Maria Henry explores the origins, controversies and results of the #MeToo movement.
If you’re somebody who’s active on social media, it’s likely that you’ve heard about a movement called #MeToo. The MeToo movement was originally started by activist Tarana Burke to help raise awareness for sexual violence against women. Burke founded ‘JustBe Inc’ in 2006, an organisation which advocates for the ‘health, well-being and wholeness of young women of colour’.
In a world in which young women of colour often have their importance overshadowed or even actively resisted against, JustBe wants to encourage them to have self-belief and empower them to define themselves positively. This effectively gives them the building blocks they need to build a better life for themselves and to be strong against the prejudices that they may face.
Originally launched on Myspace, the MeToo campaign aimed to spread the message that ‘You’re heard, you’re understood’. It aimed to create a solidarity between women who had faced sexual violence, to show them how many people had been in the same position and had made it through to the other side of trauma, and to show those who were struggling that they could still lead a full life and find help and support.
HOW THE MOVEMENT GREW
Though the movement was started by Burke in 2006, it began to gain media attention in 2017. Actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet that read ‘if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘Me Too’ to as a reply to this tweet’. As of March 2020, there are over 63,000 responses to Milano’s tweet and millions of tweets using the hashtag.
HOW THE MOVEMENT CHANGED
The solidarity and empathy between survivors was fitting for the original intentions of the movement. However, as more famous voices spoke out, the movement began to grow and change.Though it had begun primarily for marginalised voices, it grew to include all voices — even those of men who had also faced sexual harassment or assault. Though this seemed to be overwhelmingly positive, the celebrity attention did in some ways overshadow the original communities that the movement aimed to help. It could be argued that as the movement became more high profile, the work that Burke had started and worked tirelessly on to help women of colour was being buried by the much more widely publicised celebrities.
As the publicity surrounding #MeToo increased, so did the controversy. Though rare, some people did put forward false accusations against men to gain more attention. These people became part of the very problem #MeToo stood against — individuals not realising the severity and lifelong effect that something like sexual assault has on people and making light of it in a ploy for attention. These accusations made people more sceptical about trusting the accuser and created a lot of negativity toward the movement, with people trying to twist the narrative and say women were only coming forward for the attention they would receive.
Though the percentage of false accusations was very low, it did highlight the importance of fact-checking before any legal action could take place. As ‘cancel culture’ became more prevalent on social media such as Twitter, it became easy for people to immediately ‘cancel’ a celebrity who was accused of harassment/assault and effectively ruin their careers. Therefore, it highlighted the importance of being truthful in accusing and making sure you had a solid case to do so.
The issue of trauma for victims was also brought to light, as some argued that publishing details could create further negative effects for those dealing with it. Having your trauma out on the internet allows people to comment on if they believe you or not, and this could be extremely damaging for those actively suffering. The pressure to come forward, in this way, could be viewed as damaging to those not ready to discuss what has happened to them. However, for others, it could be the push they needed to finally say something and gain a form of closure. Like most things associated with a highly publicised movement, this could both benefit and harm people — dependant on their personal circumstance.
Another issue that is important to mention is the issue of the male reaction. It was reported that a lot of men in positions of power felt as though they couldn’t spend time alone with women in the workplace out of fear that something they may do could be misconstrued. In 2019 lean.Org conducted a survey and found that 60% of male managers said they would feel too nervous to spend one-on-one time mentoring or training a female employee out of fear of being accused of something.
Though these figures do seem shocking, a lot of women have critiqued them, asking what it is the managers would do that they would think would be misconstrued. Surely, if they behaved in a professional manner, it wouldn’t be something they had to worry about. Though these results are controversial in themselves, they highlight the male anxiety surrounding the movement. Burke spoke out against this telling the media that it ‘is not a witch hunt as people try to paint it’.
There are numerous successes that have come out of the #MeToo movement. One of these is the banning of non-disclosure agreements in certain states — meaning that women will be able to talk about anything they may experience whilst working without losing their job or being sued for voicing their experiences.
Another is the ‘Time’s Up’ legal defence fund, which raised millions and helped numerous women to seek justice against their assaulters. It also led to more and more women coming forward and raised awareness of the severity of the issue, making people feel safer to speak out and also making others assess their behaviour more closely to be sure they are not being inappropriate. It initiated conversations about power, especially in the film and media industries.
It showed the people coming forward to how there is power in numbers and also how power-dynamics in the workplace can lead people into feeling afraid to come forward. Overall it initiated a lot of important conversation about the way people, and more specifically women, are treated within society — and the ways in which we can improve this.
Perhaps one of the most noted and publicised successes of the #MeToo movement has been the recent arrest of Harvey Weinstein. Though accusations against the Hollywood producer have been ongoing for years, in early 2020 he was finally sentenced to up to 25 years in prison for his sexual crimes against women, including a criminal sexual act in the first degree and third-degree rape.
However, though this is positive, there are countless acts of assault that he will not be serving time for. Though the MeToo movement helped
to bring light to the horrible acts Weinstein committed, acts that should in many ways see him spend life in prison, he has not been trialled for all of these. In the light of this, it is important to remember that privilege still plays a large part in the justice system, and as a wealthy, white man Weinstein is still able to buy his way out of justice. If we are to remember the original intentions of the movement, giving a voice to marginalised voices — it is clear that we must continue the fight against men like Weinstein. We deserve to be heard and nobody deserves to have their voice silenced.
All images via UnSplash
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