The #metoo campaign, started by Alyssa Milano after a post on Twitter gained instant attention, has been flooding social media over the past few days. My feeds alone have been chocca with friends and acquaintances posting the hashtag, sometimes with stories and sometimes without. There have been many heated discussions in feminist spaces I frequent about the campaign and the nitty-gritty of whether or not it’s actually helping raise awareness.
1. You don’t owe your story to anyone.
Don’t feel pressured to post something if you don’t want to. Many women are staying silent because they can’t or won’t share their stories, and that isn’t something to be ashamed of. Not everyone is able to talk about it but for every woman who isn’t, there are others who are willing to stand with you and speak if you feel you can’t. We still see you and we know it happens, and you won’t be forgotten just because you can’t talk about it. You don’t owe anything to anybody.
2. Take that step back if you need it.
The #metoo posts show no signs of stopping anytime soon – which, in my opinion, is a double-edged sword. It’s good in that finally these issues are gaining traction and getting the attention they need, but it also means that more and more people have had these negative experiences and are coming forward – which is just plain awful. So if you need to back away and look after yourself for the time being, do exactly that. Self-care is vital, more important than engaging with people over social media, so please do take that break if you need it.
3. Your experiences are valid.
Did you read your friends’ posts and think ‘well, this thing happened to me a little while ago, but I’m not sure if it counts?’ If you’re connecting an experience you had with a sexual assault and harassment campaign, chances are it counts. As I wrote on Twitter: It doesn’t just mean rape. It means catcalling, being followed, aggressive responses “stop” or “no”, unwanted touches & more. You count, and you matter. But once again, you don’t have to share your story to feel like what happened holds validity.
4. It’s about us.
This isn’t the time to focus on the people who commit these crimes. It’s a time to focus on the people who have been affected, and the support we can provide each other while raising awareness that hey, this is a real issue and it isn’t going away. No we won’t feel bad for taking up space talking about it. Men who behave this way and think it’s fine: read, listen, do better. Be better. Believe us when we tell you the truth. And friends, reach out to each other. Listen. Support. Give these issues the attention and the action they deserve. It’s been long enough.
5. There’s no shame in speaking out.
Posted a #metoo? Yeah, me too. Everyone likely approached their post very differently and I know a lot of women who felt a rush of anxiety and panic when they hit that send button. But you are braver than you think and stronger than you believe (yup, I quoted AA Milne) to have posted that at all, no matter what commentary you wrote alongside it, if any. Feel no shame in sharing your stories, because talking about painful experiences can be what brings us together, and what brings about change.
Allow me to post a long comment I wrote on a Facebook post which challenged (and somewhat shamed) those participating in the campaign:
I don’t think speaking out is ever something that should be combatted since women and marginalised groups are encouraged to do that every damn day, and I’ve seen first-hand the women who have found strength in seeing their friends and colleagues discussing this and have come forward with their own stories. There are people who will feel uncomfortable with it, there are always folk on either side of the fence, but when the issue of sexual harassment is finally being properly, openly and loudly talked about I find it difficult to sit back and say we should have approached it another way.
The problem isn’t that people don’t know about it’ – true, but there are enough men out there who don’t KNOW that their behaviour is toxic and abusive, thanks to how prevalent rape culture is. See, for example, the amount of men who think catcalling is a compliment. Or that their girlfriends should put out as often as they deem acceptable. Just today I read an article about a man complaining because his wife hadn’t slept with him during the 18 months following a traumatic childbirth. A certain amount of men do not realise how their behaviour actually comes across and that is something that needs tackling along with the fact that we aren’t believed when we talk about what goes on. Perhaps if enough of their friends are posting and talking about it, especially ones they wouldn’t think would be, it might spark something.
My opinion of this movement is that as long as the women who can’t or won’t speak up and share their stories aren’t marginalised, forgotten or shamed then it’s something positive. And have we done enough? For men, sure. Always. But when it comes to standing up for each other and for ourselves? No, never. And for me, this campaign focuses on the women who need to be heard and supported rather than the men who should be listening. Of course they need to believe us. But we also need to show solidarity for each other, whether that’s in silence and caring for ourselves or shouting from the rooftops.
Love and solidarity to all of you. And, yeah, #metoo.