The #metoo campaign was a campaign that happened in the wake of the Weinstein allegations about his decades of harassment and assault of women In Hollywood. It was a campaign to show the prevalence of such harassment, but in the end it I believe achieved much more.
When it began it was a campaign that I respected people for sharing about their experiences with sexual harassment. However, I didn’t feel I could relate to it. For me I felt like I was one of the fortunate ones who had avoided these forms of sexual assault and harassment. Then I remembered that a week before a man had followed myself and a friend down the street yelling at us to talk to him and saying how he knew we wanted him. I remembered the times in clubs where all I could feel were people grabbing me and when I got upset was told ‘that’s part of clubbing’. I remembered the countless times I’d been yelled at, assessed and told to smile more by strangers as I walked by. These were all so part of my routine though, so to see people use these experiences for #metoo felt wrong. It felt like calling it sexual harassment in some way devalued what I saw as real victims. This was then mirrored to me by a friend talking about her own sexual assault and if it related to #metoo. For her she felt she couldn’t say it was as he hadn’t done the ‘physical part’ only the emotional meaning he had repeatedly pressured her and ignored her saying no, but he hadn’t raped her. As a result my friend also devalued her experiences as not really what #metoo was about.
Our society has a very specific concept of what a rape is and what victims of rape are; it is a sober woman alone in her home at night, attacked by a man who broke in. The more you vary from that e.g. You being drunk, or it being your boyfriend or it being a man who is attacked- the less people agree on the term of rape. This singular image is what we accept as bad. All variables of that are less widely believed in a public sphere, so by extent seen as less legitimate. This primary harm of a singular legitimate attacker and that other victims are less believable, is a far reaching and damaging harm in itself, but it has a second harm. When we have one idea of what a real rape is and devalue anything that differs, we also devalue other forms of assault and harassment. Because the ultimate bad hasn’t happened, people who experience sexual assault and harassment view their experiences as invalid. It’s how my friend could believe her assault wasn’t really an assault and I could view my harassment as normal. The end of both those thoughts are ‘.. because I wasn’t raped’. Because the accepted image of harm hasn’t happened, we mitigate and reject the harms that occur from these forms of sexual harassment and assault.
That is why the #metoo is such an important campaign, it is not just a campaign highlighting prevalence, it is a campaign that stresses that any form of sexual harassment is harmful and wrong. The Weinstein allegations and stories around others in Hollywood are not broadly stories of that singular image of rape. They are stories that show how systemic acceptance of sexual harassment and assault led to many people being harmed and permanently scarred. The victims who came forward about these assaults were often long out of the time when they are able to press charges, and many had gone onto long successful careers after the incidents, their lives hadn’t stopped after this event. But they came forward because these events had caused meaningful harm to them that they were still dealing with, they couldn’t get legal justice but still wanted a form of social justice for events that had harmed and impacted them. The #metoo campaign takes that introspection that Hollywood is having to face and places it in our daily lives.
For those who share, they deserve nothing but respect, but what about those of us who don’t ? I would say we are who benefits more, for every brave person who posts they are breaking down that singular image, they are affording all of us a chance to see our own experiences mirrored and accepted for what they are – sexual violence. It comes in verbal, emotional and physical form, and it is not any more okay just because they stopped short of rape. In order to address a culture of victim blaming and passive acceptance, we need to start redefining our assumptions, because it ultimately only helps the perpetrators. It is something I still struggle to accept as being wrong and even as I write I think of all the women and men who I know have experienced worse things than I have, but that doesn’t mean what happens to me is okay. So for now #metoo.
Lorna Staines – Features Writer