The #metoo movement got rolling when Hollywood actress @Alyssa_Milano requested women to publicly join the movement on 15 October 2017. It quickly spread to Sweden, and has managed to maintain both support and exposure over several months. Many didn’t think it would keep momentum for that long. In order to achieve long term results however also incredibly successful online movements need to innovate.
Since the #metoo movement got started women representing a broad range of industries have sought to align with #metoo by joining forces under their own independent hashtags. According to Wikipedia more than 60 000 of women in Sweden have signed appeals or petitions calling for an end to sexual harassment so far. With a population of 10 million this represents a bit more than one percent of the entire nations women. This is a huge number, and is clearly signaling the extent of the problem. To illustrate, below is a list of most of the groups, ranging from actors to medical doctors. And there are probably more to come.
|Name of hashtag aligned with #metoo||Number of people represented|
Hashtags alone are however not what will keep momentum going in order to eradicate sexual harassment.
In Sweden, the #metoo movement has most definitely spurred debate beyond hashtags. Many have felt empowered by knowing that others have been exposed to similar harassment. There are some cases where joint accusations have forced perpetrators to resign or even legal charges. Many have yet to be named. The movement has also given rise to a debate on how to get rid of sexual harassment. Examples are how Swedish parliament is pondering legislation on affirmative consent as well as harsher punishments for perpetrators. Although the discussion on such judicial measures amendments is not new, the fact that they are being considered now is beyond doubt closely connected to movement.
The long term strategic goal of the movement needs to be to end sexual harassment in all regards. Thus far, #metoo has managed to keep the momentum, but the tactics applied need to be innovative and change over the long term. As @Zeynep Tufekci writes in her 2017 Twitter and tear gas, such thinking goes for any social movement. Over time there is a strong risk that simply another #metoo affiliated hashtag representing a large group of people won’t be enough to draw the attention of the general public and media alike. By not switching tactics there is a clear risk that interaction gets limited to a proverbial pond of passionate supporters of the movement. There is also a risk, as Poell and van Dijck (2018) put it, that the event-oriented focus and ‘real-time’ nature of social media protest communication runs the risk of shifting the perspective of online activist communication from the actual protest issues to the protest spectacle, in this case being the movement itself.
What needs to be achieved in the long run is rather a change of how society views the issue of sexual harassment as such. Gender inequality and sexual harassment needs to be truly recognized as a problem that must be addressed by both women and men, together. #metoo has beyond doubt contributed to advancing the debate in Sweden. For fundamental structural change the movement needs to be able to transform to keep momentum over a long period of time.
- Poell, T.; van Dijck, J. 2018. Social Media and new protest movements, in: Burgess, J., Marwick, A. & Poell, T. (eds.): SAGE Handbook of Social Media. London: Sage.
- Tufekci, Z. 2017: Twitter and Tear Gas-The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- The Guardian (2017). Accessed on 24 January, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/20/sweden-to-move-burden-of-proof-in-rape-cases-from-claimant-to-the-accused-explicit-consent
- Wikipedia, #metoo (Swedish), Accessed on 24 January, 2017: https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metoo
I was fascinated by this post, as it’s interesting to see how quickly the online campaign has gained global resonance and has been used to represent the experiences of so many different groups. But it’s worth flagging up that the MeToo movement didn’t start recently in Hollywood, but was founded in 2006 by African-American Tarana Burke to support and encourage survivors of sexual violence and harassment to speak out. (See https://metoomvmt.org/).
So is there something to be said about grassroots campaigns that start ‘offline’ but struggle until picked up by digital platforms? (So the reverse of the argument). The MeToo story also highlights whose voices are heard. Your post raises interesting questions!