It’s been just over a year since the first allegations of sexual harassment about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein surfaced. This explosive story sent tremors through the entertainment world, sparking a worldwide movement looking to challenge patriarchal traditions. A year is a long time in politics, and this one has been no exception. There have been positive steps for women, sure, but just how much change can a simple hashtag make?
As with all campaigns, the social media hype can be whipped up into a frenzy, one which can take on a momentum of its own. Hashtags can be manipulated, misused and taken over by those who seek to undermine their aims. This is scarily prevalent with the #MeToo movement. The cries of ‘witch hunt’ are heard from politicians and ordinary citizens alike.
The grim reality is that, in so many cases, the #MeToo hashtag has had precisely the opposite effect of that which it sought. It is right and proper that women should have the chance to share their stories if they wish. However, seeing these stories almost daily has had unintended consequences. As always, women will bear the brunt of these consequences.
Many employers are now refraining from hiring young women for fear of being accused of indecency. Instead of mentoring and helping women to progress, some have decided it is ‘safer to limit contact with female colleagues’. What began as an opportunity for men to listen to their female counterparts and learn from their stories has spiralled into an increased distrust towards them. This is a dangerous precedent.
There are some success stories, with some abuse survivors feeling less alone and having increased courage to seek help and advice. This, however, is not always the case. For some survivors the movement has dredged up painful memories that they would rather forget. It is great to see some women feeling empowered to stand up and own their stories, but we must not force everyone affected to do the same.
Indeed, there is a genuine fear that in spite of, or even due to the movement’s popularity, accusations of sexual assault will not be taken seriously in the future. It feels as though every story will be just treated as one of ‘the boy who cried wolf’, or girl in this case. Who can say if there is any more awareness of survivors of sexual harassment or assault now than there was before the hashtag took off? Are we really any closer to a society that believes women?
Speaking personally, it is often difficult to see how effective the campaign can be at an individual level. ‘Ordinary’ survivors like myself have no great platform to share our stories. It can feel attention seeking to tweet yet another #MeToo story, one that may get a few initial ‘solidarity’ replies but will be lost in the void.
For me, my story happened too long ago and I couldn’t even tell you the perpetrators’ names. I am lucky in being able to write this article but the reality is that the men who assaulted me will never be brought to justice. They will never see my one solitary tweet or indeed read this article. Writing #MeToo on my Facebook timeline did nothing, for all I know they are still out there hurting other women and I have no control over that.
The fact that the movement is consigned to the English-speaking world is also problematic. As with so many feminist campaigns, the non-western world has been largely overlooked. Statistics show that the countries where the hashtag has been searched the most are the United States and Great Britain. This is unsurprising. Areas such as central Africa and Asia where there is less internet access naturally miss out. If we really want this movement to be a success, we must make sure the West does not have a monopoly on progress.
This leads on to a conversation about the role of capitalism in the movement. Such as is the case with awareness days, it seems all too common for companies and individuals to do the bare minimum in an effort to seem ‘woke’ to the issue, for want of a better word. It’s not enough for clothing companies to release ‘GRL PWR’ t-shirts or for politicians to have a sudden feminist awakening. The revolution must not be commercialised.
No doubt, there will be criticism that this article is just an angry feminist rant. And in effect that is what it is. However I don’t want to leave it at that. We must get angry about the injustices women face but we must also offer solutions. The precedent for believing women must be set from the ground up. It is my firm belief that good education is key and we all should play a part in teaching future generations to respect each other. We don’t all have to be keyboard warriors but it is vital that everyone, from media moguls to corner shop owners, play their part.
The movement is not inherently misguided. But when it becomes just another opportunity to scapegoat women, it must be called out. It’s about time we stopped forcing women to share their stories and started focusing on how to prevent these stories in the first place.