Me Too: Empathy Through Empowerment

To put it simply, the United States of America, a nation born out of revolution, is currently facing an upheaval in awareness regarding the reality of our country’s foundation and its consequential inner workings throughout history. As of late, the American Feminist movement, developed during the fight for women’s suffrage in the 1900s, has now recently focused into a national, even global, acknowledgement and dialogue regarding the disproportionate sexual abuse and harassment women face in society.

Origin

The phrase “me too” was first used in 2006 on the Myspace social network by Tarana Burke, in hopes of helping “survivors of sexual violence, particularly young women of color from low wealth communities, find pathways to healing” (Me too., n.d.). Several hashtags about sharing stories of surviving sexual violence have been used before, #MeToo became most popular, especially following the Weinstein scandal in 2017.

The unveiling of the Weinstein scandal in October 2017, “a major and public injustice [which] spur[red] a social movement into action,” began a powerful ripple-effect in America’s perception of sexual abuse and the consequences of such behavior (Pyles, 2014). According to the New York Times:

An investigation…found previously undisclosed allegations against Mr. Weinstein stretching over nearly [four] decades, documented through interviews with current and former employees and film industry workers, as well as legal records, emails and internal documents from the businesses he has run, Miramax and the Weinstein Company. (Kantor & Twohey, 2017)

Such allegations included “appearing nearly or fully naked in front of them, requiring them to be present while he bathed or repeatedly asking for a massage or initiating one himself” (Kantor & Twohey, 2017). Metro USA has determined that “more than 93 women have accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault” by January 11, 2018 (Metro Staff, 2017).

On October 15, 2017, Alyssa Milano shared a graphic on the Twitter social network which reads, “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” (Milano, 2017). Through multiple waves of new information regarding the sexual misconduct of numerous men, an “outpouring of support for…victims has sparked a movement calling out powerful men for inappropriate behavior toward women” in which citizens seek “to hold men accountable for sexually assaulting and harassing women” by losing their jobs or being socially shamed for their efforts to mask such behavior (Kantor & Twohey, 2017). As of today, more than 40 men stand accused of accusations (Metro Staff, 2018).

Aziz Ansari’s accusation has deepened a divide in the conversation regarding sexual misconduct, for it “paints a picture of lines blurring and solidifying and blurring again, a situation so banal that calling it sexual assault would mean that sexual assault is deeply, inescapably omnipresent” (Framke, 2018). Such an allegation turned our attention to the importance of active consent, defined by the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, Inc. as “affirmative, honest, conscious, voluntary, sober and ongoing agreement to participate in sexual activity,” and also as “not silence, lack of protest, lack of resistance, assumed to exist based on a past or current sexual, dating or marital relationship” (New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs Inc., n.d.).

Afteraffect

In November 2017, 700,000 Latina farmworkers wrote a letter of solidarity to the men and women in Hollywood who have come forward with their experiences of sexual harassment, and thus the Time’s Up movement was born (Time Staff, 2017). According to the website:

Powered by women, TIME’S UP addresses the systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace that have kept underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential. We partner with leading advocates for equality and safety to improve laws, employment agreements, and corporate policies; help change the face of corporate boardrooms and the C-suite; and enable more women and men to access our legal system to hold wrongdoers accountable. (Time’s Up, n.d.)

With the development of this new movement came not just dialogue, but most importantly, action. The section titled Where to Get Help on the Time’s Up website states the following:

TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund will help defray legal and public relations costs in select cases for those who have experienced sexual harassment or related retaliation in the workplace. The Fund is housed at and administered by the National Women’s Law Center, an established, national women’s rights legal organization. A network of lawyers and public relations professionals across the country will work to provide assistance to those who have experienced harassment or retaliation. (Time’s Up, n.d.)

