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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Commentary: #MeToo Lives On

How the movement that rattled Hollywood made waves, what it missed and how the fight for justice and healing continues

The Me Too movement is quite possibly the most society-shaking, patriarchy-dismantling movement in history — and it has barely scratched the surface of one of the greatest repercussions of the abuse of male power. 

Sexual assault was a daily topic on the news only a couple of years ago, when Me Too galvanized women everywhere to speak up against acts of abuse committed against them. New allegations came out constantly against some of the most powerful men in the entertainment industry and beyond, in effect grabbing Hollywood by the balls; but stories fizzled out, and the media stopped reporting. 

April is sexual assault awareness month, granting this movement a well-deserved re-entrance into the news. But almost no news sources have covered the topic that was once as prevalent in the media as the coronavirus is right now.

Granted, in the face of a pandemic, news outlets are focusing on COVID-19, and with few public accusations of assault recently, there’s no specific event to report. But that mentality is the problem: This goes beyond specific cases where a woman with status is the victim, or the perpetrator is important enough to be written about. Sexual assault happens every day, and women without status are certainly not spared from it.

The increase in domestic abuse with the world in isolation shines a harsh light on prevailing misogynistic forces. A recent increase in phone calls to abuse hotlines reveal the critical conditions partners and children find themselves in when trapped inside with an abuser. Me Too knows this, and issued a response and toolkit for anyone in this situation as a result of COVID-19 precautions. This surge in abuse makes the need to emphasize this month’s significance even more urgent. 

The Me Too movement wasn’t a trend, nor was it a breaking news story that would eventually pass, like the pandemic one day will. Sexual assault and battery is an ongoing, relentless plague to society, and without attention, change won’t be made. The rise of the movement in 2017 was an amazing step and sparked real change, but that moment only publicized the scope of assault, just grazing the gravity of female suffering. 

So what is Me Too today? Many hear that phrase and think of a past time; a revered moment in history that took down disgusting men and brought voices to women across the globe. But Me Too isn’t history — at least not yet. So long as women are being assaulted, Me Too lives on, as do many other organizations with similar goals of support and prevention. 

The movement went beyond providing a platform for voices to be heard. It caused a cultural shift, one that encourages believing victims and refuses self-blaming and shame. It sends the message that assault will no longer be tolerated (Read: Harvey Weinstein’s prison sentence). And it tells not only women, but any victim of sexual assault, that they are not alone in their experiences and that they deserve happiness. 

This message has always been what Tarana Burke, the founder of Me Too, has promoted in her work. Burke coined the “Me Too” campaign in 2006, long before the movement we know today was celebrated in the media. She used the phrase “me too” on social media to bring women, especially women of color, together through their shared experiences of sexual assault. Today, she continues her original mission with the platform of a globally recognized organization. 

From developing curriculum, to giving talks, to creating a new hashtag (#metoovoter, directed at getting presidential candidates to raise the issue in debate), Burke puts in work. In 2019, Burke went on a tour to different Historically Black Colleges and Universities to discuss issues related to sexual assault and consent in black communities. 

Assault disproportionately impacts women of color, women with low socioeconomic status, trans men and women and any other group facing challenges beyond solely gender identification. As such, Burke’s efforts stress the need to increase community support among the most affected, often those who are given the fewest resources in the first place.

This is a pivotal element perhaps lost in the frenzy of Hollywood-ers coming forward and being accused. While white entertainers have every right to share their story — and it was vital that they did so for the progression of the movement — their faces headlining the cause diminished the underlying truth that certain women are far more vulnerable to sexual assault.

It is important to highlight what the “peak” of Me Too missed in 2017–2018 since there is still movement happening and opportunity to address the issues the media has overlooked. Burke’s connection with black communities is a meaningful example; the way we experience and heal looks different for every group, and there hasn’t been much attention drawn to the intersectional impacts of assault. 

We also did a bad job backing up abused men. It happens less often, but it’s just as important to support them. Football player-turned-actor Terry Crews came forward with his assault story in 2017, and while his story was received well by some, many took to social media to abate his experience, including fellow men in the industry. Crews responded to the criticism saying, “ABUSERS PROTECT ABUSERS but they MOCK SURVIVORS as well,” showing the reality for men who share their stories. They aren’t seen as victims, since it’s men who typically inflict these acts, and men aren’t supposed to be vulnerable. This is unacceptable, and Crews’ story is a powerful cry out against that notion.

The Me Too website offers healing and advocacy resources as a means of activism. The extensive information on how to help survivors contributes to the culture of prevention that is crucial to this movement. Healing needs to happen, but if we can get people to rally around not just believing and supporting victims, but inhibiting victimization in the first place, the most change can be made. The long-term goal is to stop assault all together.

Though only popularized recently, the almost 15-year-old movement behind the words “Me Too” has made waves for feminists and assault awareness advocates across the globe, and the work has not, and will not stop. As society slowly approaches a comprehensive awareness of the issues at hand, efforts only propel forward, fighting for recognition beyond a period of accusations and public outcry. 

Burke said it best herself in a 2019 TED Talk: “‘Me too’ is a movement, not a moment.”

If you or someone you know has/ is experiencing sexual assault, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. 

Written by: Allie Bailey — arts@theaggie.org

1 COMMENT

  1. The biggest shame is that no one was willing to curb the excesses of the MeToo movement and it lost so much steam as a result. There was a lot more ground that could have been gained, but the impulse to devolve into a witch hunt, to neglect due process and rush to judgement, to exaggerate and trivialize (e.g. Aziz Ansari) discredited the movement to all but the most overzealous. There’s a lesson to be learned there, but it won’t be: it would require too much self-reflection. It’s easier to just turn that brain off and continue to indulge.

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