#MeToo: women worldwide stand up to sexism

Global movement: Over 600 Women's Marches took place around the world on January 21st 2017.

Can a hashtag really change anything? Women in their thousands are writing on social media about their experience of sexual harassment and assault. Some doubt whether it will have an effect.

#MeToo.

It was actress Alyssa Milano who started the Twitter trend on Sunday afternoon. “Suggested by a friend: 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,” she wrote.

The response has been overwhelming. More than 500,000 people tweeted the hashtag within 24 hours.

Among the tweeters was Rose McGowan, one of the actresses who has come forward as a victim of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Evan Rachel Wood, Gabrielle Union and Lady Gaga have also used it.

#MeToo has trended worldwide, including in the USA, the UK, India and Pakistan; it shows that sexual harassment is everywhere.

Rewind over 100 years to another group of women calling for change. Emmeline Pankhurst started the Suffragette movement in 1903 in the UK. After 15 years of campaigning, women were given the right to vote in 1918.

But not all political movements have been so successful. In 2011 Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest against the Tunisian government, sparking a wave of democratic movements across the Middle East which spread via social media. Many people thought that this would spell the end for corrupt governments in the region.

But six years after the start of the Arab Spring, most people agree things have got worse rather than better.

Some doubt that #MeToo will make much difference either. Journalist Jessica Valenti argues that men need to take more responsibility for their actions. “The truth is that nothing will really change… until the social consequences for men are too great for them to risk hurting us,” she writes.

Then again, others think the hashtag could be a catalyst for bringing about lasting change. “The power of #MeToo… is that it takes something that women had long kept quiet about and transforms it into a movement,” writes Sophie Gilbert for The Atlantic.

Is #MeToo a real turning point for women?

Women's work

“Things are bound to change,” say some. Like the Suffragette movement, #MeToo confronts an issue which has the potential to affect half the human race. Sexual harassment and assault are by no means new, but the Weinstein scandal brought matters to a head and the hashtag gives women an opportunity to speak out. There will be no going back now.

“This movement will die out, like so many social movements have before it,” reply others. Think about the Arab Spring or Occupy — everyone had such high hopes, but nothing really improved. Things could start to change if the idea moves off social media and into practical action. But who knows if the initial excitement of the movement will be sustained or whether interest in it will fade?

You Decide

  1. Do you think #MeToo will make any difference?
  2. Are people like Rose McGowan the 21st century equivalent of the Suffragettes?

Activities

  1. Make a Top Ten list of how people should treat one another in a way that shows respect.
  2. Write 1,000 words in response to the question: How can feminism help erase the problem of harassment and assault?

Some People Say...

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Martin Luther King

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The tweets and Facebook posts have come from a huge variety of women, confirming just how widespread sexual harassment and assault is. One woman tweeted “#MeToo when I served in the military”, whilst another said she was groped in a lift by a colleague who was nearly two decades older. A number of men have shown their support, including the actor Mark Ruffalo, who tweeted: “The lid is off. Thank you for all your collective courage.”
What do we not know?
We do not yet know how Harvey Weinstein will be treated by the law. He is currently undergoing therapy, but the movie mogul is under investigation by police in both the USA and the UK. Five allegations of sexual assault were made by three women in the UK, leading Scotland Yard to launch their investigation.

Word Watch

Tweeted
As well as using Twitter, millions of people were “talking about” the phrase on Facebook in the 24 hours after Alyssa Milano launched the idea.
Harvey Weinstein
Earlier this month the Hollywood producer was accused of assaulting and harassing a large number of women.
The Arab Spring
There were violent protests and demonstrations against the governments in countries including Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Egypt and Syria.
Got worse
Only Tunisia has transitioned to have a democratic government. The other countries in which the Arab Spring had an impact are still affected by civil war, international intervention and the actions of counter-revolutionaries.
By no means new
Laura Bates set up Everyday Feminism in 2012 so that women could share their experiences. Meanwhile, Taylor Swift successfully sued a DJ earlier this year for groping her.
Occupy
The Occupy movement started in New York in 2011. The protestors were unhappy with the socio-economic inequality that they saw between them and the rich financiers on Wall Street. The movement soon spread to nearly 1,000 cities across 82 countries.

Subjects

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.