BFB #7: Reflections On #MeToo
by Michele Dale
This was not the post I intended to write this week.
This past Sunday, Alyssa Milano, an actress best known for Melrose Place and Charmed, tweeted out a call for all women who have ever been sexually harassed or assaulted to reply #MeToo in order to point out exactly how prevalent the problem is in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
This is not the first time a social media campaign has tried to shine a light on this issue — there was #WhenIWas in 2016 that asked women to name the age they were first sexualized, harassed, or assaulted as well as #YesAllWomen in 2014 that was used to share stories of harassment or assault. This, however, is arguably the most “successful” campaign yet regarding how many people it’s reached.
Like I said, this was not what I wanted to write about this week. I toyed with pursuing my original idea and just sweeping this one under the rug, mostly because I felt that my experiences are so utterly common. How could I contribute to the conversation in a unique way? Of course, #MeToo. Of course, I have been catcalled. Of course, I have been groped on the subway. Of course, I have had men physically grab me on the street. Of course, I have been coerced. Of course, I have been touched without wanting to be touched.
I wanted to write one big fat DUH on the faces of anyone who was surprised and call it a day.
But, I feel like that’s not exactly the right response either. As the co-founder of Bossier, I feel a particular responsibility to voice my opinion — #MeToo is directly related to a lot of the issues we care about and the submissions we receive. I also had the pleasure of being an "I Am Ready" facilitator for the incoming freshman class last year, which taught me more than I ever could have asked for about the subject. So, here are some of my thoughts.
1. We need to remember where #MeToo came from.
On Tuesday, the internet realized that Alyssa Milano did not, in fact, “invent” the #MeToo movement. Although to be fair, she never claimed to have. #MeToo was initially created by Tarana Burke, the founder of Just Be Inc., an organization dedicated to the health and well being of young women of color. #MeToo was started as a way to encourage them to share their experiences with sexual harassment and assault nearly 10 years ago.
#MeToo was a movement initially targeted toward women of color, and for good reason. One in five women experiences sexual assault during their lifetime. If you are a woman of color, your chances of experiencing sexual assault are 2.5 times higher than if you are a white woman. For Native American women, the chances are even higher.
Sexuality and gender identity also play a role. One in two transgender individuals and one in two bisexual women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. One in 10 men and one in four gay men are assaulted during their lifetime.
My point is not to barrage you with statistics; it is only to highlight how different types of power dynamics and identities factor into the issue. If we are going to end sexual harassment and sexual assault, we cannot forget about these pre-existing societal dynamics.
I think the #MeToo movement is successful in that people are willing to share their stories, and if you don’t fit into any of the identity groups that are particularly at-risk, like me, it doesn’t mean your experiences aren’t valid. But, I think the community of survivors that this movement has built needs to be cognizant of the interplay of these identities. What’s great about sharing our stories is you realize you’re not alone, but it doesn’t mean every experience is the same.
2. Seeing so many stories of sexual assault can be overwhelming for some.
After completing "I Am Ready" training, I needed a few days to recuperate. Although I have never been sexually assaulted, reflecting on how unsafe I felt when I was harassed, and how it could have been worse, scared me. Knowing close friends who have been assaulted, I can imagine that it might be hard to scroll through your newsfeed and see #MeToo everywhere. Survivors shouldn’t have to share their story over and over again if they don’t want to but there is something to be said for the awareness the movement brings.
If you’re not comfortable talking about it, you shouldn’t. However, I think seeing other people I love and respect, including family members I would never think of, encouraged me to share my thoughts. There’s strength in numbers.
3. Sometimes Georgetown’s culture is sickening.
When I was newly single in freshman year, I didn’t want to hook up with anyone at first because I was scared. And very little scares me. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t great people here, but there is not enough education about the issue of sexual assault nor are the consequences strict enough for it to be taken seriously. I think the biggest problem at Georgetown is not validating the experiences of survivors. I have heard many a “but I don’t think it was that bad,” or “she was overreacting,” to justify maintaining a friendship with the accused. I’ll be graduating with three people (that I know of) who should have faced some punishment for their actions, but unfortunately, we’ll all walk away with the same diploma.
Making bystander intervention training mandatory for freshmen is an essential first step, and I wish we had it when I came to campus. I’m hopeful that it is seen as more than an annoying training and does make an actual difference in how people view the issue.
4. People are more than their experiences.
With so many people sharing their stories, especially people who you wouldn’t expect, I think it’s easy to think of someone as their experience. There are people behind these stories, and they contain multitudes. I did not want to write about this because I didn’t want to be the girl who was harassed, the girl who was groped, the girl who was pressured. I did not want to be perceived as weak.
I don’t think of myself as that girl. I’m the girl who is good at school and eats like a pig and runs a fucking magazine. I’m glad #MeToo can shed light on the issue and help bring survivors together, but I’m also interested in getting to know the people behind these stories. My guess is they’re pretty amazing.