Whether you're on or off of Twitter it's hard to miss the #metoo firestorm that erupted on social media, spilled over to print publications, and animated conversations among friends in 2017. #metoo steamed into 2018 fanning out Internationally compelling men and women everywhere to review their interactions with the opposite sex. Were we personally involved in sexual harassment, sexual power plays or sexual abuse? For some this review may feel threatening or painful. It may bring up feelings of shame. For others perhaps it's somewhere between justice overdue or reactions out of proportion. Wherever this resonates in your life the question is what can our wisdom contribute to this discussion and how can we learn from this complex National dialogue?
We've seen the sensational headlines of men whose jobs are lost after accusations of abuse and harassment but what exactly started all this? What is the #metoo movement? Tarana Burke, who founded the movement in 2006, tells Business Insider that it's about "survivors" [of sexual violence] "supporting survivors. And it's really about community healing and community action." Burke tailors her support for brown and black women recovering from abuse. Writing in The Atlantic author Sophie Gilbert suggests, "It's simply an attempt to get people to understand the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in society." In fact the twitter post from Alyssa Milano that went viral in October 2017 just said, "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet." By month's end the post had reached 85 countries and drew the reactions of 1.7 million readers according to a followup tweet. How about it, readers, #youtoo? Come on board and contribute your perspective and experience to this moment in time.
#metoo started on Twitter yet, according to PewInternet research, just 6% of people 65+ have a Twitter account and only 18% between 50 and 64 use Twitter. #metoo moved to Facebook where older Americans are more represented- 61% 50-64 years of age and 36% of the 65+ age group. Depending on your social media habits this may have reached you recently via television or print publication. Similarly, perspectives on sexual harassment and male/female interactions differ generationally. That's why it's important to contribute your voice on this subject and to listen and learn from the voices expressing different views.
Younger generations are asking: How could this happen in America? How could the majority of women tolerate abusive or harassing workplaces? Yet, those of us 50+ lived in a world asking women for silence on matters of sexual power plays, abuse, and harassment. We lived in a culture that more often asked the abused what they did to cause the abuse then what could be done to help them. We inherited a long history of cultural norms urging women to hide abuse and not accuse men of wrongdoing. Those that did, such as Anita Hill, the young law student that confronted powerful Supreme Court Nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment 26 years ago, were publicly discredited. Who was on trial--- was that Thomas or Hill? Hill tells the New Yorker today that "believability" is the key to public trust and change. She suggests that Thomas had the winning "narrative" then and our challenge now is to understand that ordinary women are believable. Ordinary people experience detrimental episodes of sexual harassment. This moment in time is not just about a fairy tale world of stars and media giants and a casting couch. It's about women in workplaces everywhere: restaurants, discount stores, schools and so forth. It's about women of all ages and colors in all economic classes. What do you think? Do Americans have a fundamental problem of believing women? Is it time to change cultural norms about women and silence? Isn't it time to ask women who are harassed or abused: how we can help?
What do you believe about the #metoo movement? Tarana Burke says it's a movement about community healing. However, maybe you believe, as many people do, that there's safety in silence? That healing isn't a public matter. Maybe you don't want to know the sordid facts of other peoples lives? Maybe you wonder what women can do to be more assertive about harassment and protective of themselves? Maybe, like Catherine Deneuve, you're looking at the sensational headlines and wondering where the purge will stop? Deneuve signed a petition in France regarding their #metoo movement, #stopthepig, stating that "Rape is a crime. But insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime, nor is gallantry a chauvinist aggression." [Thanks to the NY Times for translation] She worries that we might go so far as to erase Leonardo da Vinci's paintings because he was a pedophile. What is the proper remedy for harassment? Where are the limits of sexual harassment? Can we separate who people are and turn away from egregious actions in their personal lives if they make great contributions to society? How exactly do we go about healing the community of women whose voices we are hearing now in the #metoo movement? How can men contribute to the healing without shutting down or taking protective actions? Readers, what does your wisdom and experience say about this potentially massive readjustment in norms?
If younger women are more willing to speak out about harassment and have higher expectations for equal treatment they are also disproportionately represented in domestic violence and sexual assault episodes according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline. They are blasted with demeaning and misogynist lyrics in music and sexually explicit imagery in advertising and media/social media programming. They live with the irony of a #metoo movement blooming in a country that elected a man boasting about sexual harassment as male privilege. What's changed? "It's the breaking of silence that's changed," a 24 year old workplace consultant tells NPR, "Now there's this constant conversation about it online. So much less isolating which kind of brings it to everyone's attention."
#metoo lifts the topic of sexual power plays, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment up to our national attention. We see that the experience is prevalent yet awareness is just a first step. How can we begin to take helpful action? I have a few ideas and am anxious to hear yours. Nationally we could end backlogs of rape kits. Women who are raped submit to invasive procedures when they report the crime. We have the technology to get DNA from that evidence what we need is the will. Consider telling your elected officials that this action is important to you. Tell victims of sexual assault that you care. Locally, businesses and organizations large and small including our schools and sports coaches must take a greater lead in educating about sexual harassment laws and respectful male/female interaction. In our own lives I think the answer is obvious...stop practicing and tolerating sexual harassment or violence and cultivate greater respect for the opposite sex. The #metoo movement is an invitation for #youtoo. Accept this opportunity to show care for the suffering that's already happened and help America break the pattern of sexual harassment and sexual violence.