First, there was Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul, who has harassed and assaulted women for years. Then there were all those women (and men) coming forward on the web, using the hashtag #metoo. It’s not the first time women took to the internet to talk about harassment and assault – the hashtag has been around for ten years and was first created by black activist Tarana Burke:
“It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.”
– Tarana Burke
There was also the German hashtag #aufschrei that was used to call out sexist and discriminating behaviour towards women in Germany and Switzerland back in 2013 and just back in 2016, #wheniwas was used by women on Twitter to reveal the age when they first experienced sexual harrassement.
Yet, with #metoo I have the feeling that much more people did come forward and there seems to be much more media coverage about this than ever before. The issue seems to be more pressing than ever. At the same time it is saddening that it needed an extrem case like that of Harvey Weinstein and all those famous women he harassed, in order to bring something to the surface that has been a reality for ages – in all industries and in all realms of society.
Why I feel Uncomfortable to Fully Embrace #metoo
I hesitated for quite a while to post anything about #metoo on Facebook or Twitter. Any harassment I experienced in the past 34 years of my life are trivial compared to the things that happened to others. And, this is already one of the problems that arise when a single hashtag is supposed to summarize so many different experiences of so many individuals. There are many grades of sexual assault and I don’t even want, nor can I imagine the fear and trauma many others must have experienced. Yet, at the same time, I do have to agree with Roxann Gay, who urges us to stop normalising any cases of assault and harassment:
“And then there are the ways that women diminish their experiences as “not that bad.” Because it was just a cat call. It was just a man grabbing me. It was just a man shoving me up against a wall. It was just a man raping me. He didn’t have a weapon. He stopped following me after 10 blocks. He didn’t leave many bruises. He didn’t kill me, therefore it is not that bad. Nothing I deal with in this country compares with what women in other parts of the world deal with. We offer up this refrain over and over because that is what we need to tell ourselves, because if we were to face how bad it really is, we might not be able to shoulder the burden for one moment longer.”
Yet, I also believe that #metoo is somewhat dangerous. It puts peer pressure on those who do not have the courage or possibility to open up. In all this, it still has to be okay not to come forward. Those who decide to stay silent are not cowards. No-one owes it to (wo)mankind to open up. We must respect anyones decision to keep their story to themselves or to tell it in spaces that create much safer surroundings than Facebook or Twitter.
#metoo turns something into a collective experience that is at its root something that is very private and individual. While it helps to bring to the surface the extent of assault and harassment that exists and is tolerated in our society, it also runs the risk of excluding and stigmatising those who choose to remain silent.
Two Things I Hope for in All of This
But, instead of arguing about the pros and cons of a hashtag, at this point, I personally do find it most important to share some hopes I do have in all of this:
I do hope that bringing this issue out into the open and the fact that so many came forward will result in some change. I do hope that all survivors of harassment and sexual assault find help and support, from other survivors, from their friends and families, professionals and the law. Most importantly, society has to stop holding the victims responsible for the things that happened, it’s the offenders we need to call out and start going after.
Let’s Keep Talking and Start Doing
We do have to work towards a culture where women are safe in all spaces. At home, at the office, outside on the street, everywhere. Asking women to carry pepper spray or to have the police on speed dial when they go outside at night is not the solution. Neither is it to urge women to “just” quit their job after being assaulted by a colleague.
So please, let’s not forget about this as soon as the next scandal or ghastly pieces of news hits. Let’s not make this about this one man, one instance, one single hashtag. We do need to keep talking about this, we do need to keep our eyes and ears open. But most importantly, we need to work towards a change in our culture and our societies – this is not the feat of the survivors, it’s the responsibility of all of us, of all men and women. It’s Teresa, the Managing Editor of Darling Magazine who phrases this much better than I ever could:
“We can choose, in the days ahead, to vilify and hate one man, or we can choose to turn towards, embrace, and care for billions of women. To do the first is simply the news of the month. To do the latter is the work of the ever-unfolding future. To hate one man, collectively, is a true but ultimately meaningless feat. To change the culture we are building on earth to love, respect and fight for women? That would be a honour I would love to share with every single one of you.”
I am in, Teresa. I am in.
P.S. A big thank you goes out to my best friend, who read a first draft of this text. Her feedback helped me a lot to sort my thoughts and to clarify some things I had written. It always makes me nervous to post pieces like this – it’s so much easier to write about lighter topics. At the same time, I do believe it is important to talk about these things and to exchange opinions. That being said, I am happy about any comments, just please let’s keep it friendly. Ok?