Facebook timelines have been filled since Sunday night with women posting the status “Me too,” in an attempt to prove how widespread sexual harassment and assault are in our culture.
“Do I start with the man in the car on the Parkway who masturbated and made kissing faces at the jr. high tennis team on the way home from a match?” wrote one friend. “The man, when I was in a dance club with my housemates, looked me in the eye and ran his hand down the front of me and grabbed at my pussy,” wrote another. The effect is an exhausting cascade of predatory actions that tell women what they already know: guys consider our bodies disposable.
“Me too” went viral on Sunday, after the actress Alyssa Milano tweeted that victims of sexual harassment and assault should use the phrase to come forward with their stories.
The social media campaign is, of course, intended as a wake-up call for men. If every woman you know has been harassed or assaulted, then every man you know has likely made a woman feel unsafe. But while posting “Me too” on Facebook may be cathartic for women seeking solace in the wake of yet another news story involving a powerful predator, it will do little to change the male behavior that leads to these accusations.
Men don’t need to understand that every woman has been sexually demeaned or violated. They need to acknowledge something much more basic: that women are the victims of these stories.
“Women can turn the whole internet into a list of “Me toos,” but it won’t make a difference until men ― all men ― acknowledge how they perpetuate misogyny and commit to making a change.”
Men have a long history of silencing or discounting women who speak up about sexual violence. Victim-blaming happens all the time in our most powerful institutions. There’s the police who dismiss a vast number of rape reports before investigating them and the judges who find alleged perpetrators “not guilty” because a woman should “keep her knees together” or because even “a drunk can consent.”
In the recent Stanford rape case, Brock Turner was sentenced to only six months in jail ― which was then reduced to three months ― because a longer sentence would have had a “severe impact” on his life, as if his own well-being should be the primary concern. The message women are constantly being sent is to suck up traumatic experiences because we ourselves are to blame. If we want men to respect our bodies, we need to change.
Guys are rarely told to fix their own predatory behavior. Conversations of sexual harassment and assault are always framed as a “women’s issue.” Men’s publications are full of tips about how to choose the best whiskey or grill a steak, but they rarely address misogyny, sexual assault or how to confront a sexist friend. Studies frame data in terms of the number of women who were assaulted, rather than the number of men who have committed sexual violence.
The result is a culture where men think they have no responsibility to change their own sexist attitudes and illicit behaviors. Guys stand by idly at bars while their friends make degrading comments about women and fail to intervene when jokes turn into actual instances of sexual assault.
When sexual violence allegations hit the news, men don’t have conversations with one another about how they can help to fix the problem. It’s always women who do the talking among themselves and publicly, starting hashtags (#MyHarveyWeinstein), writing Facebook posts and making lists of countless horror stories in an attempt to shake men into action. It’s not enough that we spend our lives being constantly harassed and violated by men; we also have to explain to these men why their behavior is problematic and, often, illegal.
Women can turn the whole internet into a list of “Me toos,” but it won’t make a difference until men ― all men ― acknowledge how they perpetuate misogyny and commit to making a change. We need men to recognize how failing to call out “locker room talk” enables sexual assault. We need more organizations and publications that focus on progressive masculinity rather than outdated and dangerous stereotypes about what constitutes “manliness.” We need men to start a “Me too” Facebook campaign that lists a time they caught themselves being sexist, and states how they are committed to changing that attitude going forward.
There are some signs of hope. Last night a friend asked men on Facebook to list “one tangible action you will take to end rape culture” and her post has 54 comments that include “I’ll speak up in places [where] I have privilege and power” and “Listen instead of becoming defensive.” Other men are posting “I believe you” in response to the “Me too” campaign. These are steps in a very good direction.
If “Me too” makes you feel empowered, by all means, type those words. But it’s also important to recognize the campaign’s limitations. No woman should feel pressure to tell painful stories about being violated, but every man should feel a responsibility to stop behavior that leads to sexual harassment and assault.