Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Reflections on the #MeToo Movement
Last April, my sophomore year teacher was accused of having sex with a student in 1995. In October, among the rise of the #MeToo movement, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine months in prison.
Tarana Burke began the movement in 2006 after a shattering interaction at youth camp, when she could not bring herself to tell a female camper those two powerful words. The phrase was taken up by Alyssa Milano on October 15, 2017, in response to the break of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, opening a floodgate of stories of sexual abuse.
Last week’s forum, #MeToo and You: The Rise of a Movement, addressed the effects of this pivotal change in the conversation around sexual abuse. The panelists covered how the movement has affected their jobs, the healing services their organizations offer, the legal side of sexual assault cases, and how our society and systems cultivated rape culture need to change. The biggest concern of the forum seemed to be continuing the impacts of this movement to create real change. How could we turn a viral hashtag into systemic improvement?
So far, there has been cautious optimism about the real effects of the movement. Data from Twitter suggest that this will be a long-lasting movement, comparable to BLM, not a brief trend. Mae Bennet from Jewish Family Services, and Alex Leslie from Cleveland Rape Crisis Center both responded that they have seen large increases in uses of their hotlines and services since the movement took off in October. This increase is reflected by the entire nation as the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the country, saw a 32 percent increase in December from the year before. They attribute this to the empowering effect of the #MeToo movement in showing victims that they are not alone and will be believed if they speak out.
However, as Alex Leslie responded to a question about encouraging safety in school and work environments, “we have been treating this as a two-sided equation”. To truly make a difference the onus should not be placed on women to protect themselves or men to be taught not to commit these acts. It is everyone in between who must change. The #MeToo movement didn’t only bring survivor’s stories to light - it forced the millions of people around the world who saw these posts to confront it themselves. Rachel Dissell witnesses, “You see not only people speaking up but other people saying 'how do I react to that?'"
The Shaker community, and especially his former students, struggled to grapple with this question. It is easy to condemn a man like Harvey Weinstein, the epitome of a corrupt Hollywood producer. It is harder to turn against one of the most beloved teachers in the district, who had pivotally changed the lives of many students. However, Leslie is correct when he says “it is not the creepy person in the van”, perpetrators are usually “people we know and like”. The true reckoning will come when we take a hard look at our own actions and the people in our communities.
Will the movement continue on and actually create social change? Ultimately, this question should not be of the movement, but of ourselves. We must keep listening to survivor’s stories, uplift them, and demand change from our institutions.