Inspired by the movement started by activist Tarana Burke who founded the “Me Too” movement over a decade ago, a tweet by actress Alyssa Milano inspired millions of survivors of sexual violence to post “me too” hoping that “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote "Me too" as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
Since then, the spark ignited by the sexual harassment allegations that have come out against Harvey Weinstein, social media sites have been filled the past few days with posts saying “me too” that share stories of people’s own experiences of harassment or assault.
These posts come from legions of social media users who have shared their stories of harassment which have often simply been brushed off, because taking action against sexual violence can often be more trouble than is worth. The responses were numerous to Milano’s tweet, but in many ways were not shocking. Almost every person has had some experience with sexual harassment or sexual violence.
However, this is also not the first time this discussion has come up and it certainly won’t be the last. There was #SurvivorPrivilege, #WhatWereYouWearing, #WhyIStayed, all of which hoped to spread awareness and reshape conversations about the problem of sexual violence. But like Harvey Weinstein’s accusations, sexual harassment and assault is no secret, there’s just been little done about it.
#Metoo lives in the long tradition of sexual violence awareness campaigns that expects victims to bear the onus of educating others on the issue and advocating change in systems they’ve been victimized by. Like many other actions against sexual violence before it, this hashtag has put the burden on survivors to out themselves in hopes that their stories are enough to inspire someone else to change.
While this is not to discount the bravery of the many who have come forward, we also have to acknowledge those who do not have the ability to participate in this online hashtag activism. The ability to say “me too” is not open to sex workers who were assaulted while they worked, or to people currently in abusive relationships they don’t have the means to escape. It is not possible for many men and queer folks to post #metoo because of the stigmas they face.
Instead #metoo has led to a highly gendered discussion about sexual violence, framing only women as the victims of male perpetrated violence.
Hundreds of stories are not represented in these posts, mainly from those who do not have the privilege or agency to speak out. Unfortunately, the discussion has largely ignored the many men, gay, lesbian, trans, and non-binary folks who have always been victims of sexual violence, often at higher rates than cis-gendered women.
As opposed to asking survivors to paint the complex and nuanced picture of sexual violence for others to validate, #metoo should go beyond asking for the recognition of allies, but rather for their action. Allies can do more than simply respond to these posts and acknowledge their awareness of survivors’ pain, but instead can acknowledge the role many play in the perpetuation of sexual violence, either as offenders or even bystanders.
Instead of continuing to put the pressure on the victim of sexual violence to foment change, why aren’t we asking perpetrators, have you? For every perpetrator who does not have a NY Times exposé but can easily abuse your privilege, have you you sexual harassed someone? Have you touched someone without their consent? Have you been too aggressive when approaching someone? Have you been problematic? Have you objectified someone by commenting on their appearance? Have you acknowledged the role you have played in enforcing misogyny and patriarchy? Have you taken steps to educate others on how you learned you were wrong, and how you unlearned the toxic behavior?
It is time to call on perpetrators to do the hard work that survivors have almost always had to bear. We should challenge those who have committed sexual violence, at any level, from catcalling and beyond, to share their stories as so many survivors have been pressured to before.
For while Harvey Weinstein’s case is a landmark, he was not an exception in the industry, but the standard. And every industry at every level has their own Harvey Weinstein, someone who has been immune from punishment because it is almost always easier to silence the victim than punish the perpetrators. It is easy to condemn Harvey Weinstein, a man whose decades long career was only ended after public humiliation and multiple powerful people coming forward. But there was virtually nothing done when individual women came forward against him. He was a man who was never asked to change, never challenged to, and never care to learn how to.
So let us reverse these questions, by not continuing to ask survivors to out themselves. Now is the time to ask perpetrators to come forward and discuss how they’ve reconciled their actions. Because the shame of sexual violence should not be on the many survivors, but on the perpetrators who so often are allowed to continue anonymously.