For many centuries women and other minority groups have had to suffer in silence when society was in the wrong. The Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Movement of the 20th Century helped these individuals gain rights but failed to make them equals to the powerful white male. As a result, many are still struggling with some of the same issues of the past like discrimination, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. It has taken almost seventy years for women and others to finally say they’ve had enough. Their voices have started a new movement that has spread over social media. The #MeToo movement has recently gained national attention and has provided many survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment with a platform to initiate change.
In the following essay, I will examine the causes and effects the #MeToo movement has had on victims, minority groups, the work place, social culture, and the judicial system. The MeToo movement took off in 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted out, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. She woke up the next day to 30,000 people who had used MeToo” (Zacharek et al. 13). From then on, more and more people started coming forward until it became clear that this was a rampant epidemic within our society that needed to be fixed. Every news station was filled with victim’s stories and how they wanted justice for what had happened to them. The first perpetrators to be held accountable for their crimes were some of the most powerful men in media and entertainment in Hollywood. Examples include Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, and Matt Lauer.
Although, Alyssa Milano was the one to spread the idea of #MeToo, she was not the original creator. The Founder of Me Too is an activist and woman by the name of Tarana Burke. She started Me Too back in 2006 for young colored women who were victims of sexual violence to share their stories in a safe environment. Her goal was to be able to use the words “me too” to express solidarity. That goal became a reality with the help of the media. Tarana Burke’s idea of Me Too and what #MeToo has become differ in some respects. “Burke’s ‘me too’ campaign was designed to support survivors, to get them resources, and help them heal; despite #MeToo hinging on survivor stories, it has been more focused on outing the actions of perpetrators” (Jaffe 80). What women want most is to be heard. They are tired of being ignored and devalued. Women aren’t trying to harm the names of men; they are trying to show people aren’t always who they appear to be.
The power of social media is what has allowed the #MeToo movement to become so widespread. This is the difference between its success and past efforts to initiate the same awareness. Sexual harassment and assault are nothing new to women. It’s something we have had to put up with as a result of being female. People who think these stories are surprising are males. Most of them didn’t even know this was a problem until now. Men make sexual advances on women and don’t realize that sometimes their actions are uncomfortable and inappropriate. In other words, they don’t know how to read a room very well. What our society needs is to re-educate males on appropriate behavior and to create a culture where men hold each other accountable for their actions. This is all that women and minorities are asking for, is to be respected as equals.
The #MeToo movement wasn’t a spur of the moment idea. It has made sexual violence big news due to the efforts of longtime organizers. It has brought out scary truths about human nature, and has many people asking how did we let it get this bad? Me Too was a result of a simmering fire that has been burning for many years and with each year kept burning from the addition of new fuel (victims) until finally one day the heat built up so much, it exploded. Women everywhere are exhausted and have decided to speak out about the inappropriate, abusive, and illegal behavior they have had to endure all this time. They are rallying together and turning their shame and fear into rage and fury to expose their attackers. Jessie Kindig notes that, “It’s vital for women to speak out loudly and forcibly, and to share their pain and outrage. But it’s also important that we turn this into a teachable moment, not a bloodletting”.
Before the #MeToo movement became a thing, it often took the “perfect victim” to be believed that sexual violence could happen to anyone. Often this perfect victim had to be someone of high social class, wealthy, attractive, or famous. However, this is no longer the case. Women are rallying together and supporting each other to fight for the same cause. This kind of mindset was created after 700,000 women farmworkers of the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas related with Hollywood women that had come forward and wrote to them saying, “Even though we work in very different environments, we share a common experience of being preyed upon by individuals who have the power to hire, fire, blacklist, and otherwise threaten our economic, physical, and emotional security” (Jaffe 86).
Victims coming forward have shown that the problem isn’t just in Hollywood but everywhere, in everyday regular communities. Within the first week that #MeToo went viral on Twitter in the U.S., its concept was “swept through eighty-five other countries”. Victims can finally begin to start the healing process by sharing stories with other victims that can relate and let them know that they aren’t alone in this battle. Sexual assault and harassment have affected and have had the biggest impact on those that are most vulnerable in society. These individuals are the immigrants, people of color, those with disabilities, low-income workers, women, and LGBTQ community.
Many of these minorities who have had crimes committed against them don’t report them out of fear of what might happen to them or their families. Me Too has provided such groups a platform to have their own voice and be protected by any kind of retribution that may have resulted in the past if they spoke out. This was made possible by actors in Hollywood sharing their stories first. Time magazine expressed this view in an article that stated, “When a movie star says #MeToo, it becomes easier to believe the cook who’s been quietly enduring for years” (Zacharek et al. 3). This cause is rallying behind the idea that people are stronger in numbers. Minorities are having to deal with issues our culture has let go on far too long. Women are leading this fight. They are empowered to speak out, opening the floodgates and disrupting social norms.
