On Sunday afternoon, American actress Alyssa Milano tweeted an idea which sparked a viral hashtag movement against sexual assault and harassment.
The tweet was a simple call to arms: for everyone who has experienced some form of sexual assault or harassment to write ‘me too’ as their online status, in order to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem” (Alyssa_Milano, 2017).
By Monday night, more than 53,000 people had left comments on Alyssa’s tweet and the hashtag #MeToo had gone viral. On Twitter, #MeToo racked up nearly a million tweets in 48 hours and on Facebook there were more than 12 million posts, comments and reactions in less than 24 hours (CBS, 2017).
This hashtag frenzy was part of a wider discussion about sexual harassment following the Harvey Weinstein scandal that began to unfold earlier this month. For Alyssa Milano, the aim was “to shift the conversation away from the predator and to the victim” (Chen, 2017).
But this didn’t go down so well with some commentators, who questioned why it should be left to the victims of sexual assault and harassment to fix the problem:
Matilda Dixon-Smith makes another worthwhile point: we already know that sexual misconduct is a widespread problem in our society. Is yet another viral hashtag really going to change anything?
Can #MeToo end sexual abuse and harassment?
The problem I initially had with the #MeToo campaign was that at first glance it appeared to be yet another case of viral slacktivism, which has been defined as “a willingness to perform a relatively costless, token display of support for a social cause, with an accompanying lack of willingness to devote significant effort to enact meaningful change” (Kristofferson et al, cited in Lane & Dal Cin, 2017, p.3). In the case of #MeToo, there was no concrete follow-up in mind – just another attempt to generate awareness around something we already know.
Of course this left me feeling guilty, not only as a woman but particularly as my online social feeds starting filling with stories from friends who had also experienced the horrible realities of this epidemic.
But it also got me thinking about their courage. As Lane and Dal Cin acknowledge and as I pointed out in an earlier post, “online sharing is often viewed as low-cost participation (because it is fast and easy to accomplish), but sharing social and political views online is in fact a highly delicate matter” (2017, p.4). This could not be more true of #MeToo. Activist Lauren Taylor notes that “women are disclosing that they’ve been harassed, attacked or abused, sometimes for the first time, and if it isn’t for the first time, it’s for the first time this publicly” (CBS, 2017). At the individual level, this is huge.
Nonetheless, I still hope that #MeToo is just the beginning of a broader movement against sexual abuse. I share Gerbaudo’s view that online activism should complement more traditional forms of face-to-face gatherings to minimize the risk of feelings of seclusion that social media can create (2012, p.13)
I personally couldn’t bring myself to share the hashtag online, despite being the victim of multiple instances of sexual harassment over the years. I applaud the courage of all women (and men) who have spoken out in pursuit of a world in which predatory sexual behaviour is a thing of the past.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
Men can access anonymous confidential telephone counselling to help to stop using violent and controlling behaviour through the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.
- CBS, (2017). More than 12M “Me Too” Facebook posts, comments, reactions in 24 hours. [Online]
- Chen, J (2017). Alyssa Milano wants her ‘Me Too’ campaign to elevate Harvey Weinstein Discussion’. [Online] Rolling Stone.
- Dixon-Smith, M. (2017). Will we ever stop asking women and survivors to fix rape culture? [Online] Junkee.
- Gerbaudo, P. (2012). Tweets and the Streets: Social Media and Contemporary Activism. London: Pluto Press.
- Lane, Daniel. S & Dal Cin, Sonya (2017): Sharing beyond Slacktivism: the effect of socially observable prosocial media sharing on subsequent offline helping behavior. Information, Communication & Society [online][Accessed 18.09.17]
- Milano, D. (2017). If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. [Online] Twitter. October 15