Following the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct allegations, actress Alyssa Milano sent out a call to action on Twitter asking all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to write “me too,” to illustrate the magnitude of rape culture.
Since then, the #MeToo social media movement has centered the national conversation on experiences of sexual violence and harassment. It has been a struggle to determine whether or not the movement has genuinely built solidarity and community amongst sexual violence survivors. Dealing with the aftermath of abuse is highly personal and intimate, and there isn’t a one-size fits all response. For some, publicly outing one’s self as sexual assault survivor can be empowering and necessary work. Perhaps the most impactful outcome of the hashtag is that it has succeeded in helping survivors realize that they are not alone, and given many the space to speak about the traumas they have experienced.
However, the lack of accountability in the movement has been startling. Some of the posts called out the names and identities of the abusers, but most of the shared stories do not openly name an individual. This anonymity may be needed to protect survivors and those in vulnerable positions, but it also works to protect perpetrators. In other words, the movement effectively demands nothing of abusers and the perpetrators of violence. This allows men to feel that they do not participate in rape culture if they have not committed an explicit act of sexual violence.
In the midst of the social media storm, our feeds have been overwhelmed by striking and powerful content that is difficult to carry with us as we go about our daily lives. Often, reading stories from survivors on social media can leave us shaken – perhaps without the space to process or meaningfully engage with the stories. The impacts and limitations of a social media movement such as this one are questionable. While awareness was certainly spread, what we need are sustainable ways to engage with and dismantle rape culture. This will ultimately have to extend well beyond a hashtag, and accountability must be built into the process.
It is also critical to recognize the dynamics of white privilege that underscore the #MeToo movement. The movement is commonly attributed to Milano’s Tweet. However, news articles have revealed that Tarana Burke, who is Black, started a sexual harassment awareness campaign called Me Too in 1997. While this occurred before the rise of social media, it raises larger questions on whose voices dominate national conversation. Who gets recognized, seen and remembered in the national consciousness?
For example, when allegations of abuse and sexual violence arose against R. Kelly (the performer was accused of sexually manipulating and recording young women without their consent and abusing his girlfriend), the story never blew up or captivated media in the way we are seeing with the Weinstein allegations. When women of color speak up about sexual violence, they are more easily brushed aside and forgotten by white dominant media.
Here’s another example: in March of this year, approximately a dozen Black and Latinx children went missing in Washington, D.C., but public outcry on social media never occurred on a widespread level. Most of the children were never found and many have criticized the lack of official action that was taken, on top of the limited public outcry.
Overall, tracking the progress of the #MeToo movement has been dizzying. We’ve witnessed triggering content on our social media feeds, solidarity from men along with misogynistic responses from men, outpourings of support and love towards survivors, victim/survivor blaming, slut shaming and the ever-emergent echoes of patriarchy. This is indicative of the overwhelming dynamics of rape culture. As we grapple with the aftershocks of the movement, we must look for ways to implement accountability, center voices of color and continue meaningful dialogue and action.