[Content warning: This Staff Editorial contains discussion of sexual violence.]
Over the past week, millions of women across the world have shared stories of sexual assault and harassment on social media after the hashtag #MeToo went viral. This movement began when actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet calling all victims to speak about their experiences using the phrase “me too” as a response to the widespread allegations of sexual violence made by more than 50 women against film mogul Harvey Weinstein (The Guardian, “Harvey Weinstein: a list of the women who have accused him,” 10.21.2017). Milano explained that responses could help people understand the magnitude of the problem and demonstrate how many women suffer sexual violence without their voices being heard. She said she aimed to take the focus away from the perpetrators and center survivors’ experiences instead (The Washington Post, “Me Too: Alyssa Milano elevates Harvey Weinstein conversation,” 10.18.2017). Just 48 hours after Milano’s tweet, the hashtag had been used almost one million times on Twitter, with people from all walks of life sharing their stories of sexual violence or simply stating “me too” (The Washington Post, “Me Too: Alyssa Milano elevates Harvey Weinstein conversation,” 10.18.2017).
The hashtag quickly began trending, with thousands of women sharing harrowing stories of abuse in the few hours after Milano tweeted. The topic was also mentioned in seven million Facebook posts the day after (The New York Times, “#MeToo-Sexual Harassment Stories Sweep Social Media After Weinstein Allegations,” 10.16.2017). Celebrities, too, spoke up about their experiences, with actresses such as Evan Rachel Wood and Reese Witherspoon and countless other public figures tweeting using the hashtag. In addition, many men have spoken out and in support of the campaign online. “Hamilton” actor Javier Muñoz talked about being abused as a queer man, while
Mark Ruffalo spoke up against Weinstein and thanked survivors for their bravery (The Washington Post, “#MeToo: Harvey Weinstein Case Moves Thousands to Tell Their Own Stories of Abuse, Break Silence,” 10.16.2017).
Although this might seem like a new phenomenon, the “me too” movement was initially spread by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, who Milano credited in a later tweet. As a survivor of sexual assault herself, Burke created it in an effort to help young women of color who were also survivors (The Washington Post, “The woman behind ‘Me Too’ knew the power of the phrase when she created it — 10 years ago,” 10.19.2017). She was motivated by her experiences in 1996 as program director of Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity, a non-profit organization centered around the empowerment of young women of color. Burke recalled being approached by a young girl who talked to her about being sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. She started the movement to help survivors connect with each other and dispel the shame surrounding their experiences (CNN, “An activist, a little girl and the heartbreaking origin of ‘Me too’,” 10.19.2017). This movement has helped countless survivors tell their stories and connect with each other without fear or shame. Many survivors felt empowered to share the hashtag even if they chose not to describe their personal experiences in depth. The most salient aspect was the sheer volume of posts on social media—millions of women have had some experience that made them say “me too,” which is indicative of the scope of sexual violence. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s website (rainn.org), one in every six American women is a victim of sexual assault, and 90 percent of all rape victims are female. These numbers are indeed a cause for concern, and the #MeToo movement has alerted many people to the millions who experience assault or harassment in their lifetime.
Though many people appreciate that #MeToo has helped open the public’s eyes to the magnitude of this pervasive issue, others have criticized the movement. Milano’s post was geared toward women, and as such, it has been seen as not inclusive to people in the trans- gender and non-binary communities or to men who have experienced sexual violence. Some posts made an effort to emphasize that anyone can be harassed or assaulted and that they should feel equally empowered to speak out. Others discussed that it is a privilege to speak out without fear of disbelief and that this privilege usually applies to white or cisgender people.
Critics have also argued that it is unconscionable to expect survivors of sexual violence to educate the public about the issue, as such a ubiquitous movement in support of survivors distracts from the culpability of perpetrators. Certain posts, for example, denounce demands that people share their experiences, even if they aren’t ready or simply do not want to do so. Additionally, people may assume that those who choose not to share have not experienced harassment or assault.
Viewing detailed posts discussing sexual assault can also be overwhelming and triggering to many survivors. Because of the nature of social media, it is difficult to escape the wave of experiences that people have been brave enough to share. We acknowledge and applaud the bravery of those who have chosen to come forward with their experiences and support the call by critics of the movement to preface these posts with a content warning.
Reading or sharing posts on social media, while informative, does not always result in direct action. Even though the original purpose of this movement was to spread awareness about sexual harassment and assault, acknowledging the issue is not enough—we must take concrete action to fight against a culture that has largely allowed sexual violence to occur.
As widely reported, many men have expressed that the #MeToo posts prompted them to reassess their own assumptions and are making promises to appraise how their actions affect women with campaigns such as the #IHave and #HowIWillChange hashtags. These posts feature men admitting that they have been part of the problem and that they can work proac- tively to help those affected by harassment or assault.
Knowing how to react to and help survivors is a complex question, but direct action and education are two ways to enact change. Vassar students should make themselves aware of the available resources for survivors on campus, such as CARES and the Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention (SAVP) Office, which would allow them to better direct people to proper avenues of support. As President Bradley stressed in an email, “Vassar is committed to hearing every voice and empowering people to speak up and report all instances of sexual misconduct and assault,” (Email, “A Message to the Community,” 10.19.2017). We as students should also fight to increase the availability of services for survivors at Vassar. One service that Vassar should consider implementing is Callisto, a sexual assault reporting program specifically for colleges that would make reporting assaults easier and more comfortable for the victims (see The Miscellany News, “Sexual Assault Survivors Must Have Full Admin Support,” 05.03.17). While our society has a long way to go before eradicating the forces that implicitly condone sexual violence, we commend survivors who have come forward and alerted people to the prevalence and gravity of sexual assault and harassment. The #MeToo movement, while not perfect, is finally bringing about the widespread attention in the media and public sphere that this issue demands, meaning that we now have an opportunity to build on this momentum to address it effectively.
—The Staff Editorial expresses the opinion of at least 2/3 of The Miscellany News Editorial Board.