In response to the scepticism surrounding the #metoo posts blossoming up on our social feeds, let me explain to you why it’s powerful and important, because my head is filling up with a lot of loud pointy red shapes that look something like fury, if fury were a number of very sharp arrows. I don’t know if those arrows will hit their mark but hey, better out than in.
To be clear, I encourage questioning. I understand the scepticism surrounding any social media-based movement bandwagon that everyone hops on, because for the most part they’re hugely ineffectual. They’re a great way to publicly display that you care about a sociopolitical issue, without actually doing anything about it. They can encourage continued complacency in the guise of participation.
This one is different. It isn’t just about effecting change; it’s also about voice, camaraderie, public solidarity, and awareness.
The last element is hopeful at best, because humans. On the other hand, the overwhelming response we’re getting is how sad it is to see how many people we know and love have suffered sexual violence and violations, and to me this says that awareness can increase, even minutely. Awareness already has increased in other forms of social media trends – for example, when several videos of sexual harassment on the street went viral. But, of course, the reception had a limited effect. Just like this will.
While the tidal wave of #metoo hopes to change the perceptions and actions of men – both those who are past, present, and potential future perpetrators, and also those who continue to actively engage in complicit ignorance or, even worse, denial – that change depends on men’s willingness to engage with uncomfortable, challenging truths.
Many men, sadly, do not (insert hopeful “yet”) possess that willingness. But I think that many men witnessing the proliferating #metoo posts on their feeds will realise, as has not been previously understood (despite the gargantuan gamut of well-articulated, well-substantiated, statistically supported pointing and shouting and stamping), the extent to which sexual violence is rampant and much more prevalent in our lives than has ever before been acknowledged and broadcast to this scale.
But the purpose of #metoo isn’t just to increase awareness in the hopes of effecting change. Let’s talk about solidarity, and the power of voice.
Here is a truth: we are living in a system where, if you are a survivor of sexual violence, it is extremely unlikely that the perpetrator will be persecuted through the systems we currently have in place. In fact, going down the road of attempting to persecute is often just as if not more so traumatic than the actual act of violence and violation itself. This is a Fact.
Here is another truth: we are living in a society where victim-blaming is the assumed response to hearing about a case of sexual assault. I’m talking both external and internalised responses. If you had heard as many humans speak of how it was probably their fault, if they’d just done this, or not done this, or not drunk this, or said this instead – you would cry. I have cried. And then I got mad. Because we do not have enough forums in which we can say “me too”, and be heard rather than invalidated.
I remember my first “me too” experience. It was with one of my very best friends, a bit drunk, and everything tipped into deep and meaningful land and suddenly we were talking about these shitty experiences where we’d always placed the blame on ourselves. And in opening up that Pandora’s Box that most survivors keep tightly locked, we said to one another, with wide eyes, not “me too”, but: “You too?”
A great number of the people you see posting “me too” have not had the same conversations I had and continue to have. And that is what I’m getting to.
With two words and a mouse click of my Facebook blue thumb, so emphatic and prolific that I’m increasing my risk of virtual RSI, the door is pushed open just enough so we can have that precious, little-worded exchange. “You too?” “Me too.”
“A word after a word after a word is power,” wrote Margaret Atwood, or, in this case, a word after a word. Maybe that power isn’t visible to certain people in the way that lends itself to public credibility just yet. (Because we all know that popular opinion is truth, har har bloody har.)
I have seen a number of people on my feed I considered friends dismissing this movement and the survivors posting “me too” with ill-informed statements. I have seen other people post “me too” who I know are still friends with gross perpetrators of sexual violence, despite knowing well and good that those people are predators. You are denying truth to serve your challenged sense of self-entitlement. You are complicit because you do not want to rock the boat with people in places of popularity and power. I am not writing this for you.
Let me tell you about my initiation into sexual harassment as an ongoing reality as a female – or perceived as female – member of the human race. (Note that this is NOT the experience for which I posted #metoo.)
I was in Woden bus interchange in Canberra. A man aged at least 40 years old had a hand down his pants, a leer on his face, and was clearly pleasuring himself while looking at me. I had just come out of the cinema, having watched Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. I was 11 years old. Considering that, at that age, I had the sexual appeal of a Sesame Street representation of a squirrel crossed with a prepubescent seal, I can tell you right now that this was not about sexual attraction. This was about power.
It still is about power.
The power to deny, the power to subjugate, the power to dismiss, the power to dominate, the power to invalidate, the power to ignore, the power to silence – the power to perpetuate and increase one’s own sense of power by nullifying and denying someone else’s humanity.
Any predator knows that the best way to attack is to isolate. And for so long, this has worked. The voices of survivors have been isolated. People are continuing this attempt to isolate us by blatantly attacking this movement and trying to invalidate it. I know some of you will be triggered when you see those responses. I am writing this for you.
To anyone who has suffered sexual violence and for reasons ranging from trauma caused by the extremity of those awful experiences, to not being in a safe position to say “me too”: we still hear you.
How can you quantify the emotional efficacy of one survivor seeing another survivor and finding camaraderie? How can you demand that, if this doesn’t amount to substantiated change in men’s perceptions and actions, that it is useless?
Far too many of us have kept our experiences and acknowledgement of our traumas buttoned up underneath a veneer we polish for public acceptability. So every time someone posts “me too”, we are saying: I am not alone. You are not alone. We are not alone.