While gender inequality in the United States takes form in several categories, including but not limited to “employment and earnings, poverty and opportunity, work and family, violence and safety, reproductive rights, health and well-being, and political participation,” workplace sexual harassment, specifically, has been under-reported for decades (Roosevelt Institute, 2015). As indicated by an NBC/WSJ poll (Dann, 2017), “nearly half of working women in the U.S. say they have experienced harassment in the workplace,” yet “71% of those women said they did not report it” (Ruiz, 2017), As Merle Waxman (1994) elaborates, most victims of harassment either “do nothing; resign; or live (and try to work) with the harassing behavior,” upon which Randy Danielsen, Ph.D, PA, DFAAPA further discusses in his article “Silent No More”:

The least common response is to take formal action—either by reporting it internally or filing a legal complaint. Further, roughly three of four individuals who experience harassment in the workplace never tell a supervisor, manager, or union representative due to fear of disbelief, inaction, blame, or social or professional retaliation. (Danielsen, 2018)

In addition to stating options which victims can utilize in response to such behavior, Waxman is certain to remind his readers that “sexual harassment is a problem [which] will not be solved quickly since it stems from long-standing and inbred misuse of power” (Waxman, 1994). In respect to Waxman’s observation, the Pew Research Center documents that a wide margin of the U.S. public “views recent reports of sexual harassment and assault as more reflective of widespread problems in society rather than acts of individual misconduct” (Oliphant, 2017).

Reflection

When viewed in the lens of the Marxist theory, the Me Too movement frames social change in a dialectical manner. Since this movement is not one single story, but rather is the compilation of hundreds of thousands of stories regarding experiences of sexual misconduct disproportionately affecting women in the workplace, the wave of outrage reflects the current presence of social change in this “one moment in history which [has] appear[ed] and eventually [will end] [due to] contradicting itself” (Pyles 2014). While much progress has been made in the fight for women’s rights, “attending to the contradictions [still in society] and understanding them can help people see the [continued] possibilities for change,” upon which critical theory works “toward critiquing and changing society as a whole” (Pyles, 2014). Revealing such contradictions in the daily reality of life is a prominent factor to dialectical analysis (Pyles, 2014). Harmoniously, when viewed in the lens of Feminist theory, the Me Too movement aligns with the liberal feminist thought which “focuses on promoting the equality of women in political and economic spheres,” as well as “seek[s] to uncover the institutional barriers that have blocked women’s access to power and prevented women from fully participating in society” (Pyles, 2014).

This movement’s successes are found in the development of dialogue regarding sexual violence, abuse, harassment, and misconduct toward women in greater ways than previously deliberated. Not only did the Me Too movement work toward opening dialogue regarding the reality of the issue at hand, but it also inspired people to take action in response to the exploitation of such behavior within our society, and even became the foundation for the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

In contrast, some women of conservative affiliation do not endorse the Me Too movement because they believe it further divides women and men. Many see “good” men as victims of the reckoning, claiming that the movement is capable of shaming men without “due process” and actually does so, often. Additionally, various people are uncomfortable with how the Me Too movement seems to equate experiences of sexual harassment with experiences of sexual assault, insisting that both types of experiences are not as serious or traumatizing.

When the Me Too movement is looked at through the lens of Critical Race Theory (CRT), the intersectionality of the movement comes into focus, for “racism is endemic to contemporary society” (Pyles, 2014). Elaborating upon CRT, Gillian B. White discusses one of the ways in which the Me Too movement was unsuccessful:

Though the #MeToo movement has made clear the insidiousness and prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, it has also been centered mostly on the experiences of white, affluent, and educated women. One doesn’t need to look far to see instances of women of color being forgotten or sidelined. (White, 2017)

This thought pays tribute to feminist leaders such as Patricia Hill Collins who “sought to negotiate a space within feminist thought for consideration of race-related subjectivities” (Gender and Water in Central Asia, n.d.). As White upholds the importance of women of color in the Me Too conversation, “CRT affirms the importance and liberatory power of storytelling, vocalizing and writing about the experience of racism in one’s own terms” as a method of transforming the intersectionality of experiences of sexual misconduct altogether.

The Me Too movement is a prominent factor in the fourth wave of feminism and is able to be characterized as a multi-faceted type of movement. In one instance, the movement can be deciphered as a radical, or revolutionary, movement with its push “to focus on fundamental political and economic change” of the perception, experiences and value of women within society” (Pyles, 2014). In comparison, the movement “attempt[s] incremental changes within the existing system” regarding the sexual abuse and misconduct norms, laws, and company policies, reflecting characteristics of a moderate, otherwise known as utilitarian, movement (Pyles, 2014). In a holistic perspective of the Women’s movement, the Me Too movement is a tool to push social change and thus create action implementing this change. Because the Me Too movement is one part of the Women’s movement as a whole, it will continue to exist as long as until there is gender inequality in which women must push for a drastic shift in social perspective and structure, regardless of how popular the Me Too movement may be at the moment.