One of the most prominent places that sexual harassment occurs is in the job force. Not many people know this because it goes unreported by those who fear they might lose their job or career advancement opportunities. Low level workers figure it’s easier to deal with it. They can’t afford any consequences that might result from speaking out. Superiors have benefitted from sexual harassment in the workplace by using it to control women into accepting low pay and doing whatever they are told. It’s most widespread in jobs like finance, technology, restaurants, factories, and hotels. “Rates of sexual harassment in the U.S. and world over [are] as high as 81% for women and 43% for men. It doesn’t spare you if your old, rich, privileged, or powerful” (Bennett 2). Me Too has allowed women to call out bosses or co-workers who have crossed boundaries. Women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted at work feel they have lost a part of themselves, as well as their time, energy, and power.
They were punished by harmful men and now want to take back what was taken from them. “When men use sex to push women into inferior, undervalued, and indivisible roles, that isn’t sex; that’s punishment. Our conflict is not over sex, or with men in particular or in general, but over power” (Kindig 6). Harassment has become an enabled system that is controlled by those in power. MeToo means that women can now fight male dominance within many occupations. The structure of this system didn’t change until women started to name perpetrators and discuss workplace harassment. Business and corporate boards were quick to incorporate full policies and mandatory training for all employees on how to prevent sexual harassment after many of them were forced to deal with lawsuits. It’s sad to think that what unites women in the workforce is their shared experience of being abused by powerful men. However, there is a good side to this. The large number of women that this issue has affected has allowed them to band together and voice their anger about harassment and violence in their lives and work. They are now taking action to change this.
The Me Too movement revealed that we live in a society controlled by patriarchal power and has revealed our social norm is rape culture. Meaning, society upholds male dominance even if it means committing sexual crimes. Yet these crimes are rarely about sex, but rather about the power and reward men reap from such acts. “In our culture, part of what it means to be a powerful man is to have unfettered access to women’s bodies or the bodies of others who are less powerful” (Jaffe 81). Males today believe they have a right to exploit women’s bodies. Women have shown that societal hierarchy is the problem that has caused men to believe they are superior over others, especially if they have a leading role in their occupation. According to Sarah Jaffe, “Patriarchy spreads the lie that there are rules we can follow that will keep us safe—that if we wear the right clothes, say no loudly enough, walk away, don’t laugh at men, work hard, no harm will come to us. There are not” (83). We live in a corrupt system that has allowed people to think a woman was “asking for it” because of how she was dressed, looked, or acted. This is crazy. Hopefully, the #MeToo movement will prevent upcoming generations from having to put up with these kinds of issues.
The fall of many leading figures in society such as Harvey Weinstein has symbolized the movement is working and has signaled our culture is shifting and evolving. Although our culture seems to be benefitting, our judicial system is not as quick to change and still possess many problems with sexual assault and harassment cases. For one, it is still difficult to distinguish the credibility of a victim by a jury. It’s almost like the system was set up to fail survivors; they must try to convince a hierarchy of people that they can be trusted and are telling the truth. #MeToo shows our society lacks justice for survivors mainly because of our failings in the court system.
MeToo has done for society what the law couldn’t; it has diminished the disbelief and dehumanization of victims that has prevented the prosecution of sexual harassment in the past. It has even led some state courts to rule nondisclosure agreements and forced arbitration clauses as unenforceable by law for victims of harassment and discrimination.Thanks to Alyssa Milano, Tarana Burke, and many other brave souls, an army of women have been recognized and believed by society. Additionally, many men have been punished for their actions. This movement proved small actions can have large affects. Me Too has been successful in helping people realize that, “Sexual harassment is different than gender discrimination.
It’s usually behavior that’s aggressive in certain settings and done by people who believe that they can use sex to marginalize someone to make them feel small, uncomfortable, and vulnerable” (Ward 6). By knowing this, people no longer have to be complicit bystanders but can actively try to prevent situations where sexual violence might occur. Everyone has a role to play when trying to prevent sexual harassment and assault. Tarana Burke said it best when she stated, “A moment is not a movement. A movement is built slowly over time. It’s strategic and it has actions in it, it has victories and it has losses and in the spectrum of a movement I would say this was a victory. This is a moment we can build from, but we don’t stop here by any stretch of the imagination” (March 4). The # MeToo movement has given us a head start in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go before we reach the finish line.
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