This week, the internet was flooded with one simple statement: “me too”. Women all over the world came together on social media to share that they too had been the victims of sexual harassment or assault.
Understated but remarkably poignant, the Me Too campaign was originally the brain child of activist Tarana Burke, but was recently revived by actress Alyssa Milano who, in the wake of the allegations facing Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, encouraged women to use #MeToo to highlight the shocking frequency of sexual offences. The idea spread across a range of social media networks and was shared by a diverse array of women; from authors to actresses, comedians to congresswomen. Even the UN Women offered their praise and solidarity.
#MeToo was used over 21 million times on Facebook alone. Whilst this number is enormous, it is not close to accurate. In fact, I couldn’t name one single self-identifying female friend who has not experienced sexual harassment, whether they shared it on social media or not. For most of the women participating, myself included, the scale of the issue is in no way surprising. This was not a fresh revelation, it was simply the public exposure of a problem which has been long been embedded into our daily lives. From catcalling on streets, to groping in clubs, to pressured or plainly non-consensual sex, sexual harassment and assault is nothing short of an epidemic. Nor is it a new phenomenon – I have discussed these same issues with my mother and her mother, the experiences they had at 19 mirroring my own with worrying precision. For us this is not a twitter trend, it is a palpable reality.
If these things are shocking, well, they should be. They should not, however, shock us into silence or submission. The Me Too campaign is the tip of a very big iceberg, and one which has been present from time immemorial. The campaign is by no means flawless, and lacks the nuance this subject deserves. We shouldn’t try to generalise what is a massive spectrum of experiences, and should keep in mind how much harder it is for women who lack the same privileges many of us experience. The Me Too hashtag was also centred exclusively around the female experience, and whilst women constitute the overwhelming majority of sexual offence victims, they do not have a monopoly on victimisation, and we should undoubtedly pursue a similar outlet for male stories and solidarity. But despite its flaws, the campaign was truly eye opening, and reached an audience which was perhaps unprecedented in its breadth and diversity. If this movement tips the first domino on a very long chain, it should be duly celebrated.
The Me Too movement does not, and should not, be interpreted as a personal accusation at each member of the male population. No, it’s ‘#NotAllMen’, but I’d bet that in some form or another, it is ‘all women’. I truly believe that every woman you pass has a story to tell, and whilst deeply upsetting, it is immensely consoling and uplifting to see these shared experiences being broadcasted so candidly. If our voices can break through the daily rhythms of the internet to shout what is rarely whispered, then we are one step closer to reversing the normalisation of sexual harassment and assault that our societies have undergone.