The flurry of social media posts that followed actress Alyssa Milano’s
“me too” tweet last week turned Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse scandal into a widespread
movement against gender-based sexual violence. Following activist Tarana
Burke, who used #metoo to create solidarity between underprivileged sexual
assault survivors for ten years, Milano asked fans to tweet “me too” if they’d
been sexually harassed or assaulted.
Unlike its activist predecessor, Milano’s version of #metoo often masks the fact that underprivileged women, particularly women of color and transgender men and women, are at the highest risk of assault (and are the least likely to be believed when they say they were assaulted). Like many feminist movements, white women’s voices and stories are proliferating under the hashtag, and solidarity has been achieved at the expense of grievances from racial, sexual and class-based lines.
Still, detailed stories of harassment and assault that followed have touched thousands, and many men have also joined the conversation, with some promising to do everything they can to obtain social justice. Australian journalist and screenwriter Benjamin Law even created a new hashtag #HowIWillChange, urging men to take personal responsibility to end patriarchal culture.
Other men have felt compelled to share their own assaults (or what they believe are assaults), especially at the hands of women. Rather than admit the flaws of our patriarchal system, they’ve asserted that women too can be sexually abusive (some men saying that ‘faking a pregnancy’ and ‘misandry’ should be included in the conversation), claimed that #metoo and Liz Plank’s #HimThough (an effort to remind us that sexual violence is asymmetrically gendered) is evidence of reverse sexism, and even reused the favored #NotAllMen.
Because #metoo appears genderless and raceless, it, like all other unmarked, visibly un-segregated spaces, appears to be for “everybody.” And in a society in which rich white men get to decide what “everybody” means, forming a coalition of women under a genderless hashtag has been met with claims that men’s stories and opposing opinions must too be included. Anything else becomes grounds for claims of “reverse discrimination.”
Though it seems reasonable that all stories and perspectives should be equally recognized, there is one problem we can’t solve when #metoo becomes an inclusive hashtag about sexual violence rather than gender based sexual violence: 90% of rape victims are women, and both men and women are overwhelmingly assaulted by men.
The truth is, #metoo was never just about sexual abuse. No – it’s more brilliant than that. #Metoo addresses the fact that sexual violence (like all violence) is a systemic problem that asymmetrically affects members of certain groups in our society. It brings awareness to a patriarchal culture that is often made invisible by those who say “she wanted it,” “she’s lying,” “men are victims too,” “all violence is bad,” “it’s just an anomaly; a bad seed – most men aren’t like that; I’m not like that.”
#Metoo is not and was never about #AllViolence; it is about #GenderedViolence, #RacialViolence and #RacialGenderedViolence. It is about revealing how one group of people in society (rich white men) are culturally encouraged and enabled to commit violence against others. It is a movement of solidarity and speech between those who are systematically silenced and ignored. And it should stay that way.