Unless you don’t have any social media accounts, you’re probably aware of the “me too” campaign that’s been trending for the past several days. If you’re not familiar with it, people are commenting “me too” if they have been the victim of sexual harassment or assault in an effort to demonstrate exactly how pervasive this problem really is. For those of us who regularly experience this kind of harassment and/or assault, myself included, this isn’t exactly a revelation. We know the problem exists because it’s a part of our daily lives. “Holy shit, women are regularly sexually harassed and assaulted?! What’s next, you’ll tell me that the sky is blue?!?!?!”
However, just because it happens all the time doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it, and this particular social media trend is important for several reasons:
I don’t talk about my own experiences very often for a variety of reasons, but mainly it’s because I don’t want to. I don’t always feel like revisiting times when men have made me feel less than I am, scared, or violated by their words or actions or both. Last year, I wrote an article called “Excusing Rape Culture” after the release of Trump’s infamous “grab ’em by the pussy” video. In it, I described in incident in which I was harassed by a guy in a bar who continued to make lewd comments towards me even after I let him I know I was not interested. Once that didn’t work, he started to drink more and get belligerent as he tried to intimidate me by telling me a story about how he forced some guy to his knees at gunpoint for “disrespecting his land.” I got out of the situation physically okay, but an interaction like this still leaves a scar–and that wasn’t even one of my worst experiences when it comes to harassment. I was nearly abducted by a guy who stalked me at my bus stop for several days when I was a freshman in high school and I’ve been chased through a neighborhood by a truck full of men, again while I was in high school. I’ve been catcalled, I’ve been followed on foot, and there have been more instances than I can count of men groping, touching, or rubbing up on me without my permission simply because they felt they had a right to my body.
I didn’t talk about these incidents for a long time, but staying silent doesn’t do anything but cause me more pain so I am done keeping quiet. In saying all this, I’m not saying victims of harassment and assault need to explicitly detail everything that has happened to them; their experiences are their own and they can choose to discuss them or not in their own time. But for those of us who want to speak up, a social media movement like this provides an opportunity that we might not otherwise create for ourselves.
As much as I support this trending topic, I am not happy to see how many people I love have added “me too” on social media. Each “me too” represents someone I care about who has been hurt or violated in some way. However, when people speak up about their own pain, they let others know that they don’t have to suffer alone in silence. They let people know that although our experiences are unique, we are understood. In my own news feed, I’ve seen so much love and support over the multitude of “me too” admissions and I think that serves as a powerful reminder that the number of good people ultimately outweighs the bad.
One of the things that drives me nuts about arguments against sexual harassment and assault is when someone says, “That women that was attacked is someone’s daughter/mother/sister/friend!” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my right to dignity and respect and a human being is not contingent on my relationship to my father, my husband, my son, or any other man.
It is an unfortunate truth that many people don’t connect to an issue unless it affects them personally. I wish it weren’t that way, but it is. By chiming in and saying “me too”, you are giving those who love you a realization of exactly how widespread this issue is and how many people have been victimized. When people have a personal connection to an issue, they are more likely to feel motivated to work towards real change because they can see and feel the effects in their own lives.
Sexual harassment and assault can happen to anyone–it’s not just reserved for women. Many of my male and non-binary friends have come forward to add their voices to “me too” and I think that’s really important because they are far less likely to report incidents that happen to them than women are, which isn’t a high number to begin with. In general, only about 31% of rapes are reported to police. Only 5.7% of reports lead to an arrest. Only 1.1% of rape cases are referred to prosecutors and only 0.7% of rape cases actually lead to a felony conviction. Even then, only 0.6% of rapists are actually incarcerated (source).
It’s not hard to understand why victims of sexual assault are hesitant to report what happens to them, and a lot of it is due to victim blaming. Even my own town is not exempt from this. About five years ago, a woman was assaulted in a bar by an off-duty cop. Her case actually made it to court and the (female) judge suggested that perhaps the woman should’ve stayed home to avoid being assaulted. Never mind the fact that the perpetrator–a cop, no less–should’ve kept his goddamn hands to himself. No, no, it was the woman’s fault for daring to leave her house.
It’s important for as many voices as possible to join in this discussion. Do you think Harvey Weinstein would have experienced the fallout that he has if so many women hadn’t come forward? Of course not! I have no doubt in my mind he’d still be assaulting and victimizing women for another 30 years. However, because so many of his victims had the courage to publicly share their stories, he has now experienced some consequences for his actions (although, in my opinion, not enough as long as no charges have been filed against him). Our voices are stronger together, like the Whos in Horton Hears a Who: it’s only when all of the voices sing out together that they are able to save themselves.
The “me too” trend on social media cannot be an end in and of itself. This needs to be the start of a bigger conversation that works towards a cultural change to help eliminate rape culture. We need to stop diminishing rape by making jokes about it, we need to support one another, and we need to work towards real change in our society. We need to create an environment where rape culture does not have a home. We need to stop blaming victims and start blaming their attackers. We need to stop giving people a pass because of bullshit platitudes like “boys will be boys.” We need to expect more from the people around us and hold ourselves and each other to a higher standard.
Most importantly, we need to stop dividing ourselves. In addition to all the “me too” posts on social media, I’ve seen some dissenting posts disparaging the movement, saying people are looking for pity or attention. Speaking for myself, I don’t want your pity–I want you to acknowledge that sexual harassment and assault is not okay and to be a better human being. If we want anything to change, we have to stay united and stop all the infighting, and this partly comes into play by not quantifying or diminishing a person’s experiences. My own experiences as a victim of sexual harassment and assault are not to same degree of severity as others I know, but that doesn’t make my experiences or anyone else’s any less valid. It’s not a contest.
I saw a response article to “me too” that essentially said victims shouldn’t have to be the ones in charge of fixing rape culture. I get the point they’re making, but if we don’t fix it, then who will? It would be wonderful if the perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence posted “I did it,” but realistically, they’re not going to. No one is coming to save us; we have to save ourselves, and we have to do it together. If you feel like it’s something you’re ready to do, add your voice. I’m adding mine and I’m holding the people around me accountable–and I hope others do the same.
Are you ready to end this toxic, abusive rape culture? Me too.