The idea behind the hash tag #MeToo was simple: If every woman who’s ever been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote #MeToo on social media, perhaps the world would understand how pervasive this problem is and do something about it.
Since October 2017, #MeToo has spread like wildfire across the globe. The hash tag is used, on average, 62,000 times a day.
No one can deny the impact #MeToo has had. It has forced a conversation about the intersection of gender and power. It has affected public discourse and has produced tangible repercussions: CEOs have been ousted, sexual misconduct hotlines have been created, political candidates have been defeated, public figures have been disgraced, and an annual survivors march has begun.
The #MeToo movement has, undoubtedly, been a success in some regards. It has changed the way we approach sexual misconduct as a society, but the price that survivors had to pay for that shift was too much and the burden men had to bear was not enough. The path of #MeToo may have been paved with good intentions, and we may be on our way to our destination, but we are dragging survivors to get there.
1. The movement harms those it seeks to serve
#MeToo places the burden on survivors and victims of sexual harassment and assault. It asks those who have been harmed, those who may still carry the trauma of their experiences, to relive those upsetting times on social media for all the world to see.
And it’s not like we haven’t done this before. We told everyone when we tweeted #YesAllWomen in May 2014 and we told everyone again in October 2014 with #BeenRapedNeverReported. Yet people still need convincing? How many trauma stories until it clicks?
#MeToo asks of survivors what society has always asked of survivors: do all the work, and then maybe we’ll believe you. It makes survivors lay out their story – the more gruesome details the better – for the world to judge. To decide whether it will be accepted as credible and pitiable. To receive any validation for what we’ve gone through, survivors have to dredge up the most upsetting memories and share them with the world.
Like always, we are requiring marginalized people to be the ones to put in the emotional labour and to educate people with greater privilege. The hashtag puts the onus on survivors to fight for rights in a system that inherently disadvantages them.
The reason #MeToo is so incredible, so transformative, is because of survivors. Because of every survivor who stepped up and spoke out. The one group that this movement is supposed to serve, support and uplift, is the group having to do all the work. #MeToo places the burden on survivors, makes them do all the emotional labour, and puts a target on their back for speaking.
Making people prove their oppression is inherently oppressive. Especially at this point. It's not like people don't know these stories. It's not like the umpteenth public story is going to flip the script. Every #MeToo post is the same thing women and survivors have been saying for decades. There is nothing new being said, it’s just that no one’s ever listened to us before.
Placing the burden on survivors to keep coming forward, consistently reopening their wounds, maintains a power hierarchy where survivors grovel to those with power, pleading to be recognized and believed, and society picks a part each detail, deciding whether their lived experience is valid.
It perpetuates the notion that sexual violence is a ‘women’s problem’ and survivors need to deal with it. You have a problem in your community that my community is causing? Interesting, I guess you should go deal with that.
Simply put, #MeToo is a lot of work. A lot of time, a lot of energy, and a lot of emotional labour. All thrust upon survivors. #MeToo hasn’t demanded anything of perpetrators or bystanders.
2. The movement doesn’t understand the ecosystem of sexual misconduct
The #MeToo movement has failed to highlight the systemic nature of sexual violence and violence against women.
This is ironic, because the sheer span of #MeToo illustrates just how pervasive these phenomena are. If over 4.7 million women – from all walks of life –come forward with their own story, it’s clear that the problem goes beyond individuals and is intertwined with wider cultural forces.
Yet, despite the depressingly high turnout of survivors – mainly women, but also non-binary folks and men – coming forward with their own account of #MeToo, the movement has failed to turn the conversation from isolated, individual experiences to broader institutional forces.
Perhaps that’s because the movement has a less unified, more ad hoc approach to its analysis of the patriarchy. Personal stories are powerful, but if we don’t highlight the threads that bind all of our stories together, the patriarchy can continue to peddle the narrative that there are just ‘evil people’ out there and this isn’t indicative of a systemic issue.
Not only has the movement not made connecting the dots a priority, but this issue is exacerbated by the media coverage of #MeToo, which consistently focuses on (famous) individuals, and doesn’t help people understand the universal nature of the problem.
R. Kelly is the perfect example of sexual assault being not just ‘one time’ or ‘one person’ but an entire network of supporters, enablers, and apathetic bystanders. R Kelly has preyed on young and vulnerable women for three decades. As dream hampton told The Takeaway, “he has built an ecosystem around his predation." Amanda Hess wrote of this ecosystem, saying “[R Kelly’s] complicity machine stretched its tentacles into agencies, law firms, fashion deals, and of course award shows.”
