The Gender Landscape After #MeToo

By Jessica van Thiel

me-too-movement-sexual-assault

The #MeToo Campaign is one of the most powerful social media campaigns of all time. On October 15 2017, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged the use of #MeToo (originating from social activist, Tarana Burke, 2006), to create awareness and a sense of the magnitude of sexual abuse and harassment. While there is no one leader of this movement (rather thousands of women who are speaking out against this prolific problem) several Hollywood names helped to propel the campaign into global action.

Actress Ashley Judd was the first of many who spoke out in October of 2017, about unwanted sexual advances by Harvey Weinstein, one of Hollywood’s most prolific and successful movie producers. Since her admission, over 80 actresses have come forth against Weinstein, including stars like Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow. And, as allegations against him continue to pour in, on May 25th 2018, Weinstein was charged by the city of New York, with rape and sexual abuse in two cases. It seems like only eight months after women began to come forward with their stories, the Weinstein name is now more synonymous with sexual assault than it is with movie-making.

For decades apparently, this sort of behavior was common practice in the entertainment industry. Weinstein’s abuses have been referenced as Hollywood’s greatest open secret. Why was this accepted? How could he have gone so far, with so many women, and gotten away with it for so many years? It seems incredible when you think about it. But the truth is it’s not uncommon. In fact the #MeToo campaign has proven just how ubiquitous the problem is.

However, a silver lining has emerged to this awful story. The celebrities who have spoken out have paved the way for regular, everyday women to do the same. The campaign had incredible success on social media and #MeToo (also adapted into #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, #Ana_kaman and others), has provided support and solidarity for millions of people to come forward with their stories. The movement itself has been so successful, that as at November 2017, 82% of American polled said women are more likely to speak out about harassment since the Weinstein allegations, and that 85% say they believe the women making allegations of sexual harassment (Time Magazine, 2017).

The “Silence Breakers” – victims who spoke out about their stories of sexual harassment – made such an impact on society that they were voted “2017 Person of The Year” by Time Magazine. With widespread success of the campaign and Weinstein’s recent arrest, it appears that steps are being taken in the right direction. But what are these steps and how will they ensure the sexual abuse, harassment and silencing of women is no longer accepted?

#MeToo has received attention in all corners of the world. With access to internet and media in certain countries already being an issue, it’s no surprise that the campaign has had more success in some countries than others. In India for example, where in recent years outrage over sex crimes has sparked waves of public protests, it makes sense that #MeToo resonates with the public. However, not everyone has access to internet, and although the campaign reached only a small number of people with respect to India’s population, as Sian Brooke of the Oxford Internet Institute points out, “it has brought the idea of sexual harassment and assault into the public consciousness. And even if the discussion around the movement is criticism, you are still bringing about an awareness that this happens” (BBC, 2018).

In Canada, women are sharing their experiences of sexual violence like never before, resulting in a huge increase in demand on Canada’s sexual violence support services. For example, calls to the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre increased 100% in the last year alone (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2018). One initiative, the #AfterMeToo (partnered with the Canadian Women’s Foundation) has created a fund that addresses the increased demand on sexual violence support services across Canada.

In the US, from October to December 2017, calls to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network crisis hotline rose by 23% compared with the same period in 2016 (BBC, 2018). The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) in Washington DC has, as a result of the campaign, been matching victims with lawyers who can offer them free advice (NWLC, 2018).

Another initiative which has been very successful in addressing the #MeToo question is the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. The Fund was launched by more than 300 actresses, writers and directors in January 2018 and raised $21million in legal assistance for people who suffer harassment, abuse or assault at work in its first operating month alone (The National Women’s Law Center, 2018).

An interesting takeaway from the campaign is that men are also often victims of sexual violence. 1in6 is a Los Angeles-based non-profit group that supports male sex abuse survivors. #MeToo had direct impact on the number of men reaching out to the organization, saw a 110% increase in web traffic, and a 103% increase in the use of online helpline services between September and October 2017 (BBC, 2018).

With an overwhelming number of people worldwide speaking out in a very personal way, is it even conceivable to continue to ignore such an issue? As a hopeless optimist I am tempted to say we have learned this lesson, society has grown, and mankind will not allow these errors to continue to occur. However, the reality is far more complex than that. Sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation of women (in a variety of forms) is so ingrained in our societies that it may take decades and several generations before we can truly move forward.

Yes, the #MeToo campaign is a good step. Yes, this is extremely encouraging. Sadly though, the numbers speak for themselves. It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives (UN Women, 2018) with some nations showing up to 70 per cent of women having experienced sexual abuse in their lifetime (WHO, 2013). And this is not only in developing countries. In the UK, one in five women have experienced sexual assault (The Guardian, 2018). And these are the reported cases.

The stigma associated with victims of assault is often the leading reason women will not come forward. Society has trained us to question the victim rather than the ‘predator’. This is something that has become the norm. We’ve been asking the right questions but to the wrong people (TIME Magazine, 2017).

So with the recent arrest of Harvey Weinstein and the countless initiatives emerging in light of #MeToo, it seems that change is happening. Although the #MeToo campaign has a long way to go in ridding the world of sexual abuse and predators, one thing it has been successful in doing is identifying a massive, global issue.

Rebecca Seales of the BBC News explains that “perhaps, then, #MeToo is not an endgame – but a clarion call to something bigger. A reminder for people to seek change in their communities, and push to make damaging systems better – especially for those who lack the power to fight alone” (BBC, 2018).

The #MeToo campaign has created a platform in which victims of sexual abuse can be heard and supported. It has shown that victims are not alone, far from it, and that collectively we can effect change.

References:

BBC News (2018). What has #MeToo actually changed?

Canadian Women’s Foundation (2018). After MeToo.

MeToo (2018).

Time Magazine (2017). The Silence Breakers.

The Guardian (2018). Sexual harassment and assault rife at United Nations, staff claim.

The National Women’s Law Center (2018). The Time’s Up Legal Defence Fund.

UN Women (2018). Facts and figures: Ending violence against women.

World Health Organization (2013). Global and regional estimates of violence against women: prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, p.2.

 

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