On Sunday, Alyssa Milano asked people on Twitter to reply “me too” if they’d experienced sexual assault. The tweet sparked a movement: 50,000 replies and a reported half million tweets containing #MeToo accumulated over the next 24 hours. It’s been echoing across the internet ever since.
“#MeToo wasn’t just mushrooming on Twitter,” writes Sophie Gilbert for The Atlantic. “[W]hen I checked Facebook Monday morning, my feed was filled with friends and acquaintances acknowledging publicly that they, too, had experienced harassment or assault…Actors including Anna Paquin, Debra Messing, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, and Evan Rachel Wood joined in.”
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
Just like 2014’s #YesAllWomen, #MeToo attempts to debunk the dangerous myth that sexual transgressions, big and small, aren’t happening every day, in every context. As the recent bedlam surrounding Harvey Weinstein has shown, our culture has much to learn about the true breadth of sexual abuse that occurs behind closed doors and open ones. The explosion of #MeToo across platforms is more proof this problem has deep roots, a wide berth and long legs.
Before it was a trending hashtag, the “me too” movement was started by Tarana Bank of Just BE Inc., an organization “focused on the health, wellbeing and wholeness of young women of color.” According to the site, “the me too Movement™ program is focused on young women who have endured sexual abuse, assault or exploitation (S.A.A.E) and was founded to fill what we see as a void.”
With the help of social media, the two words have also become a proverbial hand-raise for hundreds of thousands of victims across various online platforms. “Unlike many kinds of social-media activism,” writes Gilbert, “[#MeToo] isn’t a call to action or the beginning of a campaign, culminating in a series of protests and speeches and events. It’s simply an attempt to get people to understand the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in society.”
And I was blamed for it.
I was told not to talk about it.
I was told that it wasn't that bad.
I was told to get over it.
— Najwa Zebian (@najwazebian) October 16, 2017
To bifurcate “harassment” into the nameable extremes — the everyday catcalls and the felony crimes, is to miss the pervasive, varied and nuanced middle. Sexist power dynamics seep their way into every nook and cranny of our modern existence. They’re in our relationships at work, our relationships at home, the way we view ourselves, the world, our lives. Acts of sexual harassment and violence stick with people forever, in whatever form they come.
I’ll never forget the time I was coerced into having sex with a man because he was drunk and wanted to, and I was young and liked him. I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time, so I stared at the ceiling while he did what he wanted and cried quietly instead. I was taught to say no and “knew better”; he was “a nice guy” and liked me back, but the toxic sexual narrative both of were raised us on overpowered all of that.
#MeToo may be a broad statement for a complex problem, but it captures the fervor of the sexist engine that still fuels our culture. The burden should never be on the victims to come forward, but for those that feel comfortable doing so, their posts and anecdotes stitch together a massive and messy story that abstract statistics could never tell.
The comment section is yours if you’d like to say #MeToo.
— UltraViolet (@UltraViolet) October 16, 2017
Illustration by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.