In the first article for this fortnight’s theme Outspoken, Stephanie Moumtzis examines the recent ‘Me Too’ movement. She discusses the need for both a change regarding representations of victimhood and for this virtual conversation to go beyond the confines of the internet.
Over the last week, my newsfeeds have been flooded with the hashtag #MeToo, where primarily (but not exclusively) women have shared their experiences of assault and harassment. Close friends, family, random acquaintances, people with blue ticks on twitter… Some simply sharing those two words, others detailing their experiences. From being groped on public transport to stories of sexual violence, victims were appearing everywhere I looked. Now at least, they were being heard.
There’s a culture of silence and shame that surrounds this issue, one that imposes feelings of guilt and humiliation on the victims. Times I’ve felt uncomfortable or at risk because of harassment, my immediate response has been one of embarrassment. “I should’ve taken a cab”, “I shouldn’t be wearing this dress”, “I shouldn’t have stayed this late”. I’m fully aware that this internalization stems from the patriarchal narrative of slut-shaming, where victims are blamed for the abuse they are subjected to, and yet I have to correct my thinking every time this happens. This is just a minor example – this sort of oppressive mentality occurs at every level and I’ve been relatively fortunate in the sort of encounters I’ve had. My #MeToo stories are all fairly generic.
Women have been told they ruined their assaulter’s life by reporting them. They’ve been told to hand in their notice, change departments, or are just outright ignored after flagging instances of inappropriate behaviour. For every case of abuse properly dealt with, there are so many times where it’s simply brushed aside. Indeed, the President of the United States has fifteen women who have accused him of assault, and nothing has come of it. It’s no wonder so many cases go unreported, when impunity is so often the result.
In this sense, #MeToo has been both radical and refreshing in publicly providing a voice and platform to the often silenced victims, allowing them to share their experiences without the (largely male) perpetrator’s voice overshadowing theirs. It has put them at the forefront of the narrative surrounding harassment, a rare position to be in. They are no longer the helpless victim devoid of agency or expression during the event. Indeed, whether it’s at the time, or in subsequent media reports, it’s almost always the perpetrator of assault who is given the front stage.
“It’ll ruin his sporting career” was said of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who received a mere 6 months for raping the unconscious ‘Emilie Doe’ (a pseudonym). “He’s a bright kid”, I remember hearing in one news report. What about her? After such a traumatic event, what will be of her career? Is she not a bright kid? Unlike Turner, she had no choice in her fate, which will inevitably weigh on her for the rest of her life. She is in fact one of the few victims who has had the chance to explore her side of the story and be heard for what she had to say. She speaks of her feelings of embarrassment after hearing Turner’s sentence being delivered, following a passionate and raw account of how his actions had affected her. She felt embarrassed for believing her story would make a difference, as it had simply been brushed aside in favour of a narrative that excluded her.
It takes a great deal of bravery to share your story in the way that Emilie Doe and so many others have, so of course this isn’t something everyone is comfortable doing. The sense of compulsory disclosure felt by some is an unfortunate repercussion of the widespread nature of this movement, one that is most likely unintended, but still legitimate. I fully sympathise with this criticism, as sharing and re-counting experiences can be both traumatic and triggering, and social media isn’t always a safe space. However, I do believe that a wider positive point to take from it all is that a conversation has been started.
While it is shocking to hear how prevalent harassment is for women, this movement has given me some hope. Hope that the conversation which has been started doesn’t end when the hashtags stop and the internet moves on. I, perhaps naïvely, see this as the start of a wider conversation, one that isn’t necessarily confined to social media, where more is done to confront and combat this problem.
#MeToo has given me the courage to be more outspoken in the future about my experiences and, despite the fact I haven’t felt comfortable sharing them on social media, it has given me greater confidence in sharing them offline, in actual conversations. Social media isn’t a platform we all feel comfortable expressing personal stories on, and that’s ok. Indeed, we need to extend this conversation beyond the Twittersphere, and continue to give the victims who want to express themselves the space and the voice they deserve.
Main image: A tightrope walker, over a ruined Heumarkt, Germany, 1946