"Genuinely curious if there are women who have never been sexually harassed,” a friend of mine wrote on her Facebook page earlier this week. She was responding to the #MeToo posts that have been flooding social media since Sunday, when the actor Alyssa Milano suggested, on Twitter, that anyone who has been sexually harassed or assaulted use the hashtag, so that the enormity of the problem might be conveyed. That mission has been accomplished; I’d be overjoyed, and shocked, if the answer to my friend’s question turned out to be anything but an unequivocal no.
The phrase has been posted millions of times, often accompanied by stories of encounters that range from the gross to the humiliating to the horrific. Its power lies in its simplicity: the whole poisonous spectrum of misogyny covered in two mundane words. This isn’t the first time that they’ve been used to this purpose; a decade ago, Tarana Burke, an activist and social worker, began a “Me Too” campaign to help young women of color who had been subjected to abuse. “ ‘Me Too’ is about using the power of empathy to stomp out shame,” Burke told Amy Goodman on “Democracy Now!” The sheer number of women rallying behind the hashtag represents a gutting universal truth, but there is power in numbers, too.
That the exposure and disgrace of Harvey Weinstein has proved to be such an extraordinary moment of shared catharsis is the silver lining to the awful revelations about his decades of predation. Lord knows we didn’t get resolution with Donald Trump. Bill Cosby’s trial ended in a hung jury. R. Kelly—who, as Brittany Packnett wrote a few months ago on the Cut, has avoided much of the wrath rained down on other high-profile predators by targeting young black women—has just collaborated on a track with, who else, Chris Brown. Roger Ailes did lose his network, and Bill O’Reilly lost his show, but not his career; neither expressed anything that could be construed as an acknowledgment of the harm he had caused, let alone remorse for it.
These high-profile men, skilled in the abusive leveraging of their outsized power, are, of course, in the minority. The people behind most #MeToos are of a more familiar scale: friends, lovers, acquaintances, teachers, colleagues, bosses, the countless anonymous strangers who have forced their way forever into their targets’ memories with indelible words and deeds that they, no doubt, have long forgotten. It is not lost on those women (and some men, too) who have posted their stories that the burden for calling this whole rotten system to account—the emotional labor expended on offering proof, once again, of how truly universal this problem is—falls now, as ever, on the people who have suffered, rather than on the perpetrators. Read more via the New Yorker