By Alicia Wikner
Much the same way a wave pulling back from the shore reveals the shards of glass and grime that cover a beach, the #MeToo hashtag spread across social media in October 2017 and exposed a rotten underlayer of sexual harassment and victim silencing beneath the glamour and bright lights of the Hollywood dream.
The #MeToo hashtag was revived this past October, but it has been part of the Me Too Movement organization founded by Tarana Burke since 2006. #MeToo reports that since 1998, 17.7 million women have reported a sexual assault case. With its slogan “empowerment through empathy,” #MeToo aims to create a community of support for victims of sexual violence, aiding them on their journey of recovery by reminding them that it is not a path they must travel alone.
After allegations against Harvey Weinstein, a successful film and TV producer, surfaced in a New York Times article published on October 5 and he was subsequently fired from the Weinstein Company, something changed. With outrage spilling forth from every crevice of the internet, actress and UNICEF ambassador Alyssa Milano encouraged women to tweet “Me Too” if they had ever experienced sexual harassment, and the response was overwhelming. In the following months, hundreds of victims from the Hollywood sphere stepped forward with their own stories of abuse.
The movement was put on its head after actor Aziz Ansari was accused of harassment during a date by an anonymous woman called “Grace,” to which Ansari responded that he had apologized after his date expressed discomfort and they had parted ways. However, by the time his statement was released, most people had already made up their mind, influenced by a social media culture that encourages lack of foresight and discourages personal research. Ansari’s reputation had already taken a hit.
For generations, women have been taught that their pain is an inconvenience to men. Their silence is easily bought, and in the rare instances when it is not, they are shamed and questioned: what were you wearing? Who were you with? What did you say? What did you not say?
The #MeToo movement, whether one agrees with it or not, has broken a perpetual circle of victim-blaming and allowed victims who previously felt unsafe to reach a point where they believed that they would have our community’s support for detailing their abuse.
In understanding the importance of active engagement and reassuring survivors that they will not go unheard, people can come together to create a safe space where sexual assault is not deemed to be the victim’s fault, and where the accused is put on trial and receives a lawful sentence. This begs the questions, how can students promote these values within the own Sewanee community?
“I hope the University takes the movement as seriously as the brave Hollywood figures who have taken #MeToo to heart. I think at a school like Sewanee, the next step in embracing positive change would be to not only hold disturbing comedians and actors accountable but also having a zero tolerance policy with sexual criminals in our classes, dorms and even friends we once thought we knew well,” David Provost (C’18) said.
It’s easy to sit down and make a list, and it is even easier to read a list. It would be simple enough to tell someone: listen when a survivor talks, speak up against abusers in positions of economic and/or social privilege, tell friends that their rape jokes aren’t funny.
Take those words and don’t forget them after reading the article. They will not go away, and neither will the trauma that the ever-growing number of sexual abuse survivors are coping with. Do not let this be the last time to consider the position of women, young women especially, young women in the film industry, women in business, women who work for men.
With gender stereotypes comes a certain type of power dynamic that is undeniable; a brief look at 1950s American ads for home supplies will show you how the media portrays women, what it expects of them. This seeps into everyday life. It is not too late. This is not an angry letter demanding that readers stop holding the door for people and to write ‘feminist’ on a shirt; it is an incentive to look at the #MeToo movement and think, what can one do now?
“There’s so much strength in the voices of the victims that have come forth about sexual assault,” Marjan Ata (C’21) commented. “The recent cases on Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar shed light on the bigger picture, which is institutionalized assault and harassment. This isn’t about one perpetrator but rather a system that has allowed them to succeed. Until we critically evaluate and potentially dismantle that system, it’s going to keep happening.”
Take the steps necessary to become an ally on campus for victims, for friends, for strangers. Do not be swept away by the first wave of rage that comes with every new accusation, but remain calm and read about it, take the time to process how and why this would happen, and then speak on it. Don’t think “this is something small” after witnessing sexism on campus, call it what it is: sexism, harassment, abuse. Look after people at parties who cannot look after themselves. Interrupt conversations if one party appears uncomfortable with the exchange. Offer to walk someone home.
Humans seek comfort and safety –– provide someone else with that next time the opportunity arises. Don’t be a face without a voice. Break the chain. Tear down the curtain. It does not have to be ‘You Too’ for one to take action; a person can be an ally without being a survivor.
The #MeToo movement’s official website is www.metoomvmt.org, where visitors can donate and sign up for e-mail and mobile notifications on upcoming events and important information.