The hashtag MeToo went viral as women acknowledged incidents of sexual harassment and sexual abuse.
Mine was one of the many, many voices of women who took part in claiming “me too” on Facebook this week. This isn’t going to be a revelation of my experiences. I choose not to share them for my own reasons. It is enough to know that I have had them – as almost all women have.
What was interesting to me, was not the extent of the problem (we knew that already), but the conversations I ended up having offline with other women, and the stories that men shared about the awakening of their understanding of how not to be a**holes.
One girlfriend confessed to me that she was conflicted about whether or not to post “me too” because, while she had experienced the odd drunk lecher pawing her at a bar or been catcalled in the street, she hadn’t ever been assaulted, and she felt that claiming “me too” was detracting from the pain of women who had.
I pointed out to her that the working definition of “me too” was that it meant that the woman posting it had been a victim of sexual harassment OR sexual assault. There’s a spectrum, and almost all women are on it. And that the point of the campaign was to raise awareness of how widespread the problem was – that almost all of us have a story.
I also pointed out that the fact that she was normalising her experiences of harassment was problematic in itself. Yes, the world has many awful men, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t count each encounter, tally it, report it and draw attention to it.
Another friend came to me with a concern about putting her “me too” out there. She was the victim of a date rape when she was young, and it has left her emotionally scarred with issues that she still struggles to resolve to this day. Her worry was that she didn’t want to be seen as a victim – she didn’t want people to see her that way.
I discussed with her that she wasn’t obliged to post a “me too”, but that if she wanted to, she didn’t have to share her story. I also said that since so many other women were participating, and the definition was so broad, that adding her voice wasn’t going to draw too much attention to herself.
Ultimately, what I communicated to both of my friends was that it was their choice, but that the repercussions or outcomes that they feared were unlikely to come to pass. One shared, the other didn’t.
And the one that didn’t said to me, “I doubt it’s going to make much difference anyway."
And of course, she’s right. To bring about global social and cultural change will take generations. This week’s metoo will be next week’s yesallwomen. But here’s why it mattered to me.
It mattered to me because I think it is always helpful to highlight the extent of a problem. The “me too” campaign was effective in that it both gave us a sense of the staggering numbers, but also associated the problem with women known to men. It makes it both expansive and personal.
It also mattered to me because I saw a few men sharing their stories of when they became aware of how not to treat women. They spoke about their girlfriends who first Pointed Things Out to them, or campaigns they’d been involved in where they’d learnt that every woman had had some experience of harassment. They spoke about how they didn’t take no for an answer as teenagers or were perhaps a little too pushy when a girl was uninterested in a hook-up at a bar, or who defended a friend who had gone too far, blaming the booze or, even worse, the girl. They acknowledged that they were part of the problem and were trying to do better.
There are men out there who rape and abuse and assault woman, despite the fact that there is no question that their actions are morally wrong and illegal. But there are other men – mostly good guys – who just need to be made to think about how to treat women right, from as early an age as possible. And if the entire “me too” campaign just reaches a handful of these guys at the right time, and opens their ears and eyes, rather than making them bluster “not all men”, then every painful share was worth it.
To the men reading this, a couple of things. I am not afraid of all men, but I am afraid of some. I am afraid when I am alone in a parking lot or a darkened street. Of men. While there are of course times that women have abused men and boys, and these are despicable crimes and should be spoken about and addressed, the scale of the problem is not as vast and the fear that adult men feel because of women is not so omnipresent.
So, before you bluster and defend and try to prove that you’re a good guy, take heed of what we’re telling you. We are scared, and it’s you that scare us. Don’t tell us we’re wrong. Tell us how you plan to fix it.