The capacity to which American citizens are engaged is rapidly growing in response to newly learned information and the way in which such information is being shared throughout our communities. As Robert Alan Silverstein once said:

If we look back at the course of history, we can see how the many different movements for a better world have evolved and have helped us to get to this moment. The goals of each of these movements have been converging, and a new holistic movement is emerging. (The Emily Fund, n.d.)

To understand the winding road of history within the United States, one must consider the time within which progress develops: generations. With each generation, society moves forward, and will continue to do for as long as the human species exists. “Understanding the way our network society functions can enhance and deepen community organizing practice,” and the further we drill into deep-rooted problems within our society, such as the complex issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, and all unnamed social issues which intersect with one another, the more we will understand the extent to which we have to unravel and restructure the way our society operates (Pyles, 2014).

Although resolving gender inequality within American society is task may seem overwhelming and impossible at times, it will only become more innate in the basic foundation of society with development of each new generation and such progressive perspectives formed in association.

#NeverthelessWEPersisted

References

Berdahl, J. (2007). The sexual harassment of uppity women. PsycEXTRA Dataset, 427. doi:10.1037/e633962013-260

Danielsen, R. D. (2018). Silent no more: harassment in the workplace. Clinician Reviews, 28(2), 6-7.

Dann, C. (2017). NBC/WSJ Poll: Nearly half of working women say they’ve experienced harassment. Retrieved February 25, 2018, from https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/nbc-wsj-poll-nearly-half-workingwomen-say-they-ve-n815376

The Emily Fund. (n.d.). Heroes for a better world. Retrieved from http://www.doonething.org/heroes/pages-a/alan-quotes.htm

Framke, C. (2018). How the Aziz Ansari story deepened a crucial divide in the #MeToo reckoning. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/1/17/16897440/azizansari-allegations-babe-me-too

Gender and Water in Central Asia. (n.d.). History and theory of feminism. Retrieved from http://www.gender.cawater-info.net/knowledge_base/rubricator/feminism_e.htm

Kantor, J., & Twohey, M. (2017). Harvey Weinstein paid off sexual harassment accusers for decades. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/us/harveyweinstein-harassment-allegations.html

Me too.. (n.d.). You are not alone. Retrieved from https://metoomvmt.org/

Metro Staff. (2018). Powerful men accused of sexual assault since Harvey Weinstein scandal. Retrieved from https://www.metro.us/news/the-big-stories/powerful-menaccused-sexual-assault-harvey-weinstein-scandal

Milano, A. [Alyssa_Milano]. (2017). If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Alyssa_Milano/status/919659438700670976o

New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, Inc. (n.d.). What is active consent? Retrieved from http://nmcsap.org/prevention/what-is-active-consent/

Oliphant, B. (2017). Women and men in both parties say sexual harassment allegations reflect widespread problems in society. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/12/07/americans-views-of-sexualharassment-allegations/

Pyles, L. (2014). Progressive Community Organizing, 2nd Edition. [Yuzu]. Retrieved from https://reader.yuzu.com/#/books/9781136271502/

Ruiz, M. (2017). Survey: 1 in 3 women has been sexually harassed at work. Retrieved from https://www.cosmopolitan.com/career/news/a36453/cosmopolitan-sexualharassment-survey/

Time’s Up. (n.d.). Time’s up now. Retrieved from https://www.timesupnow.com Time Staff. (2017). 700,000 female farmworkers stand up against sexual assault. Retrieved from http://time.com/5018813/farmworkers-solidarity-hollywood-sexual-assault/

Waxman, M. (1994). Constructive responses to sexual harassment in the workplace. Employee Responsibilities & Rights Journal, 7(3), 243-246.

White, G. B. (2017). The glaring blind spot of the me too movement. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/11/the-glaring-blind-spot-ofthe-me-too-movement/546458/

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