If you’ve been on social media in the last few weeks, it’s likely that you’ve seen the hashtag #MeToo pop up across your feed. Following sexual assault and harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, actress Alyssa Milano asked women to share their own ordeals using the hashtag. #MeToo was originally created over ten years ago by civils rights activist Tarana Burke, who founded the “catchphrase” as a way to let survivors know that other women have shared similar experiences. Milano’s more recent campaign was intended to raise awareness at the magnitude of women who have experienced some type of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime. In less than 24 hours, her message was retweeted over 16,500 times. Since October 15, the hashtag has seen over 1.7 million shares.
What began with celebrities using their platforms to raise awareness quickly grew across all social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter. Anyone, men or women, who had survived sexual assault and intimidation were invited to share their personal stories, or to post the hashtag as a status update, to force others to acknowledge the severity of the issue. Overnight, I saw countless tweets and posts from campus peers, friends, and family members. Though I am aware of the statistics behind sexual assault and harassment, the amount of women in my life who had experienced it shocked me. It was gut-wrenching to see the volume of posts in my own feeds, from women in my own life, so close to home.
However, it was encouraging to witness the love, support, and acceptance I noticed across platforms, from men who understood the gravity of the situation, to women commenting to exchange their own stories. It was also uplifting to notice the acceptance of women who are not yet willing to share their experiences personally. Critics of the movement acknowledge the pressure #MeToo has put on victims, who may feel they owe the world their story in order to be believed or validated. Others reminded social media users that just because a person has not posted about their experience, it does not mean that he or she hasn’t faced harassment, intimidation, assault, or rape in her lifetime. I personally am not willing to share my stories publicly, and neither are many of my friends. There are numerous reasons that victims do not wish to vocalize their experience, especially across a social media platform, and critics worry that the hashtag puts a pressure on women to re-acknowledge their trauma.
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), 23.1% of females will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. Additionally, one in five college aged women will be sexually assaulted as undergraduates (RAINN). According to Saint Vincent student life demographics, 48% of students on campus are female. Statistically speaking, that means that in an average Saint Vincent class size of 24 students, if there are roughly 12 women in a classroom, two to three of them have experienced or will experience an instance of sexual assault or harassment.
Whether or not you agree with the effectiveness of the #MeToo campaign, it’s meaning affects all people, victims or not, willing to share publicly or not. Sexual assault and harassment are prevalent- but it does not have to be normal. It does not have to be accepted, or something to be expected. It is also not something we should remain silent about. Facilitating regular and constructive conversations about difficult or uncomfortable topics works to make them less difficult or uncomfortable to discuss.
Survivors of sexual harassment, intimidation, assault and rape deserve support, they deserve love, and they deserve to be believed. If the #MeToo hashtag works in any way to advance that message, then I find it to be a successful movement.