#MeToo has been at the top of every social media feed for the last few weeks.
The hash-tag that started from conversations surrounding the allegations of sexual harassment and assault against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein by dozen of women since the 1980’s, invited survivors to share a message of solidarity with just two words. Since actor Alyssa Milano’s tweeted the call-out to victims “so we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” the #MeToo hash-tag has been used 825,000 times, Twitter reported.
The numbers are equally staggering on Facebook as apparently in less than 24 hours, 4.7 million people around the world had engaged in the “Me too” conversation, with more than 12 million posts, comments and reactions.
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
Subsequently millions of women across the world have joined the campaign, breaking their silence on shared experiences of sexual harassment and assault.
However, the online movement did not originate with Milano, it started more than 10 years ago with activist Tarana Burke a program director for Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity. “It’s not about a viral campaign for me,” she told CNN on recently. “It’s about a movement.” And that movement began as she put it in the “deepest, darkest place in my soul.”
Burke added that #Metoo is, “On one side, a bold declarative statement that ‘I’m not ashamed’ and ‘I’m not alone.’ On the other side, it’s a statement from survivor to survivor that says ‘I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I’m here for you or I get it.”
2014 March Against Rape Culture
Philadelphia, PA pic.twitter.com/fvb6iovJ8q
— Tarana (@TaranaBurke) October 15, 2017
The challenge now is to figure out how to take it beyond a viral moment. “I think the one responsibility we have as survivors — once we get to a place where we can… is to create an entry point to healing for other survivors,” she said. “For years I couldn’t figure out what that would be for me and then ‘Me too’ became that thing.”
Burke said she’d like to see conversations about what healing looks like. She wants sexual violence or gender-based violence approached as social justice issues. “I think the viral moment is great but the amplification of that — I worry about disclosing their status as survivors en masse on social media and not having space to process. I worry about survivors coming on to social media and being bombarded with messages of ‘me too,’” she said.
Backlash on victims sharing their stories
Unfortunately the progression towards healing and affirmation was derailed by victim shaming and bashing. The incredibly offensive responses and outright attacks on women who utilized the hash-tag to share their stories only showcased how deeply ingrained rape culture is.
Some such instances are those of Anita Nderu, co-host of NTV’s The Trend and Kiss FM counterpart, Adelle Onyango, who were both recently named by the BBC in the list of 100 most influential and inspirational women around the world. Anita Nderu received hateful rhetoric in the comment section of her BBC interview where she revealed she had been sexually harassed on more than one occasion. Twice in a matatu and once in a cab.
She later spoke to the Standard on the comments saying, “The comments will not hurt as bad as knowing I did nothing. I will take various steps to bring attention to harassment in public transport and the streets and together with #100Women @bbc100women in #Teamgo and local leaders agitating for change. I hurt with all the girls and women who went through what I did, who went through worse or were harassed in any way.”
But as indicated the onslaught of ignorance did not stop with Anita. Adelle Onyango was degraded and attacked online by an infamous blogger after sharing her rape story in what can only be described as one man’s cruel and daft offhanded remarks on the awful reality that is sexual violence.
Instead of rightfully berating the blogger Adelle chose to educate him, in a post that partly read, “So Cyprian no, I will not pardon your ignorance, I will not forgive that YOU just like for the man who raped me this post is not about sex but is all about objectification, power and control. I will not forgive you for what your post did to me mentally and emotionally, for the hurt it caused my family; my husband, my sisters and my close friends all in the name of “pardon me for my ignorance”.
“I will not let you dim my light or my message. You have turned a powerful anti-rape message into one about YOUR sexual preferences. This is not about who will have sex with you or who you want to have sex with Cyprian, this is about the fact that in 2008 the Crime Scene Investigation Nairobi reported that there were 40,500 rape cases in Kenya and estimated that the actual figure was 3 times higher than this and that in 2010 it was reported 32% of girls experience in Kenya sexual violence before becoming adults- that is 3 in 10 women in Kenya.”
Will the #MeToo hash-tag help stop rape culture?
Behind every #MeToo is a man that was told that what he did was ok. It 'boys will be boys'. They received a promotion instead of a sentence.
— Panayiota Bertzikis (she/her) (@panayiotab) October 16, 2017
Despite the stupidity and dismissiveness of a few the hash-tag has opened up an educative platform for men that proves all is not lost. The conversations are littered with men asking “what can we do?” and “How can we help or do better?”
Some of the answers include:
It is not personal! Reading the online conversations from the #NotallMen camp is exhausting but illuminating in that a lot of them honestly feel targeted by the generalization that all men are abusers and attackers. While not all men are abusers and attackers #MeToo has shown that almost all women have been abused or attacked. It therefore stands that women would be anxious and afraid of all men until we can one day somehow identify the good from the bad on sight. So instead of being offended be understanding and act accordingly.
Make the spaces in which you occupy safe: It’s easy by having conversations with the women in your life to find out what things you as a man can do to make women around you feel more at ease e.g.
1. When walking at night or on lonely roads walk ahead of women walking alone and not behind them so they can have you in their line of sight at all times. If you can manage to walk briskly enough to disappear all together that would be great too.
2. Keep your distance in public spaces as much as possible. A lot of sexual assaulters use public spaces to make “casual encounters” with women. The more you respect her personal space the less likely she is to feel you are trying to graze, grope her or make inappropriate contact.
3. Small talk is not a must. It is the human impulse to associate with people around us especially in “intimate” situations such as public transport, lifts and so on. The thing is women are socially trained not to make small talk with strange men because you never know if the encounter could turn abusive or violent. You may think you are being polite but you are actually putting her on her guard and making her highly uncomfortable. Take cues from the women you try to engage and pay attention to their body language to know if they are receptive or fearful before imposing on them further.
Ditch the bro code: call out your male friends, family and colleagues for inappropriate remarks about women and don’t share videos, photos and content of women in compromising situations. Interrupt the “objectification” culture and help change behavior, by constantly calling it out and refusing to participate. Make it as uncomfortable as possible for men around you to discuss and treat women as objects. The objectification of women is the corner stone of rape culture and needs to be the first thing to go.
I am in awe of the courage of all the women sharing their stories. #MeToo
Men, time for us to huddle up, and get real with each other.
— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) October 16, 2017
Be one teach one: be a mentor or example to your siblings, friends or children. Impressing the importance of consent and respect to the younger generation/s will mean we may see a time where women will be treated as human and not as their gender.
Similarly, it’s essential to be a part of creating an environment in which educators and parents can talk to children about sex, sexuality, and healthy relationships.
I do not have all the answers but asking “What can I do?” is definitely the first step towards tackling rape culture and a future free of sexual abuse and violence for both genders.