September 23, 2019 | 85° F

FOWLER: ‘#MeToo’ movement may have its holes

Opinions Column: Sex and the City

First, it was The New York Times article that accused Harvey Weinstein of persistent sexual assault of women in Hollywood. Then, it was solidarity taking many forms — women in Hollywood, and men as well, spoke out against Weinstein, told similar stories and, in essence, diagnosed Hollywood, as well as modern America, with a grossly under-acknowledged and widespread sexual assault problem.

Perhaps most visible of these movements was the one that took over Twitter and Facebook a few days ago. The hashtag “#MeToo" was shared in more than 12 million posts in the first 24 hours on Facebook alone, according to the Associated Press. The movement was started by Alyssa Milano, who tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” It is important to note here that another woman began a “Me too” campaign, fighting for women to speak up about assault back in 1997. Her name is Tarana Burke, who created Just Be Inc., to help victims of sexual assault and violence. When the hashtag started to pick up steam, some women pointed to Burke, a woman of color, who had been effectively left out of the conversation regarding the hashtag despite her extensive work against sexual violence using the same phrase. In an article in The New York Times, Ms. Burke discusses her initial dismay at the use of the hashtag without being accredited but then notes that Milano did reach out to her to collaborate with her and correct the problem two days later. It is important to remember that women of color often face severe disparity in the way they are treated when they speak up against sexual assault, and the silencing of women of color does nothing but polarize women’s solidarity as a whole.

With this issue touched upon, I believe it is interesting and important to think critically of the "#MeToo" movement. On one hand, the movement has successfully shown, in sheer numbers, the amount of women who have been sexually assaulted — and the media has responded and given credence to the size of the issue. The solidarity of women is vital, and the way in which more and more women have come forward with their stories and experiences validates the experience of sexual assault as a whole, as validation is often a huge issue when reporting sexual assault since concrete evidence may be lacking and victim blaming is still a significant problem.

There are some complications when discussing the movement though — one of which was brought to my attention when my coworker, a 25-year-old man, told me that his male friend posted on Facebook, “Me too … But I did it.” My co-worker expressed deep confusion regarding seeing this, posing a question of whether the man is guilty or simply dumb. This brings to light an issue I have never really thought about — how do perpetrators feel when these sort of issues take over the media cycle for a week?

I do not know how we should respond, collectively, to an admission like the one I have discussed. Sure, I suppose it is brave to admit what you have done and risk severe backlash (maybe?) but this raises even more questions, like does the victim feel as though there has been some sort of justice, did the perpetrator face any consequences and so on and so forth. I do not know if it is possible for victims to forgive people who have sexually assaulted them, and it seems as though a public admission of guilt on the internet from an assailant could pigeonhole a victim into forgiveness. Perpetrators should not believe they have a seat at the table in a movement regarding solidarity among victims. It feels almost insulting toward the experiences of the victim when someone who has assaulted another believes their guilt amounts to the pain felt by the victim. Perhaps this argument lacks nuance, but perhaps it is simply a movement reclaiming some small aspect of a person’s victimization. And perhaps that is it.

Another question the movement brings to mind is where sexually assaulted men fit into the picture. The same male coworker I mentioned earlier faced sexual assault, and we discussed the idea of if he should say anything. A lot of the argument which supports men expressing opinions on something which is usually a women’s issue is the argument that men take up half the population, and their support adds to and legitimizes female solidarity and is also necessary for policy change, which is sort of its own issue in and of itself. The idea that women need the approval of men to evoke change basically begs the question of why feminism is important in the first place, so this is kind of insulting. But there is credence in the idea that by not allowing men to speak, women create a situation similar to the one they feel when they want to speak up about assault. While all assault carries shame, the nature of masculinity may make male-male assault painful in a different and important way. Male assault victims should certainly not be forgotten, but where they fit into a campaign largely about women is something to think about.

Ashley Fowler is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in English. Her column “Sex and the City,” runs on alternate Mondays.

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Ashley Fowler

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