Strength in Numbers and the Impact of #MeToo Pt 1

The #MeToo movement has gripped the world in recent months. In October 2017 the  hash tag experienced a surge on social media, it brought forward the prevalence of harassment and sexual assault women have been subjected to for years. Many of these experiences have stemmed from work environments, at every level of employment, but have also resulted in women having to take extraordinary measures simply to avoid unwanted advances from men.

The statement originated with Tarana Burke, a social activist who began the phrase in 2006 as part of a campaign to empower women who have experienced sexual assault. When asked how the battle cry came about, Burke explains that she was inspired by the phrase while speaking with a 13 year old girl who had been assaulted. At the time, Burke didn’t know what to say, later wishing she had simply told the girl ‘me too’ to show her that she was not alone.

The phrase was re-launched onto the social media scene by Alyssa Milano on October 15, 2017, and her hope for the action was simple. “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.”

Sexual harassment has been happening for decades, centuries, as long as there have been men and women. Sexual harassment has become the implicit reality that women have come to expect in the workplace, an unwelcome possibility always lurking around the corner.

I used to walk by construction sites in the 60’s and 70’s and men would whistle and cat call. I just kept my head down and walked as fast as I could. It was like a way of life, just the way it was. I think even the men felt obligated to participate when their co-workers did. It seemed to stop a bit in the 80’s, though. At the time I thought it was because I was a mom and no longer desirable, but I think they started buckling down even then.’ – A; transit operator

Saying to myself, ‘This is just another Tuesday’ was more or less how I handled sexual harassment in the workplace. Because that’s how it felt. I was so used to being catcalled and pawed at by men when I went out dancing with my girlfriends, or minding my business walking down a busy Toronto street – that when it started happening within the workplace I was conditioned. Desensitized. Used to it. – F ; corporate/author

Before I go any further, let me make something perfectly clear. This article is not meant as a way to further the divide between men and women, and add another spark to the fire blazing across the nation. The focus of this particular feature is to illustrate how this happens to all of us, how these incidents impact those involved, and how the recent social media movement has changed perceptions.

It is important to point out that yes, not all men are the problem. For every man who feels it is their right to comment, touch, or pursue, there is another who stands up and tells them they are wrong. It’s also important to point out that a lot of men – and way more than the alternative – are the problem, even when they don’t realize it. This movement isn’t about pitting men against women, but about opening eyes, enlightening those who have been ignorant to the issue, and giving hope for change.

Many of the individuals garnering media attention in this movement are celebrities. This is only to be expected, the general public irrevocably drawn to the “cult of celebrity” currently permeating society. The glitz, glamour, and opulence hide a seedy underbelly, the dark side of fame often found on the casting couch. The Harvey Weinstein allegations exploded in October of 2017, propelling the issue into the limelight unlike any other case before it. However, there had been numerous accounts of similar actions prior to Weinstein’s indiscretions. Kesha famously battled against her former producer Dr. Luke for sexual and emotional abuse, to the point that it stalled her career under his control. Bill Cosby has been battling allegations for years of drugging and sexually assaulting women, and his legal woes are ongoing.

So, why now? Why was the Weinstein case suddenly the final straw for women who have been facing victimization for years? Women have come forward, spoken out, screamed and stood their ground for decades, and only now does it seem that people are listening.

Since the surge of allegations of harassment and assault began lighting up the media like a proverbial ticker tape of inappropriate advances, some media outlets have taken to looking into the incidence of the reports. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1/3 of all women experience some form of unwanted sexual advance during their lifetime. Further supporting this finding, the Washington Post joined forces with ABC News, finding that approximately 54% of women report unwanted sexual advances, with 95% of those saying that the behavior went unpunished.

Burke hopes that the simplicity of the statement will show those affected that they are not alone. That it will bring a solidarity to individuals who have faced these events, and know there is help, and there is support. She strives to educate, both men and women, especially young girls that they have the right to say no to any unwanted advances. It sounds like a simple concept, and one that should be common sense. But in light of the recent influx of allegations, maybe it isn’t so clear.

It is interesting to observe the trend from country to country, and the prevalence of reporting and punishment that goes along with them. However, not always for the instigator, but the victim. A 2016 report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that while a staggering 25-85% of women experience sexual harassment, few ever report it for fear of retaliation. In comparison, only 4% of rape victims in Japan report the crime, and up to 40% of those who report harassment in the workplace are fired or reprimanded.

However, in light of the #MeToo movement and the voices of victims rising over the attempts to silence them, change is being seen. As more allegations come forward, more predators are fearing retribution. Alleged sex trafficker and gang member “Beanz” of Illinois currently faced trial for his crimes. However, he has asked that his trial be postponed due to fear that the #MeToo movement will sway a jury, and that his sentencing will be unfair. It is almost humorous to consider, if it wasn’t so horrific, that he would feel himself in the right to make such a request. That before this movement, he would feel confident that he would be acquitted of his charges, or his sentence would be minimal despite the fact he had been selling women into the sex trade.

As I said, not all men are the culprits. And yet, even the men who are “innocent” are sometimes guilty of perpetrating a culture that looks the other way.  While the light is being shone on one troubling problem in society, we can’t just treat the symptoms and forget the underlying issue that got us to where we are.

While writing this, I talked to men who insist they feel they need to keep further distance from women as they don’t completely understand what actions are considered inappropriate. And this is also a reason why this conversation needs to be had, over and over again.

Because of what’s happening in the news right now an old guy at the gym said to me yesterday that he is afraid to talk to a woman now in case he gets accused of something, and he’s mad about it. – A ; transit operator

Guys and girls both like to flirt and no harm intended even though maybe a little embarrassing.  If they cross the line with no real intent that is different, as is actual harassment.  Some people’s lines are different.  Women need to feel they can come forward, but also a lot of fakes jump on the bandwagon.’ – A ; transit operator

The comment of ‘some peoples lines are different’ is an important distinction to make, but also one that further muddies the waters. Every individuals limits vary, so how do you know what is appropriate? Many say ‘just ask’. Which we agree with, in all cases. If you don’t know, there is someone who knows – the woman you’re approaching. Ask her. She’ll let you know. And if she doesn’t, if she feels like she can’t, even in this day and age, take a cue from non-verbal communication.

But, of course, even in a subject like this, there are different points of view:

‘It’s happened to me. The thing is I have a thick skin and sense of humor. I think there is a fine line and some women have become too sensitive.’ – N ; stylist

As with most things in the world, there are two sides to every story. The important thing, as we examine a shifting culture and come to terms with how to move forward, is to remember that if it’s okay to say that everyone has their own lines, then that phrase better come with respect for other people’s lines.

Hopefully, with the simple statement of #MeToo, those who have been affected by this imbalance and abuse of power in the workplace, or social culture will be able to have even a little bit of comfort in knowing they are not alone. There are thousands who while never sharing your individual experience, do share your fear. That is strength in numbers, and in that, we all have the power to change the world.

Please watch for a second installment of this article which will further examine the #MeToo movement, with a focus on contributor experiences, their opinions on the current surge of allegations, and the impact those encounters have had on them and their interactions with others.

RN, writer, artist, blogger, 1D fangirl extraordinaire. Twitter: @unrealismbooks | Wattpad: @kristimcm | kristimcm