“MeToo” – A phrase that has packed a powerful punch in the ring of equality and women’s empowerment at only two syllables. In October 2017, the #MeToo movement reached a global audience when actress Alissa Milano encouraged females across the globe to share their experiences of sexual assault/harassment using the hashtag on Twitter (MeTooMvmt, n.d.). With half a million responses overnight and millions joining MeToo marches across the world (including LA, the home of Hollywood and the sexual assault scandals native to it), MeToo has emphasized that our generation is ever more politically vocal. Whether it is about promoting equality for women or standing up for victims of assault, MeToo has spread to every corner of the world across digital platforms. But is a hashtag solely responsible for a wave of new political movements? Does MeToo deserve the glowing halo which has been bestowed upon it?
MeToo’s opportunity for victims to find their voices and discuss their experiences has spurred others to draw back the curtain and expose those in the limelight whose crimes had lurked in the shadows for decades. Harvey Weinstein, a former American film producer, became symbolic of the inherent success of MeToo and kickstarted a new era for Hollywood. Celebrities in the masses denounced their abusers and rallied for change, sexual allegations made on previously beloved actors. These included Kevin Spacey, fired from his lead role as Francis Underwood in ‘House of Cards’, and Bill Cosby, “America’s Dad”, who faced criminal charges for a string of sex crimes in 2018. Celebrities now had nowhere to hide, and many paid the consequences for their crimes, an undoubtedly positive influence relating to MeToo. The movement’s success is also evident within the public. Calls to RAINN (The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) increased by 23% compared to the previous year. Experts found links between a rise in those seeking help after experiencing abuse and MeToo’s societal power (1in6, n.d.)
The movement’s revolutionization of the political landscape for sexual assault survivors has impacted at least 25 million rape victims in the US. The strengthening of the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act of 2016 gave those under the umbrella term ‘statutory crime’ the correct classification of sexual assault. The ripple effect of MeToo and its seismic impact on those within the US has resulted in new regulations passing on a global scale in countries like the UK, Canada and India. MeToo’s tireless involvement in protesting injustice for women has incredibly positively impacted societal norms about sex and relationships. The resulting social awareness and knowledge regarding sexual abuse have allowed victims to come forward and report the crime without shame or judgement.
However, French actress Catherine Deneuve and writer Millet denounced the movement in an open letter, one important snippet stating that everyone has “a freedom to bother, indispensable to sexual freedom” (TheGuardian, 2018). Although many deemed this comment insensitive to sexual assault victims, Deneuve’s message is one of awareness. Women have fought for sexual freedom for just as long as they have had rights. Her view that women can be both professional and sexual beings is liberating and expressive, a clear step in the right direction for empowerment and equality. MeToo’s view that sexual assault can be flirting, albeit awkwardly with someone, is damaging for all involved and makes individuals afraid to express their sexual freedom at the risk of facing persecution. Although sending the message that sexual assault is never acceptable, we as humans must maintain our right to this freedom.
Although MeToo has made progress on as many fronts as possible, its power is sometimes limited. For actual change to happen, governments must act. Proper education regarding sexual deviances is missing in most countries’ educational curriculums. Introducing this at a younger age will allow children to deal with longstanding abuse more effectively. This solution provided is arguably more effective than MeToo’s hashtag. It is healthy and progressive to call out assault, but isn’t it more direct if something is actively done to prevent it?
The social rallying has so far failed to recognize the sexual assault of men, 1 in 6 being victims themselves (1in6, n.d.). MeToo followers’ habit of villainizing men and ignoring their struggles has only created further tension between the sexes as women are given sympathy and men are told to ‘man up.’ Some women who support MeToo have strayed from the equality they preached and disassociated their cause with the root and definition of ‘feminism’ (the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes). Using this phrase to make themselves superior diminishes the cultural and societal relevance of MeToo, and men are more unlikely to report an assault themselves without the fear of being judged and mocked. The bombardment of death threats and hate mail against those accused of sexual crimes has developed a negative reputation for an initially productive movement. Men have also suffered from harsh societal roles, expectations being corrosive to mental health as they must present an image of strength and power over others. In a modern society where technology can be used as a weapon, MeToo has become another part of the ammunition used to spread pain and hostility.
My worry for MeToo is that it is a logo on a t-shirt, a billboard you drive past or an article you read. Its ignorable qualities mean that it has lost some of its value. At first, a way to express pain and suffering, the phrase has been trivialized by others profiting on its meaning. An example is Amazon: MeToo labelled t-shirts didn’t raise money for those impacted by the assault. Other companies attempting to try and copyright the phrase for their benefit makes it harder to take the movement seriously. A message of power and strength for those suffering beyond imagination is now diminishing the magnitude of crimes and the lasting impact on their victims (LizerbramLaw, 2018).
After Kendall Jenner, a famous TV personality, starred in a Pepsi advert where she gave a police officer a can during a protest. The internet erupted with backlash, saying that they were “trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement”. The Pepsi ad showed the consciousness of millennials and their refusal to accept anything but equality (BrandIndex, 2018). In eight days, customer perception of the brand dropped from twenty-eight to twenty per cent, the company’s lowest results in over ten years (Ibid, n.d.). If MeToo continues to be used in this sense, it will be able to harness its power.
Supporters of the movement have every right to favour MeToo and its success but not admitting that it is flawed is even more harmful. Exploring MeToo’s impact has left a deep feeling of indecision. In some ways, MeToo’s global audience was all it needed to evoke change, but as it moved forward, its impact seemed to dwindle when questioning what it can do to prevent assault. As MeToo went under the microscope, it became apparent that its existence continues to change and morph as it grows in power and impact in a fast-paced society. There remains a hope that MeToo will become more inclusive in a world where different races and genders still fight for a chance to prove themselves. But realizing MeToo’s imperfections and tackling them head-on is a worthy goal. And sometimes, a hashtag is the best place to start!
1in6, n.d. ‘Get Information’. Accessed at: https://1in6.org/get-information/the-1-in-6-statistic/
BrandIndex, 2018. ‘Pepsi recovering slowly pulling Kendall Jenner Ad.’ Accessed at: https://www.brandindex.com/article/pepsi-recovering-slowly-pulling-kendall-jenner-ad
FiveThirtyEight, 2018. Accessed at: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-its-like-to-watch-metoo-when-it-is-you-too/
LizerbramLaw, 2018. ‘MeToo Trademark Controversy’. Accessed at: https://lizerbramlaw.com/2018/01/23/metoo-trademark-controversy/
MeTooMvmt, n.d. ‘About’. Accessed at: https://metoomvmt.org/about/
The Guardian, 2018. ‘Catherine Deneuve speaks out over MeToo controversy.’ Accessed at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/jan/15/catherine-deneuve-speaks-out-over-metoo-controversy