On Saturday evening at 1:21 pm, actress Alyssa Milano published a tweet which read: “Suggested by a friend: If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” This caption was later expanded by many to include those who identify as femme or trans/feminine-types as well as transgender and gay men, who also experience a high probability of sexual assault.
The tweet began a cascade of responses on all social media platforms and was brought on by the recent reports regarding Harvey Weinstein’s abuse of many women across Hollywood. But Milano’s tweet proved it isn’t just women in Hollywood who are affected by sexual assault. Suddenly people all over the globe were posting those two bold words across Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and other sources. Hundreds of thousands of people had the courage to stand together in solidarity, to speak their truths aware of the consequences. But just like the treatment of the victims in the Weinstein case, the problem presented by this solidarity is more than ignorance.
Maybe it was shocking to scroll through your feeds and see how many of your friends and acquaintances had posted about sexual assault; I know it was for me. Suddenly girls I went to high school and college with, mothers of my friends, the girls that used to babysit me, and people I had worked with were coming together across lines of race and politics and class to say the same thing: Me too.
If you’re a woman, however, you know as well as I do that the shocking thing was not that all these women had been assaulted, but that they had decided to speak up about it. I know from experience, from talking with the women in my life and women I’ve hardly met, how real the prevalence of sexual assault is. My life, my friends lists, and my social circles are living proof that 54% of women ages 18-34 are sexually assaulted. If you’re a woman and you’re paying attention, you know this too.
Our culture is a petri dish, a perfect climate for sexual assault to occur but it is a hell for speaking out about it. To post on Facebook that you’ve experienced sexual assault is brave. It’s revealing your vulnerability to your parents, grandparents, your teachers, your coworkers, and everyone who used to see you as a person, not a victim. Women who come forth about sexual assault typically must confront an unbelieving justice system, tell the traumatic details of their stories repetitively, and face disgust and even hatred from those they’ve barely ever met. It’s terrifying. And no matter how many of our social circles become safe spaces, it will still be terrifying until our culture shifts the shame off of victims and onto perpetrators. There is no sense in the shame of being sexually assaulted. It shouldn’t be a big deal to admit that it happened to you. It should be a big deal to admit that you perpetrated it.
We have a lot of work left to do, but the “Me Too” movement feels like moving in the right direction. To all who posted “me too” this weekend, and to all who stepped forward before them, thank you. Thank you all for making it easier to tell my story, to release my burden, to stand up against an injustice that is as strong in my life as it is in every woman’s.
Thank you for making it easier to admit what I once thought could never happen to me. Thank you for making it easier for me to say that I was 12 years old the first time a man drove by me yelling obscenities as I ran by in exercise shorts, that I was 17 when I was felt up on a date and pushed the hand away only to have it come back again, that I was 19 when my 26-year-old coworker started slapping my ass and calling me a slut at work after I refused to sleep with him. Thank you for making it easier for me to establish what healthy relationships are and what they are not as I move forward. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone and that I have nothing to be ashamed of, that these experiences are not my fault and that confronting them as what they were is okay. Thank you for helping me to speak my truth, for me to say #MeToo.