexually abused, violated, raped, harassed, then we need to do our best to help it to continue being impactful.
Not all men are impacted by this campaign. The ones who haven't harassed wome, aren't. So, no, it doesn't cause undue problems for men. If at all, #MeToo is making them aware that they need to be a part of the solution. That they can't sit by and allow women to be treated badly, to be paid less, to be talked down to and about, and that EVERY woman has at some point in her life been sexually harassed.
The campaign will grow. It has given many women the opportunity to share their story, voices were heard and will be hearing more of it in the future. In this era, it is so sad to hear and see the atrocities women face on a daily basis. This platform has created a massive change, a change that has helped the ones who are suffering in silence, too embarrassed to share their stories to come out and not hear of such incidents in the future. #timesup and #meetoo shouldn't be just to The Golden Globes, it should be every day. I know several men who have supported the cause and it's a small percentage who keep criticizing, calling victims crybabies. It is difficult to make everyone understand the situation, but the ones who do respect them and encourage to support the cause further.
It’s hard to determine if #metoo will be another forgotten movement, yet I trust it will be a movement that will have lasting effects. Today’s social media driven society made it possible for this issue to be brought to light so quickly and to make a significant impact globally. Hence why we are even discussing this here today. So I don’t think this issue will be forgotten too easily. This is now an issue to which most men and women are sensitive around the world. I think most men who would have harassed women sexually or otherwise in the past, would now think twice before saying or doing anything that will not only harm their reputation but also may cost their career.
I understand that some men might fear the movement will punish them for simply touching women empathically. However, one of the most fundamental advice given in a sexual harassment seminar (at the workplace or elsewhere) is to “keep one’s hands to themselves”. My point is, if you are a man worried about this movement punishing you unfairly, my advice is “if your touch, look and/or comments are unwelcome then don’t do it”.
Last but not least I do hope that in light of this movement most HR departments, as well as social settings, will adopt a “no tolerance” policy - It’s important that we move forward as a society and do the right thing at every turn.
The internet has the attention span of a goldfish. The campaign may seem successful for now, but soon, there will be another problem and this will eventually be out of our minds. Tweeting #MeToo may raise awareness, but that’s all it will do. I honestly don’t remember the last campaign that had actual outcomes that made a difference. That being said, I’m glad women can speak out about being harassed, but I hope that this doesn’t lead to any unnecessary pointing of fingers - this will be an unpopular opinion, but there will be some who will exploit this to play victim on social media and some poor bloke will pay for it.
Sajin De Silva
As a man, I fully support the thought behind this campaign. We do have a part to ensure that we protect women and help each other understand where to draw the line. But unfortunately, sometimes the line is blurry.
Quite honestly, I can’t keep up with these hashtags. It seems like every few weeks there’s a new one. But with this campaign, I’ve noticed people tend to blame an entire gender. This is not going to help. We need to realize we can’t paint everyone with the same brush. So alienating an entire gender is not going to help the cause.