3. The movement puts the spotlight on the wrong people
While it would be a whole lot simpler if sexual harassment/assault were isolated incidents perpetrated by bad people, but they’re not. This is a systemic issue, where the failure to punish perpetrators breeds a culture of violence based on male entitlement. When they see enough men walk off scot-free, they get the idea that they can do those things without consequences too.
The only way to address this issue is for those with power and privilege – men, in this situation – to take action. Women have been shouting from the rooftops for decades about sexual violence, it hasn’t worked. We’ve been mocked, ridiculed, isolated, punished, driven out of our communities, branded as liars, cheats, and maniacs. If #MeToo is our reckoning, as they have so claim, men need to listen to us, to believe us, and to support us. If #MeToo is supposed to transform gender relations and eliminate sexual violence, then men need to the leading role.
Many men have responded to these stories, often with shock or words of support. There’s a hashtag response coming from men on Twitter: #IHearYou. But #IHearYou is too easy. Yes, it’s a good first step – for centuries women were never heard, so I suppose it’s something – but, really, could we set a lower bar? Words mean precious little to a sexual assault survivor. They don’t help her pay for counselling, they don’t heal her PTSD, and they don’t stave off internet trolls. Men need to do a whole lot more than listening. You’d heard us, great, now what? What are you doing to do about it?
A hash tag is fine, but it’s not transformative. It’s about the lowest rung on the ladder of advocacy and activism. We need more than a public show of support, something far more difficult than words of encouragement. Men need to look inwards and dissect their behaviours and beliefs. Men also need to believe survivors when they speak out, tell people that rape ‘jokes’ aren’t funny, and create a zero-tolerance environment for any kind of sexual harassment.
Any movement trying to combat sexual violence has a balancing act, on the one hand we try to hold those who harm, are complicit, or benefit from the patriarchy accountable, while also centring survivors’ voices. After all, the goal of any anti-sexual violence movement is to be survivor-centric. But it is a tricky path to navigate – when is the spotlight burning too bright on perpetrators? When are survivors bearing too much of the burden? There’s not a hard and fast rule, of course, but perhaps one guiding principle for survivor-centric advocacy is to create opportunities, not obligations, for survivors to share their experiences.
To really show how rape culture has affected our society, there should be a push for men to say, “Me Too,” for anytime they’ve contributed rape culture — anytime they pressured someone to sleep with them, made a rape ‘joke,’ intentionally tried to get someone drunk to hook up, or ignored the words “wait” or “I’m not sure.”
But what if we had the #MeToo that should’ve been? What if #MeToo wasn’t a roll call of people who’ve experienced sexual predation, but a roll call of those who’ve treated women wrong, stood by and did nothing, remained wilfully ignorant for year?
The movement should be men tweeting #IDidntDoAnything, describing the times they were complicit in sexual assault or harassment, the times they made their friends feel as though their stories of assault weren’t valid. The one where they start #ICanBeBetter and discuss the ways in which they can improve their interactions with women. The one where they get #IShouldveKnownBetter trending, recounting incidents where they have sexual assaulted or harassed a woman (consciously, subconsciously, knowingly or realizing afterwards).
The movement where men tweeted #MeToo. For every time they benefitted from gender power dynamics. For every time their friend did something shitty and they didn’t speak up. For every time they watched a woman/non binary person be put in an uncomfortable or unsafe situation and averted their gaze. For every time they’ve contributed rape culture — anytime they pressured someone to sleep with them, made a rape ‘joke,’ intentionally tried to get someone drunk to hook up, or ignored the words “wait” or “I’m not sure.”
The movement in which men didn’t hide, but came forward with their stories. Shared their shortcomings. Took responsibility for all the ways in which they’ve hurt women, failed to protect women, or let women down. Where they learn what they’ve been doing wrong, when they’ve done wrong, and what better things they could be doing.
The movement that had men, around the world, talking to one another. Educating one another. Supporting, uplifting, and calling out one another. Where men, in real life, would say “hey, that’s not funny” when another guy made a rape joke. Men would tell other men “she said she’s not interested.” Where men would speak up when they saw a woman being harassed at work or school or on the bus.
The movement that led men to organized an annual “Better Men” march, promising to help create a world in which one in three women were not sexually assaulted in their lifetime. The movement that led med to creating an organization to mentor young boys and dismantle toxic masculinity. The movement that led men to create an “Anti- sexual and gender based violence day”, where schools and workplaces discuss the prevalence of violence against women and non-binary folks.
The #MeToo movement that should’ve been was a men’s movement.